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The Reason Chivalry is Dead.


Posted by Zenaida

I had a friend once tell me I was the reason chivalry was dead.  It’s true, I don’t really care for the ladies-first mentality.  I don’t have a problem with men opening my doors, as long as they let me open it for them once in a while.

Perhaps it’s simply practical.  If the men don’t let the women go first in line at the potluck, then there won’t be anything left for the ladies.  Or opening the door for your woman is simply practicing for the time when she has her arms so full of babies and diapers that she can’t open her own door.  Paying for all dates really does prove that he will be a worthy provider.

I can tell you I take issue with each of those.  Ladies first at the dinner table encourages the stereotype that men are gluttons.  I understand that growing boys need their calories, but can’t they learn the lesson that resources should be spread around equally, and then they can fill the gaping hole in their legs?  And, if I had children, I’d want my husband to be doing his share of the heavy lifting, and not worrying about whether my door was open or not.  I think that I could probably count the number of times a Mormon guy has let me pay for a date on one hand (and yes that probably also has something to say about my dating life).  I’ve “hung out” (you’re shocked, I know) a number of times when we split the cost, but once it becomes an official date, I’ve definitely had one or two absolutely insist that they pay.  There’s usually an uncomfortable moment when I pull out my wallet, and I’m trying to decide if he’s the kind of guy that is going to graciously accept my half of the bill, or is he going to insist.  And, do I graciously accept his offer, do I put up a fight, or do I even bother to offer?

Maybe it’s even more practical than that.  Women are vulnerable.  I can’t get around it.  I can’t/shouldn’t go out and have a run in the dark because I could be raped.  I will earn statistically less than my male counterparts in my lifetime.  (See an interesting article on women’s earnings in the workplace here.)  Maybe I need to be put up on that pedastal for real and necessary protection.

Now this brings out the problem of being on a pedastal.  Being put on a pedastal just makes it hard to balance, and easier to fall, I think.  As has been brought up in earlier posts, the idea that you can only be either an angel or a devil is just not realistic.  Can’t I just be myself?

And now, comes the confession.  I kind of like having my door opened.  It makes me feel special, and like a princess.  However, I also think it tends to give me a false sense of entitlement.  And, I worry about this kind of behavior being characterized as showing respect for women.  If being respected means that I don’t learn to hold myself up as an individual, and it means that to be protected I must be kept innocent (and by innocent, I mean naive) and pristine, then I don’t think I want that respect.

I think the next question is, how do women show respect for men?  The first thing that comes to mind is “modesty.”  Once again my Young Women’s lessons bring me to the conclusion that the way I respect myself and others is simply by avoiding sexuality in any way.  Are there any other ways to show respect to men?

Whether or not I’ve single-handedly killed chivalry, I will continue to challenge it.  If you see a bright twenty-something helping the little old man across the street, that could be me.

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20 Responses

  1. vajra2 says:

    “Well, children, where there is so much racket there must be something out of kilter. I think that ‘twixt the Negroes of the South and the women at the North, all talking about rights, the white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all this here talking about?

    That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen them most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman?

    Then they talk about this thing in the head; what’s this they call it? [member of audience whispers, “intellect”] That’s it, honey. What’s that got to do with women’s rights or negroes’ rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half measure full?

    Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.

    If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.

    Obliged to you for hearing me, and now old Sojourner ain’t got nothing more to say.”

    ~Sojourner Truth

  2. adamf says:

    I had a bit of an issue when I was first dating my wife because she was very “traditional” in the door opening stuff and etc. I was fine with it at first, but after a while it started to feel like we weren’t close, i.e. “if I still have to open the door for you, I don’t feel as close–you still feel like a stranger.” However, overtime it got through to me how she feels when I do those traditionally “chivalrous” things for her. She loves it. So I focuse on the feelings rather than the act, and everyone is happy. She now also opens the door for me too though. 🙂

    Another way women can show respect for men is through expression of admiration. I don’t know about all men and women, but that is really important for me–to feel like I am admired. It is not as important for her, but maybe that’s just us.

  3. Katherine says:

    I try to thank my husband every time he opens the door for me. I thank him for most everything he does, because I would like to be thanked for everything I do (and he does a decent job at that).

    I do give up my seat for old and feeble men.

  4. Caroline says:

    Great thoughts, Zenaida. One way I always liked to deal with the tricky issues of dating and paying is to just take turns, so that way no one is in the awkward position of finding change to split the bill. I also am a pragmatist on this subject and often felt that the person who had more money might as well pay more often. (That person was often me.)

    The idea that these chivalrous acts (opening doors, etc.) show respect for women doesn’t really resonate with me. To me it shows that the man has been raised with certain ideas about what’s polite, and I don’t really take it beyond that.

    I think the way men can show respect for women is probably pretty much exactly the same way women can show respect for men – by being good listeners, being present with the person, acknowledging good qualities, being thoughtful, and making compromises. Superficial gestures like opening the car door door won’t take a relationship anywhere if those other things are lacking.

