Chivalry: Dead or Alive?

25 09 2009

chivalry

One thing I find especially interesting about this city is the clash of Southern and Northern mentalities.  D.C. is definitely below the Mason-Dixon line, but somehow, since I’ve been up here, I’ve lost my cool Louisiana accent as well as my  tolerance for extreme heat,  alcohol, and socializing in general.  An old high-school boyfriend once asked me if I was “still living in Siberia,” referring to my 4-year stint in Charlottesville, Virginia.

I’m not sure where I fall in terms of this Southern/Northern divide, having grown up in the Deep South and then lost most of my outwardly “Southern” characteristics.  For this reason, I feel especially qualified to comment in an unbiased way on today’s topic:  Chivalry.

In my experience, Southern men are raised to be chivalrous.  They see it as a sign of respect and politeness.  The typical Southern man will automatically hop ahead of you to pull the door open, offer you his coat, give up his seat for you, buy your drinks at the bar, walk with his hand on your back (this one only in a romantic capacity).  Northern men, I find, often see this kind of chivalry as condescending and outdated.  In this post-feminist, post-women’s lib world, where women can run companies and countries while raising kids on their own, can’t they open doors for themselves and pay for their own coffee?

Well, of course we can.  But that’s beside the point.  Being a “gentleman” is about respect.  The concept of courtly or chivalric love dates back to a particular period of cultural upheaval in 10th/11th century France and Italy when the rich, landowning men were off fighting in the Crusades, leaving their blushing brides to run the fiefs.  Now that the women suddenly held all the power, the struggling serfs and artists began writing them poems of praise and endless devotion to gain their economic favor.  That’s right- chivalry began with a bunch of gold-digging men who pledged to prostrate themselves before women in the hopes of gaining power and land.

Back then chivalry was a sign of respect for women, not condescension, and it was an acknowledgment of the social and cultural power of femininity.  That’s not to say that failing to be outwardly chivalrous is a sign of disrespect; of course it’s not.  Things are quite different today, admittedly, as women are incredibly independent and self-empowered.   Traditional gender roles are not necessarily relevant anymore, but I don’t understand the cultural obsession with tiptoeing around the fact that men and women are inherently different.  Our hormones are different. We bleed for a week every month so that one day we can endure hours of labor to pop out a little mini-me version of YOU. The least you could do is open the damn door.

While it’s easy to cross the line between being a gentleman and being a chauvinist, I would argue that most heterosexual women still appreciate it when a man goes out of his way to show respect for the Grand Vagina.  Just because Hillary Clinton wears pants-suits all the time and rails on journalists who mention her husband doesn’t mean that she doesn’t love feeling a little bit feminine once in a while when Bill opens the car door for her.  And she shouldn’t be called silly or high-maintenance for thinking that way.  Know what I’m sayin’?

What do you guys think?  Agree? Disagree? Thoughts?

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11 responses

25 09 2009
woman of non-leisure

This is what I miss about dating a southern man. If someone touches my back in nyc i’m sorely tempted to immediately slept them with a sexual harassment lawsuit. but maybe that’s why i’m without a vp-ship and/or a fat engagement ring?

25 09 2009
Mary Lisa

I grew up in New Orleans but have lived i Chicago for 20 years. I have never seen a man give up his seat on the bus for a woman. In the south a man would never let a woman stand while he was sitting comfortably in his seat.

25 09 2009
Southern Girl

Men, are you listening? Please don’t stop opening doors for us and buying our lattes. Most of us appreciate the effort and the feminine way it makes us feel. Now of course that doesn’t give you permission to start grabbing our rear ends or anything like that…

25 09 2009
Pita L.

I thought chivalry was originally a knight’s code. I always thought of chivalry, in the terms as you describe it, as ironic because it was not designed with women in mind. Then again, I am from the North.

25 09 2009
districtramblings

You’re right Pita, chivalry technically originated with knighthood and the related virtues around the same period, and it is actually “courtly love” that began with the troubadours in 10th century France. But the kind of chivalry I’m talking about is that between men and women, which has more to do with the courtly love ethic than the knighthood ethic.

25 09 2009
graber

congratulations, i’m never holding a door for you ever again.

25 09 2009
bros

As former speed dater, I can say that I would have never taken it past a first date if a guy tried to go dutch, but i do think that chivalry is something that is allowed to taper off after a while. I would find it incredibly annoying to wait for someone to open the car door for me 3 years into a relationship. best plan of action is to hunt for foreigners from 2nd and 3rd worls countries. chivalry is alive and well in those cultures, and in 4.5 years, I’ve never paid for dinner.

26 09 2009
Cindy

I am sending this to all my rude children. Yes, we are able to eat with our fingers, talk with our mouths full, burp at the table, slam the door in someone’s face…manners are just another skill set that educated and courteous homosapiens are allowed to take advantage of… why has it lost favor? Also, if men want us to wear tight skirts and high heels, they should at least go across the room and get us a drink!

27 09 2009
Ashley

This is exactly the balance we modern, empowered, and delicate women are looking for. In addition to the regional divide, there’s a generational factor here. Men in New York used to hold doors open for women; they just did so while blatantly staring at their gams. (source: Mad men, that’s credible right?) Feminism taught our mothers that in order to spare their daughters that slimy experience, they should preach equality. And they did and we thank them for that. But, as you pointed out, we have some significant differences that got trampled in the rush to equity. I think your version of chivalry celebrates those differences, allowing us distinct but equal gender roles. Today, we want that balance. Who knows what we’ll want tomorrow.

27 09 2009
Southern Girl

Very well put, Ashley.

28 09 2009
Geof Boyle

Chivalry is a fun game that anyone can play, LGBT peeps included! I have two theories about why it is still an option outside of feudalism:
1) It can be a way of saying I like you and an opportunity to respond I like you, too, by accepting graciously, without the note passing and box checking.
2) It lets the recipient of favors know that the pursuer is willing to play by some of the rules. So the pursued might then hope that all the rules will be followed, meaning this person is a safer bet than the person who shoves you out of the way to get into a cab. Pepe le Peeuw didn’t understand this. He moved too quickly and was too self-centered to anticipate ANY of that cats needs. I mean, he didn’t even know she wasn’t a skunk. Maybe, if there is a power differential at work, either physical or social, chivalrous behavior demonstrates a willingness to not take advantage of that? I suppose date rape stands to the contrary of this hypothesis, unless date rapers as a rule to not hold doors open. Anything to add, rapists?

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