Chivalry's Comeback

Chivalry's Comeback

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As I've talked about before, I loved the Little House on the Prairie series when I was young. In fact, I loved anything that related to pioneer days. I liked the idea of baking my own bread and wearing long skirts and petticoats. I liked that people were so polite to one another — the kids called the adults "Mr." and "Mrs.," and a guy who was interested in a girl would ask her to the ice cream social and throw his jacket on the ground so she didn't have to walk through puddles.

But apparently the days of that kind of chivalry are gone. A recent article in the Atlantic pointed out that when a cruise ship capsized about a year ago, men pushed past women and children in order to get on the lifeboats. Women and children first — not any longer.

The Atlantic article called for a return to chivalry, noting that chivalry is not sexist or degrading. It is something that benefits both men and women. The article said that both feminists and traditionalists can appreciate chivalry because, instead of pointing out women as weaker, it honors women as worthy of respect.

Chivalry is grounded in a fundamental reality that defines the relationship between the sexes, she explains. Given that most men are physically stronger than most women, men can overpower women at any time to get what they want. Gentlemen developed symbolic practices to communicate to women that they would not inflict harm upon them and would even protect them against harm. The tacit assumption that men would risk their lives to protect women only underscores how valued women are—how elevated their status is—under the system of chivalry.

As has been discussed on this blog before, there has been some confusion for men as feminist ideas have grown in the culture. Is it OK to open a door for a woman or not? Is it demeaning to help a woman with her groceries or to walk her to the door? Has the fight for equality for women tried too hard to blur the line between the reality of the differences between the two sexes?

I have always appreciated when guys act chivalrously. I am a fairly independent woman, and I don't see myself as needy or weak. But when a guy opens my car door, I really appreciate it. Like the Atlantic article pointed out, it shows a certain level of respect and honor. And in our culture where everyone — men and women — are so individualistic and quick to look out for themselves, it is nice to see politeness and gentlemanly behavior.

Chivalry is about respect. It is about not harming or hurting others, especially those who are more vulnerable than you. It is about putting other people first and serving others often in a heroic or courageous manner. It is about being polite and courteous. In other words, chivalry in the age of post-feminism is another name we give to civility. When we give up on civility, understood in this way, we can never have relationships that are as meaningful as they could be.

So, I say bring chivalry back! (I'd like a spot on the lifeboat.) But I also think it is a way for men to honor and respect the women around them, which is something I think any woman — feminist or not — can appreciate.

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  • Comment by  Nate:

    I've always lived like this, and the women I've known have always appreciated it. Some were even pleasantly surprised. I've always said chivalry wasn't dead; it was in a coma.

    The issue I've run into is that women have misunderstood my chivalry as signs of romantic interest, which is annoying. It's made me hesitant to practice it for fear of unintentionally misleading a woman.

  • Comment by  MissC:

    Thank you!  I know a number of college-aged girls who can't stand it when men (of any age) open/hold a door for them, offer to give up his seat, etc.  A couple of these girls have even gone so far as to "scold" guys their age for doing such things; they told the guys that they were perfectly capable of opening that door, thank you very much!  As a teacher and mentor, I've tried to gently steer these girls away from that behavior, but many of them say that it makes them feel weak and helpless to have a man do anything for them.  (Of course, these same girls act like wimps when it comes to opening packages, soda bottles, etc., and flirtatiously ask any guy around for "help"...go figure.)

    Anyway, as a single, 29-year old woman who lives alone, I'm definitely independent.  I don't need a man to do things for me.  But I also thoroughly enjoy it when a man is chivalrous.  It makes my day a bit brighter when a man (especially a single one...sad, I know!) offers to let me share his umbrella, or gives me his seat, or opens a door for me, or offers his pen when I can't find mine, etc.

  • Comment by  typo:

    "Anyway, as a single, 29-year old woman who lives alone, I'm definitely independent. I don't need a man to do things for me. But I also thoroughly enjoy it when a man is chivalrous."

    Well, Miss C, this is the main issue. The social contract has been broken. In the past, women wouldn't compete against men in the workplace, fight in wars, and obeyed biological imperatives to marry young men and bear their children. Now men are expected to pay for dates even though their dates probably earn more. Women get special considerations in workforce hiring, along with a legal system that pretty much enforces feminist ideology when it comes to criminal matters, divorce and child custody. And all the independent women who expect to have total equality in the military and totally equal pay in the workplace still want doors opened and are sure glad they don't have to register for the selective service. They want their cake and eat it too. So what incentive is there to be chivalrous again?

  • Comment by  krys:

    I am sad to say many younger as well as older women have bought the lie that says we are not "supposed to" let men BE men. When they stop acting sweet and civil, then these ladies wonder why. Men, please don't give up being chivilrous and respectful. Those of us who truly understand will be very appreciative!

  • Comment by  HannahM:

    Excellent article! It is always an honor to be the recipent of gentlemanly behavior.

    #1 Nate, you make a good point though and I think as ladies we need to graciously recive kindness without assuming that the guy must be romantically interested in us. The truly worthwhile guys will treat everyone with the same respect. We always need to assume that nothing is going on unless the guy says something.

  • Comment by  MikeTheemling:

    Makes you wonder who is responsible for killing chivalry in today's society.

