The Politics of Chivalry
May 27, 2011
Earlier this week, several of my girlfriends and I got into a discussion about the place of chivalry in modern society. We were entering a local watering hole when the man exiting the bar failed to hold the door for us. My female companions were incensed: How dare he? Didn’t he know that we were proper ladies who deserved to be treated like delicate flowers?
This prompted a lengthy discussion amongst the six of us about whether a man who didn’t hold the door, offer his coat, etc. was boyfriend material. All five of my girlfriends swore up and down that it was a man’s duty to hold the door for a lady, and that if a prospective beau failed in this regard it was a strike against his upbringing and his character. I was the lone dissenter.
Maybe I’m in the minority, but discussions like this always make me queasy. Because while I admit that it’s a nice gesture when a man holds the door for me, allows me to exit an elevator before him, or tips his hat to me on the street, I don’t consider an absence of chivalry to be a black mark or a deal breaker.
You don’t have to obey a gentlemanly code of conduct to show a woman that you respect her.
I think my lack of sympathy for the issue is derived from my upbringing. My hometown was a place where the women were just as tough (sometimes tougher) than the men. My Mom (a Southern Lady in the truest sense of the word) tried to instill in me a gentile air and a courteous demeanor, but her teachings never fully overcame the lessons of my Western environment.
My Y-chromosome deficiency offered me no quarter when my Father decided that he wanted the deck painted, the garage cleaned or the fences mended. There weren’t girl chores and boy chores, there was just work. My Brother (referred to as The Boy) and I were subject to the same aspirations, treatment and expectations. We were, in all things, equals.
I was never taught that little girls were supposed to be deferent, sweet and shy (which will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me). When a fourth grade teacher told me not to yell because it wasn’t polite for a young lady to raise her voice, I told her to buzz off and accused her of showing the boys favoritism.
My Mother really loved coming down to the school to talk to the Principal about that one. Luckily, Mr. Sunberg thought my precocious notions about gender roles were a laugh riot and let me off with a warning about using my inside voice in class.
As a result of my upbringing, I open my own doors. I carry my own luggage. And I pull out chair all by myself. It just never occurs to me to wait for my date to do any of these things for me. I’m simply not programmed to pause and let him do his gentlemanly duty.
However, while I don’t expect a man to do any of these things for me as a show of chivalry, I don’t chastise them for it when they do either. Nothing’s tackier than the woman who gets angry because a man opens the door for her or raises a hand to help her out of a cab. The man isn’t trying to be antifeminist, he’s just being polite. Don’t make a federal case out of it.
I consider opening doors and the like to be sweet, but unnecessary gestures, nothing more. If a man does, fine. If he doesn’t, fine. It’s certainly nothing to raise a fuss about either way.
So what about you ladies, do you expect a man to open the door for you? Do you judge him if he doesn’t?
And as for the guys, do you believe in the gentlemanly code of conduct? And has a woman ever criticized for not opening the door for her? Also, if you need or want to learn more about the topic of chivalry, Esquire has some fascinating articles on the subject.