The Chivalry Charade


From time to time we at The MOD Love Show like to post an article for discussion on our Facebook page. Recently we had some listeners talking about James Sama’s blog post about 8 Acts of Chivalry to Bring Back. Given that I’m writing this post right now, you just know I have a bone to pick with it.

Let’s start at the end. The author closes the piece with the following admonition:

The new era of chivalry is not rooted in the chauvinistic mindset of the past. We have evolved past performing these acts for women because “they can’t do it themselves.”

The new gentleman performs these acts for the right reasons – love, caring, and respect.

Sounds promising! Well, except that many of the examples of chivalry offered up do not meet those very criteria of love, caring and respect. Let’s take a look at the first one, shall we? Giving up your seat. I’ll start with an example (I relish examples).

Bob is an accountant in a big city hospital. He’s close to retirement. He trundles onto a crowded train at the end of the day and takes one of the few remaining seats left. He closes his eyes momentarily, thinking about how good it will feel to get home, take off his tie, remove his shoes and rest his tired feet. Just before the train pulls away, Gina, a 25 year old yoga instructor, hops onto the train. There are no open seats so she drops her gym bag to the floor and grabs a ceiling strap for safety.

According to Mr Sama’s idea of chivalry, Bob should give up his seat because Gina is a woman. Would this be done for love? Well, no. Bob doesn’t even know Gina, much less love her. Caring? Same thing. He doesn’t even know her. What about respect? Does Gina deserve more respect than any other person on the train? Purely because she has a vagina? Mr Sama seems to think so.

What if, instead of Gina, the person rushing onto the last train was Lenny? Poor Lenny has walked with a cane for almost 60 years thanks to a piece of shrapnel that embedded itself in his hip during his tour of duty in the Korean War. How about Margaret, a harried young mother with a large purse over her shoulder, a bag of groceries tucked in one arm, and a small child’s hand in the other? Looking at this red-faced, puffy-eyed child, you can tell she’s been crying and is tired. A wisp of hair escapes Margaret’s severely drawn back hair. Would Bob give up his seat for either of these people? If this is the type of behavior we’re trying to encourage, and I think we are, then yes. He would.

Is this chivalry? Or is it simply being polite?

What if Gina had a seat? Should she offer up her seat to Lenny or Margaret? What do you think? Is it better to perform an act of kindness because of what a person is, such as a female versus who they are, such as a tired, worn, or burdened individual or a loved one?

And how about the second suggestion – pulling out her chair?

Well, now you’re not talking about doing this for every woman, right? You wouldn’t wander the restaurant looking for women in need of a chair pull. You’re talking about a person you are close to. A girlfriend or wife, perhaps? Maybe your mother? In this case, and in the case of opening doors for her, giving compliments, walking her to her door, or dropping her off before looking for parking, these just aren’t universal truths. Much depends on both your relationship with this person and the love languages you share. If you show love with Acts of Service or Words of Affirmation, or these are the ways she wishes to receive love, by all means, do these things. But why muddle them up with some ancient concept of chivalry? It is both of your responsibilities to speak with each other’s love languages. Not every woman wants the door held for her and not every woman demands words of praise. Perform these things because you know your partner appreciates them, not because they’re part of some medieval tradition.

The other idea of chivalry presented, to call rather than text, seems to fit into “get off my lawn” territory. I imagine people in the early 20th century telling people to go up to a girl and ask her out (or ask her father’s permission to court her) rather than using that new-fangled telephone doohickey. Even further back in time, perhaps the preference was to write a sonnet rather than to have common discourse.

Look, technology changes. If the person you wish to ask out has indicated she prefers a call to a text, by all means call. But let’s not confuse technological advancement with rudeness. Many old ways are no longer considered appropriate. Remember arranged marriages?

Every so often someone pulls out this idea of returning to the old ways, as if everything new is bad and things were better in the good old days. Our parents and our grandparents regaled us with stories of how the Good OLD® days were so much better. And now we’re doing it to.  If we’re going to look backwards, why not listen to the greatest thinkers and philosophers of all time? Treat everyone with respect and compassion. Do unto others, in other words. When we treat people based on who they are rather than what they are, we all win.

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