chivalry is dead, but civility is very much alive


My parents like to tell an amusing anecdote from their 25+ years as a happy married couple about chivalry.

It all starts on a Sunday afternoon, after we had gotten back home from church. We’d made a quick stop by the grocery store, and we’d all carried in the groceries and unloaded them. When I started to put the groceries away, I realized I didn’t know what Mom was planning to use for lunch, so I went to ask her.

I looked all over the house, but couldn’t find her anywhere. Finally, I asked Dad where she was. With a sudden sheepish expression, my dad rushed out to the garage– where he had left my mother sitting in the car. In the rush to get the melting ice cream into the freezer, he had forgotten to open her door and help her out of the car.

When my parents tell this story, my mom laughs about how she just patiently waited, reading her Bible, knowing that eventually her husband would realize what he’d done. He did, and now they both chuckle and smile at each other any time it come up. It’s really, really adorable.

My husband doesn’t open my car door for me. Well, not as a regular habit. Sometimes he unlocks my door first because his car doesn’t have power locks, but that’s mostly when the passenger door is closest to wherever we’re coming from. If the people from my childhood ever saw me non-nonchalantly let myself out of a car, they’d probably be horrified. “Samantha, what are you doing? You have to let your husband be a gentleman! You have to encourage chivalry, or you’ll kill it!”

Back in August, John Picciuto wrote an article titled “Why Chivalry is Dead, from a Man’s Perspective.” He doesn’t say anything new, or even particularly thought-provoking, but it’s been floating around my facebook feed for the past few days, and I’ve never talked about chivalry, so I figured, hey, let’s do it.

First, some background on John: he’s 26 or 27. I’m 26, just for full disclosure. Conclusion: we’re both really young, and since the average age for men to get married for the first time in America is 29, it’s likely that he doesn’t know very many people who are ready to settle down and get serious about finding someone. So when he says “Dating is done,” he should really be saying “People my age don’t seem to take dating very seriously right now. That might change in like, oh, say, two to three years or so, based on national averages.”

Then he starts bemoaning how men aren’t paying for the dinner anymore, and they’re not holding doors any more, and that “women have allowed men to become complacent,” and that women should “wise up” and starting “asking for the things they deserve” and that the only alternative is for men to be lazy because they’re going to get sex no matter how “chivalrously” they behave.

Ok, so . . . obviously, there are some problems going on here, and I’m not going to take the time to pick them all apart.

Just one thing: chivalry is benevolent sexism.

Benevolent sexism is regular sexism disguised as something that gives a benefit to women. It’s not actually beneficial because benevolent sexism relies on the same patriarchal beliefs that hostile sexism does: women are weak, women do not have power, women are not equal to men in value or ability. Chivalry, as one of the supposed “benefits” women receive for being the “weaker sex” is supposed to make us happy. We’re supposed to be complimented, flattered, and we’re supposed to give brownie points to the man who opened that door for us.

Because chivalry is generally well-intentioned, and perceived as “good manners” or “just being polite,” feminists like me who believe that chivalry deserves to die get booed and jeered at a lot.

Thing is, I’m not opposed to being mannerly. I believe in respect, compassion, kindness, and empathy. I believe that people should be polite. But that’s just the thing: I believe people should practice good manners. Chivalry is one-directional manners. Chivalry can only be men being “polite” toward women. It makes women into objects, because we can only accept this “politeness” as a passive receptor– we can never be the actor. We can never practice “good manners” of our own if chivalry doesn’t die.

I want to open doors for people. I want to give my seat up on the subway for someone who needs it more than I do. I want to hold an umbrella out for someone who doesn’t have one and it’s raining cats and dogs. I want to take responsibility for myself and buy my half of the movie ticket. I want civility, from everyone– no matter what their sex might be.

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