  • Comment by  MikeTheemling:

    So, do people here accept or reject the notion that some feminists claim that chivalry is "benevolent sexism"?

  • Comment by  DannieA:

    I'm an independent woman....I've done things in life a bit unconventional....however, I always appreciate a man opening a door for me, or giving up his seat for me when I've visited places such as NYC.  I have a friend with a young son and once we were catching up and he had his 5 year old son with him and I patiently waited as my friend instructed his son on opening the door for me (a lady) and then helped him out as the door was a bit heavy lol.  It's a wonderful thing.

    I married a man's man....he is all man, but that doesn't make him a sexist evil guy, any more than my making him lunch for work or cooking/baking for the family makes me a helpless being.  

    Get over labels, be men, be women, and enjoy life!  I love my man for all the man he is (he is also very kind, and would never lift a finger to hurt myself or my daughter) and he loves me for all the womenly things I do for him too....food being the biggest one.  

  • Comment by  DannieA:

    oh and btw, if my husband and I ever have a son, I'm making my husband teach him how to be chivalrous.  Somehow I don't think that will be a problem ;)

  • Comment by  shadowofashade:

    Denise:

    Chivalry is done for ladies by gentleman.  All ladies are women, but not all women are ladies. Are you as an 'independent woman' communicating that you want the perks of chivalry, but you want nothing of the responsibilities (see #3).  

    'Graciously receiving kindness' (#5) as a lady includes thanking the gentleman when he does it.  Otherwise the act becomes an entitlement.

  • Comment by  LauraA:

    For some strong and undaunted men, chivalry never left : ) There are always those who are willing to go against the flow.

  • Comment by  Beatrice:

    Seems to me like what some people are calling "chivalry" is simply common courtesy.  Courtesy is quite enough and it's not gender-based nor does it have patronizing or sexist connotations.  Why wouldn't anyone (male or female) hold open a door for someone (male or female) carrying packages -- it has nothing to do with gender.  

    And, no, men cannot "overpower women whenever they want" unless they want to spend a few years in jail.  Who even comes up with this stuff?  

    Also, a quick note for Denise:  Hollywood TV shows are not terribly accurate portrayals of real life; I'd encourage you to read some diaries of pioneer women -- who dealt with privation, hardship, and the incredible isolation of pioneer life -- to understand what their lives were really like.  It wasn't all bread-baking and hoe-downs.  

  • Comment by  Corwin:

    As has been discussed on this blog before, there has been some confusion for men as feminist ideas have grown in the culture.

    You want to know where chivalry has gone? This is the answer.

    Men have no way to predict what is expected of them in any given situation anymore. I've had female friends tell me they judge a man's ability to provide by whether he pays for her coffee on dates, and I've had other friends who refuse to let a man pay for anything on a date because they don't want to feel like they owe him anything and plus they have their own money so don't need his. Same for opening doors, giving up seats, etc.

    So instead of trying to figure out what a particular woman expects in any particular situation, most men just give up on trying and do whatever they want in all situations.

    MissC Wrote:

    Anyway, as a single, 29-year old woman who lives alone, I'm definitely independent. I don't need a man to do things for me. But I also thoroughly enjoy it when a man is chivalrous.

    And there lies the contradiction that confuses a lot of guys -- we get messages like "I don't need your money, but you still need to show me you can provide for me" and "I don't need you to take charge, but you still need to ask me out first and plan our dates" and "I don't need you to protect me, but you still need to be stronger and tougher than me to be attractive."

    Of course I'm generalizing and not saying MissC specifically holds these views, but it is really confusing to hear from our culture that women no longer need the things men used to offer, but men are still somehow expected to offer those things in a non-insulting post-feminist way...at least some of the time and only in specific situations to certain women who still value those things while proudly asserting that they don't need them...

  • Comment by  Meredith:

    I love this conversation! As a young lady, my day is always brightened by the kindness & service men display through opening doors, giving up their seat on the bus, etc. I feel served & honored in those instances. I am surprised women often take it as a romantic action. I have grown up with a father who treats me this way, therefore have never thought of chivalry as romantic in & of itself. Thank you to the men who continue to practice chivalry, even with the cultural confusion there is surrounding the subject.

  • Comment by  BiancaL:

    I would just like to say not all women have an issue when a man acts chivalrous towards them.  I am a 30 year old woman and just started dating a very nice Christian guy. Have my own car, apartment, and job.  I pay my own bills but I never have and never will scold a man for being chivalrous towards me.  Never.  I actually appreciate it very much.  It makes me feel feminine and I always say "Thank you." when a man goes out of his way to be kind in a respectful chivalrous manner.  Call me old fashioned but I like it and appreciate it.  The man I just started dating always acted chivalrous towards me when we were just friends.  He always held the door open for me, makes sure I'm walking on the inside of the sidewalk (away from traffic..he walks on the outside closest to traffic), he pumps the gas, even when we are out to dinner and we order the same thing if only one entree comes out first he tells the waitress to hand it to me.  He is very kind...and even now in our dating relationship treats me the same way.  And I make sure to always thank him so that he won't think I take his kindness for granted.  We have known each other for a year now and his character has been consistent this entire time. And in turn he gets my respect, time, and attention. And he is a man's man...extremely masculine...a military man. He isn't weak at all. I will never understand a woman that syas she "hates" when a guy acts in this way.

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