Chivalry is out of style

This past Christmas Eve, I went to church with my wife, my sister, and my brother-in-law. We arrived a half hour early, which was a half hour too late. All of the seats were taken, and even the standing room in the back was filling quickly.

The four of us were able to carve out a spot to stand near the rear of the church. My wife and I have twin babies, and my sister had just given birth to her first child a week or two before. As we set up shop in the back, I thought to myself: “Well, we’ve got a young woman with a newborn and another woman with twins; surely a couple of the many men already sitting will jump up to offer their seats to my wife and sister. Nick and I can stand for the whole service, but there’s no reason why our wives should.” But my delusions were quickly interrupted by the harsh reality. As I looked around, I saw dozens of other women standing alongside us — many of them with kids in tow.

Maybe the hundreds of gentlemen in the pews just haven’t… noticed?

A few minutes later, I had to run to the car to get the diaper bag we’d left in the backseat. When I returned, my wife and sister were sitting in the pews.

Faith in modern manhood: restored.

For the time being, anyway.

I later found out that Beth and Alissa only ended up in seats because they were approached by two other women who offered to make room for them.

Faith in modern manhood: returned to its original severely diminished state.

I wasn’t going to write about this incident. I didn’t want to put a damper on the Christmas festivities. Then, this morning, I read about a recent survey, which came to the unsurprising conclusion that men are increasingly abandoning chivalrous customs. For their part, women are now more likely to be the ones committing certain acts of chivalry.

Our experience at church came rushing back into my mind.

I guess we need to talk about chivalry.

I can’t convince you that it’s cool or modern, but maybe I can show you why it’s important and necessary.

The study suggests that men who forgo chivalry often do so because they’re afraid that being gentlemen might seem “offensive” to some women. Meanwhile, only a small fraction of women actually report being offended by chivalrous deeds. Regardless, that is a flimsy and embarrassing excuse. If a woman is either pretentious or paranoid enough to take a kind gesture as an attack against her womanly identity, that’s her problem. Most, thankfully, are not nearly so confused. If they are, that isn’t our concern. We should do the right thing because it is the right thing; not because we’ve made a prediction as to how it will be received. If you have direct knowledge that a particular female is often quite horrified when car doors are opened for her or seats are offered to her on the subway, then I suppose you should respect her wishes — as ridiculous as they might be. But men are now dumping chivalry entirely, under the supposed assumption that ALL women take great offense to it. This can’t be justified. And, I suspect, it’s simply another thinly veiled excuse to be lazy, self-centered, and apathetic.

So, what about this chivalry thing? It’s true, I admit, that the whole shtick is horribly out of style. Then again, we live in a culture where “what’s in style” seems to change every three months, and the designations of “in” and “out” are completely contrived, shallow, and meaningless. Saying something is “in style” only means that “this is what people happen to be doing now.” Why are they doing it? Because they are. Why aren’t they doing the things they aren’t doing? Because they aren’t. And around we go in circles, spinning down the nihilistic drain.

Chivalry, on the other hand, had a POINT. And the point was deep and substantive. It was a point that rested on an understanding of human nature, and an earnest desire to battle our basest instincts. The point was never “subjugation of women” or “male dominance.” Quite the opposite, in fact. The point was love, and sacrifice, and service. The point was to make a statement that we are not beasts; we are not mere products of dog-eat-dog evolution. We will not live in a world where just the physically strongest survive. Women can only be slaves in a world like that, as history has proven many times.

The rejection of chivalry, on the other hand, is pointless because the rejecters don’t even understand what they’re rejecting. As usual.

Chivalry, as a word and a concept, has a long history, reaching back to the time of knights, feudal warfare, and the Truce of God. The latter was an attempt by the Church to curb and contain the violence and brutality of the Medieval Age. The meaning of “chivalry” has evolved, but its roots can be found in the oath that Crusader knights were made to take as part of their consecration, or “dubbing”. A knight swore “to defend to his uttermost the weak, the orphan, the widow and the oppressed; he should be courteous, and women should receive his especial care”.

Knights could use their strength and wealth to dominate and oppress, but they were called to utilize it in the opposite direction. They were called to do with their power what Christ did with His. They were called to love in the manner described by Paul in Ephesians 5. That’s chivalry. We might not wear suits of armor anymore (unfortunately), but there’s nothing suddenly irrelevant or unnecessary about the spirit of chivalry.

Other phrases and traditions have, over time, become associated with the chivalrous code. You might think of the sinking of the Titanic and “women and children first.” Actually, the first known application of this evacuation strategy occurred in the mid-1800’s, with the HMS Birkenhead shipwreck. After the ship hit a rock and began to sink, the women and children were ushered to the few usable liferafts. It wasn’t until she broke in two that the captain told the men to abandon ship and swim for the boats. But the Lieutenant-Colonel on board realized that the women and children would likely drown if all the men swamped the liferafts. He yelled for the men to stay put and go down with the ship. They did. Almost all of them. Few survived.