  5. mb says:

    Good point, Caroline.

    In regards to day-to-day roles of culturally proscribed social interaction with your average citizen, to show respect, give the other person, whether female or male, the benefit of the doubt. If you are concerned that what another is doing in her or his traditional interaction with you might be patronizing or might be an expression of doubt about your capacities, give the person the benefit of the doubt and assume that their culturally proscribed actions are simply an attempt at consideration or kindness, misguided or not, understood as such or not.

    We free ourselves to work with others more effectively if we assume that their motives are well-intentioned rather than insisting that they only act in a way that we understand as respectful on our own terms. This is true whether we are interacting with someone whose actions are based on what they learned in a different culture in another part of the world, or in a different culture down the street and around the corner, or in a different culture in a previous generation.

    This doesn’t mean that you need to assume a role that you do not wish to assume. Nor does it mean that when you conclusively determine, after considerable interaction, that another is intentionally unkind, you should be a doormat. It simply means that, in daily interactions, you choose to deal kindly with a difference between the two of you. Giving others the benefit of the doubt also lays the groundwork for trust that will make it more likely that you will be undefensively listened to with respect when you honestly express your preferences for their future behavior in their interaction with you.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    I used to obsess over these things a bit, wondering what was proper and where the line was or ought to be. Eventually, I mellowed out about it. Now I open doors for women simply because that is the way my mother raised me; I don’t worry too much about what it is supposed to mean.

    My wife doesn’t care a lick for this practice. I still try to do it. Usually when it manifests itself is at the office, holding the elevator doors. Once I held the elevator door for a woman and let her get on first, and the whole way up she expressed how much she appreciated that small gesture, which I have to admit steeled my resolve to keep doing it.

    On the check thing, as a man I think that if a woman made a big deal over wanting to split the check and not let me pay, I would interpret that as a lack of romantic interest and a desire to keep the meal clearly in the “Just friends” category. Ironically if she insisted on paying the whole tab I don’t think I would perceive it that way. And splitting would be fine if it had already been established that there was a mutual romantic connection.

    We are slaves to our culture, aren’t we?

  7. I’m not big on the holding doors thing, because it often has impacts on efficiency. If I get to the door first, I will open it, plain and simple (but I will try not to let it hit you in the face). On the elevator, thank you for holding the door for me as I run to catch it, but when it gets to our floor, don’t try to step aside in the elevator car to let me exit first. Just GET OFF and GET OUT OF THE WAY.

    Sorry, guess you hit a nerve. 🙂

  8. Dora says:

    Pragmatically, on dates, whoever asks, pays. I’ve done this a few times, and it works wonderfully.

    I am more inclined to appreciate assistive behavior when I perceive that it comes from a kindly heart, rather than cultural mores. Thus, it makes me smile when I see punkish young guys give up their seats to elderly folk or struggling parents on the bus or train. Who was it that said, “Manners are to do and say the kindest thing in the kindest way.” And sometimes this kindness extends to letting others serve and grow, and sometimes to gently instruct.

    And I sympathize with janeanchovy. If I were an alternative horsewoman/biker of the apocalypse, my name would be, “Walking behind people walking slowly,” as opposed to “Fish,” or “Really cool people.”

  9. Mark D. says:

    If you want to pay for a date, the rule is simple – do the asking.

  10. wendy says:

    When my now husband and I were dating we talked about this issue a lot. He had spent a year at BYU and it drove him nuts how some women would just wait at a car or door for him to open it, even if he had to go out of his way and it was completely awkward. I argued that chivalry was just a way of being polite. Since being married to him for 9 years, I have come to see how these chivalrous acts are empty of meaning and do not translate a level of respect per se.

    I think the best way to show a woman respect is to not reduce her, or any other women, to their sexuality or appearance. It used to bother me that my husband’s comments about my appearance were sporadic and not very specific. Even if I would lose 10 or 20 pounds (or gain, in the case of pregnancies), he would never comment on this change in my appearance. As well, he rarely comments on other people’s appearances (good or bad, male or female). I didn’t realize how unusual this was until I was in the company of some LDS men who did make these comments: about how beautiful a certain actress is or how they liked checking out girls at the pool as a teenager. I was immediatley struck with insecurities and felt reduced to my face and figure when these comments were made.

    In contrast, my husband’s compliments are more about who I am than what I look like. He loves my ideas, my sharp sense of humour that takes him off guard, my optimism, my goodness, my silliness, my work ethic, my abilities as the mother of his children, in addition to what I look like (even in the morning). This de-emphasizing of appearance (even though it is what I thought I wanted for many years) has made me feel like a respected equal, as his partner in the hard work of being a family.

    In case you’re wondering, he opens the door for me if it makes sense (he’s in front of me, I’m carrying something, etc.). I’m happy to do the same for him when he needs me to.

