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The Politics of Chivalry

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.

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    26 comments

  1. Lauren says:

    I agree with WBH. I am a southerner by the grace of God, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I am perfectly capable of opening doors for myself, but I am so thankful that I am surrounded by gentlemen who were raised to open them for me ๐Ÿ™‚ No, it is not a dealbreaker, or a shock, that someone wouldn't open the door at one place or another. But it is a sign of how people treat others.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  2. Lauren says:

    I agree with WBH. I am a southerner by the grace of God, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I am perfectly capable of opening doors for myself, but I am so thankful that I am surrounded by gentlemen who were raised to open them for me ๐Ÿ™‚ No, it is not a dealbreaker, or a shock, that someone wouldn't open the door at one place or another. But it is a sign of how people treat others.

    November 30, -0001/Reply
  3. The Dash says:

    I just live by the golden rule – do unto others. I'll hold the door for anyone, offer a coat or umbrella to anyone or help carry bags if they need it. It doesn't matter if it is a guy or gal, it's just common decency.

    May 27, 2011/Reply
  4. P says:

    Belle, I love you for this post, and I completely agree. It's a polite gesture, but nothing more. I was raised in the South, and was surrounded by young men who were taught to do all the things you list, open doors, let women exit elevators first, etc. But for some of them, those “good ole boys” were not taught to be truly chivalrous – they taunted their peers who were the least bit different: gay, overweight, Jewish, you get the picture. In my eyes, that made them lower than low, and their gentile manners were just a coverup for their mean spiritedness. Those early childhood lessons taught me that “chivalry” is just a habit, and had no real bearing on a man's true character.

    May 27, 2011/Reply
  5. Jessica says:

    I agree with The Dash 100%. I'm polite, my friends are polite and my boyfriend is polite. I will hold doors, let others out of the elevator first, offer my sweater, or offer to carry a heavy bag for a girlfriend in distress. My boyfriend will carry my heavy bag on our walk home when he is without and will open the car door if we're on a fancy date. Other than that I believe politeness is universal regardless of gender. And I do think it's rude to let a door close on someone regardless if they are male or female or you are male or female. But I was raised in the South and the Midwest and that's just what everyone did in my childhood communities.

    May 27, 2011/Reply
  6. Nina says:

    I think nice people, regardless of sex, should hold open the door for the person behind them especially if their hands are full, they're pushing a stroller, etc. The chair thing is just awkward, in my experience.

    99% of the time I am grateful that a guy holds a door open for me, but there is 1% where the tone feels…weird. There have been a small handful of times that a guy holding open a door to a taxicab or bar has felt creepy. Like a reminder of “I could physically overpower you” or “I've been so nice to you – now you owe me.” Maybe that's just me being hyper-aware of rape culture but I do think chivalry can come from a nasty place.

    May 27, 2011/Reply
  7. J says:

    I totally agree with you Bell. Politeness is a nice trait for a man to have, but i won't hold it against them if they don't act chivalrous all the time. More often than not i'm the one holding the door for everyone else, regardless of if they are male or female. On the reverse end of that I think that need to allow men to act more chivalrous and try not to act so strong all the time. I have always done everything on my own, manual labor included. But now I've noticed that I take this to an extreme in some cases, never allowing a man to assist me. Just last week I was trying to get some over sized patio furniture for my balcony into my apartment building and since it was twice the size of me I was clearly struggling. There were two young men right beside the door, one a security guard and the other a resident. A normal person would have politely asked for some assistance. The security guard came over to me and said something that really struck a chord “I know you're used to always doing things for yourself but that doesn't mean you can never ask for help”. If he hadn't said that I would have stubbornly tried to get the furniture inside on my own for the rest of the day. So, while I won't expect small acts of chivalry all the time, I will allow men to assist me if the opportunity arises.

    May 27, 2011/Reply
  8. Cat says:

    I was raised to hold open the door if I got there first regardless of the gender of the person behind me. Then I moved to Texas and had a culture shock – rather than simply saying thank you and walking through the door I held, men would insist – strongly – that they be the ones to hold it open, forcing an awkward little dance as I had to duck around under their arm to go through. (I certainly wasn't going to refuse – which as you correctly pointed out, is rude and wins no allies). I knew they meant well (how they were raised, blah blah), but it was a bit obnoxious to me all the same.