Chivalry.

Luckily, unless you plan to go on a voyage on a 19th century frigate this spring, you’ll likely never be called to give your life for the sake of chivalry. This is probably a good thing, seeing as how most of us won’t even give up our seat at church for it.

I said that chivalry — unlike the anti-chivalry movement — had a point. This is it. Chivalry calls for the strongest to serve and honor the weakest, realizing that the other option is for the strongest to dominate and abuse the weakest. Chivalry is one of the things that separates us from gorillas and wolves and rats. We, as chivalrous men, are called to use our strength in service to women, children, the infirm, and the elderly.

If we adopt an “every man and woman for him/herself” then no woman will ever escape a sinking ship again. The men could quite easily shove the women aside, jump on the lifeboats, and get outta Dodge.

You might think this irrelevant because you’ll probably never be in a floundering sea craft or a burning building, but I disagree. I think the whole world is sinking and on fire, and it’s been this way since the Fall of Man. And as things go bad, the weakest are the most exposed and vulnerable. That is, unless the strongest choose to stand fast and take the brunt of the storms that come.

In the mean time, as a routine matter, chivalry is still essential. Men should carry bags, and hold doors, and pull out chairs, and offer seats to women, not because women are incapable of standing or opening their own doors, but because of what these acts represent — what they say. And what they say is simple: “I am bigger and stronger than you, but I will use my strength to honor you and protect you. I will not hurt you. I will not take advantage of you. I will humble myself before you and serve you.”

Ask yourself: is it better that we live in a society where men are dedicated to using their physical superiority for good, even if the good is something as small as carrying a grocery bag or opening a door? If your answer is yes, then you should see the importance of chivalry.

If you answer “no,” then, well, I’m not sure where to go from here. You and I live in different universes.

And to men I ask this: what sort of man do you want to be? When you — assuming you are healthy and capable — sit as women stand, you have made a choice. That choice does not occur in a vacuum. You are now not just a man who sat while women stood, you are the sort of man who would sit as women stand. That wouldn’t look good on your Match.com profile, and it doesn’t bode well for society.

So be chivalrous. Be chivalrous for their sake and yours.

*****

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934 Responses to Chivalry is out of style

  1. Emily Swifton says:

    Personally I’m happy to see ‘chivalry’ go – what we need from people is manners. The rule should be, if you see someone (male, female, doesn’t matter) who is less able to stand than you (regardless of your own gender) then get up and let them sit down. I’m young and healthy so I’ll happily stand on public transport for an elderly or disabled man or woman. The gender of either party really couldn’t be less important to the situation.

    • BillieJoe Allgood says:

      You do realize that part of the code of chivalry was to treat the elderly with respect and deference do you not? Perhaps a little study will produce for you that the idea of chivalry shaped what you and I call today manners.

      • Emily Swifton says:

        I do realise that, but thank you so very much for taking the time and trouble to condescend to me. There are many ideas that have ‘shaped’ the way we think now that we can discard because they have served their purpose and introduced a new, better way of thinking. I also think that what you call manners is a little different to what I do – manners for me include trying not to make people I interact with feel uncomfortable or stupid, but it seems you weren’t brought up that way.

        • BillieJoe Allgood says:

          I truly apologize if I seemed condescending, this was not my intent. Most people of today do not understand the origins of the chivalric code. I do have a hard time putting into writing what I mean. My intent was actually to not offend. My sincerest apologies for offending you in this manner. However I do see many of the modern ways, and I would disagree with you, they are not better. I hope you now take what I said in the true spirit of its intent. Remember, writing for most of us, is cold and informal, it is hard to read true intent sometimes. Once again, I do beg your forgiveness for the misunderstanding of my intent.

      • Emily swifton says:

        Apology accepted, and please accept mine in return for snapping at you. I do think that in many ways what we have now is better, because it came from a paternalistic place. If a mean offered me, a healthy woman, a seat on public transport, although I would politely decline, part of me would be offended. Because of his assumption that due to my gender I am somehow weaker than him. I feel strongly that as a woman I am entitled to the same rights and privileges men are. Why should I also insist that some ‘perks’ are just for women? I hope that explains why I think what we have now is better than chivalry.

        • BillieJoe Allgood says:

          Let me assure you that when I offer my seat to a healthy women it is not because I believe her to be weak. I never knew my Mother. My stepmother and Grandmother however where instrumental in my life. Both where very strong Norwegian women. Because of them, I have a degree, and a very strong moral compass. My father would have led me down a path of violence and criminality. The role women play in a young boys and young mans life, is so very, very important. I honor that role today, and will continue to honor it. When I offer my seat or I open a door, it is in memory of these two women who affected me in such an enormous way. Remember Chivalry is was and is many things to many people.