  11. D'Arcy says:

    I was just at a dinner event that involved lots of young men and women. I let the kids go first and one young man went back for FIVE hamburgers before I even got to the front of the line and by the time the leaders ate, there was nothing left. It was at that moment that I thought, you know, do we train boys to act like gluttons when we let the girls go first and they eat very little for several reasons (don’t want to take too much, or look like I enjoy eating too much etc) and then the men just lose all sense of reason and politeness and eat and eat? It was a weird moment. But seriously, five hamburgers!

    Ok, that was a bit off topic.

    I’m with you in killing chivalry, but what I have found in its stead is much more rewarding and wonderful. The relationships I have been in in my late 20s and early 30s are MUCH different from the BYU days. I now like to share the cost of the bills. If I invite, I pay. I like to share the opening of the doors. I like to have that equality of treatment than the “sit there and adore me on this pedestal” type mentality. With the pedestal, I always felt like I couldn’t quite be me, that I had to act the way a woman who got her door opened should act. Docile, kind, even tempered, sweet, smiling, non complaining, and perfectly dressed and cared for. It definitely puts you into specific roles when you let it.

    Now, with the sharing of the money and the door opening (which obviously is an easy way to get the idea across for many different types of similar behavior) ..I feel that I am not just a woman and he’s not just a man, but, like you said, we’re both just being ourselves.

  12. Melissa says:

    Thanks for this post. There’s a poem by May Swenson called “Women” that begins:
    “Women should be pedestals moving pedestals moving to the motions of men.” You can read the entire poem here:

  13. AS says:

    Wow! You’ve put an awful lot of thought into the whole chivalry thing. I always thought it was just about respect and making us feel special, but if it doesn’t make you feel special, then well you shouldn’t have them open your doors.

    I watched my dad always open the car door for my mom. He did it every time they both rode in the car together. Although I did think it was a bit foolish, and my husband doesn’t open my doors all the time, it did make an impression on me that he respected my mom. Obviously he showed he respected her in other ways too, or that door-opening thing would just seem hypocritical and stupid.

    But, if that is a tangible way of showing respect to a woman, then it is OK. And if a tangible way for me to show my respect for my husband as a man is to iron his shirts for him, I am OK with that too. I don’t think respect has to always be shown in those ways, but I think the chivalry thing tangible ways of showing respect. But, if it is not reciprocated or shown in other ways, then it is all for nought, right?

  14. acm says:

    My WWII veteran grandfather got an angry tirade from a woman for whom he held the door at the mall; she thought it condescending, etc. He replied calmly, “Madam, I did not hold the door for you because you are a lady, but rather because I am a gentleman.” And walked away.

  15. Goose says:

    Chivalry defiantly should not be dead.

  16. mValiant says:

    I liked reading this post and all of the comments.

    This has been on my mind lately. My husband opens the car door for me and I know that he takes pride in doing it because *to him* it means that he is a gentleman who respects and cares about his wife.
    But we are also working really hard to have equality in our marriage. So it sits funny with me to know that I am equal with my husband but he opens doors for me and I don’t open doors for him because men open doors for women and women don’t open doors for men. So *within society* it means that women need to be protected, pampered, cared for more like objects then like empowered active agents unto themselves.

    So the trick for me is whether my understanding of what something means *within society* means more than what something means *to him*. Can we own that behavior as our own instead of having it be full of societal meanings?

    The way I’ve dealt with it so far is I always drive now. B/c he only opens the door for me when I’m riding as the passenger. Maybe I’m avoiding the question, but I’m happy to be driving instead of riding with my well-rested arm from not opening the door.

  17. K says:

    LOL. I loved the last paragraph there. An
    entertaining read.

    How do women show respect for men? Simple – listen
    to whatever they say. The time when a woman
    NEVER paid on a date was also the time she
    had no say in anything. LOL. But seriously,
    respect for a guy on a date would be not to expect
    that he will pay, but also that if you do offer,
    and he says no, just drop it at that, and be
    very thankful that there still are those guys
    out there.

    BTW, this is coming from a girl whose boyfriend
    is in a very intense school program. He barely
    has time to fulfil his church calling, so he
    doesn’t have a job, and I am the one with the
    chivalry – I pay on dates nearly every time, and
    I do the driving. See? Chivalry is not dead. 😉

  18. Matthew Chapman says:

    I hold doors for everybody- male, female, young, old. I’m just not in that big a hurry.

    I also try to rescue the Princess (or Prince) *before* I slay the dragon.

  19. Bruce says:

    It is amazing. For all the comments here about chivalry now being equal, every single commenter told us what they want or how they feel. Not a single one asked what men want or how men feel. This is exactly why western women are seen as selfish and under appreciative. This is what is really killing chivalry.

  1. November 3, 2009

    […] happened to the world? Why aren’t things like they used to be? Good men have gone missing. Chilvary is dead. Of course there are guys out there that are supportive, but I feel as if they are scarce. If you […]

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