    My overall opinion on the subject of “Chivalry”: Courtesy should not be gender-based – if you get to the door first, you hold it open. If someone holds a door for you, you thank them. If you see someone struggling with luggage, you help them. Etc ad nauseum.

    If your friends are judging men by shallow, outdated and unnecessary social cues (incidentally, ones that let themselves off the courtesy hook, while putting themselves into a position of disadvantage they may not be aware of) I guess that's their problem, but its not worthy of respect, nor is it particularly smart.

    May 27, 2011/Reply
  9. K says:

    It depends on the context. If it's a casual setting, like walking into an apartment or a bar, I don't think about who is holding the door open or who walks in first. If I'm at a formal or work-related event I do judge men if they're not chivalrous. In a setting where you should be on your best behavior, it's like chewing with your mouth open – a sign of bad manners but not necessarily a reflection of bad character. Although I wouldn't take offense and it wouldn't be a dealbreaker, I would be disappointed if a guy didn't pull out my chair at a formal dinner with co-workers or something of that nature, and I probably wouldn't bring him to one of those events again.

    May 27, 2011/Reply
  10. VA says:

    Rude to let a door slam on anyone, regardless of your gender or their gender. Courtesy is a two-way street – and I say that as someone who grew up in the deep South, the last bastion of misguided chivalry… Fortunately I had progressive parents ๐Ÿ™‚

    May 27, 2011/Reply
  11. WBH says:

    As a southerner by the grace of God, I can say that chivalry isn't dead in America, but it is struggling in a sea of cultural malaise.

    Most of the men I know consider it a badge of honor to show respect for women by opening doors, offering jackets, pulling chairs, etc. It's not belittling; it's a language that says, “you deserve to be recognized and well-treated.” What makes it a greater bade is that men hold one another to the standard, and in doing so manage the “When in Rome” problems associated with southern chivalry in a rapidly changing America.

    It doesn't happen very often these days, but in years past when a woman approached a table to sit down, the men would stand to acknowledge her and help her with her chair. Imagine if that happened today. It would shock people, especially in DC, Chicago, NY, LA, etc.

    There's a value in being chivalrous. It requires mild awareness, but that can be a massive stretch for many men in America today. I would agree with Belle on one thing: it shouldn't be a deal-breaker or considered a capital crime. Some gentlemen weren't blessed with grandparents and parents that held them to the standard of chivalry and gentility. It's not “Gone with the Wind” all of the time, but that wouldn't be so terrible, would it?

    May 27, 2011/Reply
  12. District Cut says:

    Chivalry has been lost in modern times, but there are some things that should be kept the same. Standing up every time a female rises or arrives at a table, we can do away with that one. But holding the door is just a simple, gentlemanly thing to do.

    May 27, 2011/Reply
  13. Caitie says:

    I once had a boyfriend carry me over a puddle. He was being ironic, but it was kind of laughable that these sorts of things (not to that degree) are expected of men sometimes. That said, I love when a man purposefully walks on the outside on a sidewalk, but in general, manners should be gender-blind!

    May 27, 2011/Reply
  14. amy b.s. says:

    i have to say, i don't expect chivalry, but i appreciate the rare moment it occurs (and i can vouch for the women being tougher than the men where you come from). i do however get annoyed when someone is exiting or entering a place of business, whether they are male or female, and they don't hold the door behind them. i'm not asking them to hold the door for me, but to just let it slam in my face or almost hit me as i enter behind them, i find that just poor manners. and sadly, most of the time, i find that it's older people that are the offenders!

    May 27, 2011/Reply
  15. B says:

    I agree with WHB– there is value in being chivalrous and courteous. To me, courtesy is an indication that a person is aware of their surroundings and of themselves and that is important regardless of gender. I would also like to note that it is very easy to tell if someone would hold the door open, walk curbside with a woman, hold a heavy load etc for anyone or if they are trying to hard to impress someone.