  2. Christine says:

    Could it be that many men fear chivalric acts because of women who no longer want to be treated as women once were? I have personally seen a woman huff and puff at the man who is holding the door open for her. How many rude responses does it take for a man to decide that he no longer wants to sacrifice his time and efforts for someone who not only does not appreciate it but is offended.
    I love it when men hold doors for me or offer me their seat. I could open the door myself or stand and I’m sure that men know that too. I just happen to like the respect that men give me. It’s an honor to be treated as such. It’s not about a “weaker sex” it’s about respect. It’s how royalty were treated. How could anyone be offended by that?

    • Javin says:

      As the man who has been the target of a number of these “huff and puff” scenarios, I can honestly say that it’s definitely NOT due to laziness that chivalry has died, at least not in my case.

      I’m an introvert in the first place. Having attention drawn to me for any reason isn’t something I particularly enjoy. And when most times now days, holding the door for ANYONE seldom gets so much as a head-nod, much less a “thank you” I have on two separate occasions (one on the D.C. Metro, and another at a Target store) I have women loudly, and rudely exclaim, “No THANK YOU… I don’t NEED your help.” Then eyes turn to me, the women obviously having gotten the attention they wanted, and people are looking at me like I’m some kind of pervert for offering someone a seat, or grabbing them a cart while I was already there at the cart row. Both times the women left with a smug “smirk” quite pleased with themselves.

      Now, given, in my 37 years, this has only happened twice, but why put myself out there like that? I’ll still go out of my way if I can see the woman is pregnant, or if the person is particularly elderly or obviously injured (male or female). But for your average woman now, if she’s not my wife, I’m going to actively fight the urge to follow the values that were instilled in me by my own father to avoid pointless humiliation.

  3. Tiara says:

    I love that you wrote about this, Matt.

    Last Sunday my husband and I took our two children to a local coffee shop before church. While my husband and I sat and sipped our coffe our young son (6) who has a servants heart by nature, decided it would be great fun to hold the door for anyone entering or leaving the coffee shop. I watched and conducted a private social experiment in my mind as I watched one woman after another walk through the door that my son ran over to hold open without giving him a glance of acknowledgment let alone a “thank you”. I was surprised to see more MEN show appreciation for my little boy’s acts of kindness than women. For every 7 (or so) women that walked through the door my son held open for them, ONE would say “thank you!”.

    I was so proud of my little guy for showing kindness to strangers without expectation, and the whole time with a big smile on his face even when he was ignored. But a part of me was so sad to see that what he was doing was not considered by most people as being something worth appreciating.

    like to suggest that perhaps men give up on chivalry because most women just don’t care anymore. Most women won’t even aknowledge it. And when those women are raising young boys without teaching them the importance of chivalry-because they don’t even regard it themselves- it will die completely.

    • gidzmo says:

      Your son is learning early. Unfortunately, many young ladies have either been brought up without manners or were never taught to expect manners from a man of any age.

      Please encourage your son to keep on doing this. Also, if he sees that other men in his family hold doors open (and other such things) for ladies, your son will learn how ladies and older people should be treated.

  4. MK says:

    Instead of saying, “Men should carry bags” I’d say “Men should OFFER to carry bags, and then graciously accept the woman’s reply, yes or no.” I have seen men who thought they were being chivalrous, who wound up picking fights with the women they thought they were being chivalrous to, not taking no for an answer, and insulting them by essentially saying, “You can’t possibly carry your own bag because you’re such a weakling.” How would you like to be treated like that? Some people say that women have better verbal skills than men. How would you like to be constantly told by women, “Don’t strain your poor little brain. I’ll write your blog for you. You just run off to the garage and fix a car or something and let a woman handle this blogging business”?

  5. Bryce says:

    Recently I got abused for holding a door open for a woman I didn’t know. Apparently I was a sexist pig that didn’t respect women or the independence they had striven for over the last century. I just turned around and asked her “What makes you so special?” She stopped and asked me, “What the #@%& is that supposed to mean?”

    I simply replied that, “my parents raised me to be respectful to all people and that I would hold the door for anyone; man, woman or anything in between, black white, yellow red or purple. So given that, what makes you so special to fall outside of those parameters?”

    Apparently that actually deserved more abuse as she walked away.

    It does distress me a little when i see young people sitting (usually engrossed in what is happening on their smartphones, but that is a whole other issue) while older people stand. To me, at age 45, this goes against everything I was taught as a child about respect for others.

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