    May 27, 2011/Reply
  16. Chris says:

    I don't think this is a chivalry thing, I think it's a manners thing. When someone goes marching through a door and can't show the common courtesy to hold it open for the next person, it's clearly a rude gesture, unless the person truly didn't know someone was behind him/her (this happens). I manage just fine with most things on my own, but if I'm struggling with a heavy door (the ones in my workplace are fire doors and those things weigh a ton) or trying to lift a heavy object, I certainly appreciate a man stepping in to help. It's pretty obvious that I'm small and not very strong, so it is nice when someone recognizes this and lends a hand. Most of the time it's a man, but I would accept help from any nice person nearby. I always hold doors, elevators, etc. If a man didn't do these things, I would think that he had poor manners, not that he was trying to respect gender equality.

    May 27, 2011/Reply
  17. 202trinity says:

    I was raised in the South, but my parents were not, so I don't consider myself a Southern Belle. And I grew up quite the little feminist, where I could do anything boys could do, and better! I have always been extremely independent, but to this day, I get extremely heated when men do not open doors for me. It's not only polite, but the right thing to do for any lady.

    May 27, 2011/Reply
  18. B says:

    Belle – Agreed 100%.

    May 27, 2011/Reply
  19. RMS says:

    When it comes to this topic, I tend to appreciate when guys treat me the same way they would treat their mom or sister. For example, my brother and my dad open doors for me and carry suitcases, etc. so I want my boyfriend to act the same. It shows a level of respect and politeness that I appreciate.

    May 27, 2011/Reply
  20. LN says:

    Definitely agree with this post. I wouldn't be mad at a guy for not holding a door open because, to be honest, I'm sure there has been a time that I have not acted like the perfect lady in the traditional sense of the word. If you are generally polite and you are an overall courteous person, that is what matters.

    May 27, 2011/Reply
  21. MH says:

    I agree with this completely – except when men awkwardly move to always be on the street side of the sidewalk. There is something about tellling me where I can't walk that irks the feminist in me.

    May 27, 2011/Reply
  22. Lauren says:

    I agree with WBH. I am a southerner by the grace of God, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I am perfectly capable of opening doors for myself, but I am so thankful that I am surrounded by gentlemen who were raised to open them for me ๐Ÿ™‚ No, it is not a dealbreaker, or a shock, that someone wouldn't open the door at one place or another. But it is a sign of how people treat others.

    May 28, 2011/Reply
  23. MeMe says:

    This is a dated concept, women can't have it both ways – do we want to be taken seriously in a man's world or not? Agree though that politeness is a deal-breaker, and I mean politeness to everyone. If you're polite to me but rude to wait-staff, hotel staff, and other people you don't know then I can't date you or in fact be anywhere around you. I find it ridiculous to expect a man to open a door for me or walk on the outside of the sidewalk, but if men do I won't chastise them for it.

    May 28, 2011/Reply
  24. NMRascal says:

    I'm old fashioned I suppose, but I am teaching my 14-year-old sons to open doors, hold elevators, carry bags, etc. I am hoping they will learn these lessons so that as grown men they will be kind, courteous, respectful and mostly THOUGHTFUL; that they would be men who value the women around them and are willing to put themselves last in order to put someone else first.

    June 2, 2011/Reply
  25. Johanna_D says:

    I am actually from Mexico but married to a southern man. He is of course a gentleman and I would not have it any other way. I expect him–and any other man–especially because they tend to be stronger than women, to hold doors open, carry heavy stuff, walk on the outside of the sidewalk (this is not, as another commenter wrote, telling us where and where not to walk, but for our protection – you would not want your bag snatched or be hit by a car/bicycle/person), and most importantly, yield a seat for me if all other seats are taken. I think this last one is very important. I don't see young men standing in a bus/reception office and yielding a seat to a woman/young girl/old lady (even a pregnant woman as I have seen!) and it is truly sad. Yes, I can stand if I have to, and men have no obligation to do this for me, but I think it is important for these habits/manners to remain in today's society.

    June 2, 2011/Reply
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