Should chivalry be dead?

A few years ago, I read an article online (don’t remember where) arguing that chivalry deserves a second look.
The writer’s point was that stripped of the sexism and classism that came with medieval ideas, chivalry has good principles. Live up to your promises. Respect your superiors (to the extent they earn it, at least). Protect the helpless. Stand up for what’s right. Do your duty well, whatever it happens to be.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure chivalry can be extracted from the medieval context. Just the word conjures visions of knights in armor or Southern gentleman acting with (possibly unctuous) politeness toward women. As witness that most discussions of Chivalry Today don’t approach in a gender-free manner. This Atlantic article, for instance, asserts that by rejecting chivalry (under which category the author includes opening doors for women, carrying bags for them, paying on the first date) women are ultimately worse off: Men behave boorishly and disrespect women without a code to govern them! By rejecting chivalry, feminism has gotten men all confused about how to act! Feminists and traditionalist should make common cause! Chivalry doesn’t mean treating women as the weaker sex!
Frankly, when it’s put in a gendered discussion like this, yes that’s what it implies. Though author Emily Esfahani Smith does suggest briefly at the end that it’s a good thing for both sexes to show chivalrous conduct, that’s not how the rest of the article runs, which is focused on how men treat women.
First off, to touch on one points, I don’t think chivalry is some vital bulwark against being boorish or rude. It’s possible to be courteous and polite without being chivalrous, or gender-based chivalrous. As this blogger points out, (hat tip to Slacktivist) offering your seat to someone who’s pregnant or old is generous and courteous—but she has no wish to have someone give up a seat on a bus just because of her gender.
Second, quite aside from the baggage that comes with chivalry (and the underlying rationale has always been Man Protects And Cares For Woman), as a practical point it also places pressure on the woman. Not to open her own doors, carry her own groceries, pay for the date, even if she wants to. So it’s not surprising some women don’t want or actively dislike all the chivalry trapping unless they have a practical purpose (some women do—it’s much more accepted in the South, in my experience). If someone insists on someone else accepting a courtesy–and Smith seems to think women should accept chivalrous gestures—then it’s no longer courtesy, it’s imposing.
Third, the underlying point is bullshit. Chivalry doesn’t reign in male impulses: Knights were just as capable of raping or killing women as any “boorish” modern male. Just read Thomas Mallory—his knights are most definitely not gentlemanly in their behavior.
What chivalry does do is excuse all the nastiness. Fox anti-feminist pundit Suzanne Venker, for example, argues that women really had it better off back in the good old days, when they had no rights but men would stand up when they entered the room. Why, when men behave like that, it’s clear that women couldn’t possibly be oppressed!
So yeah, I think chivalry has some good points, but we don’t need chivalry itself to adopt them. Let it die, and let’s work on a better code.
According to Smith, feminism has left men confused about how to behave by rejecting chivalry. I’d say her and Venker arguing in favor of it is just as confusing. Plus, of course, they’re wrong.

4 Comments

Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

4 responses to “Should chivalry be dead?

  1. Pingback: Hey, That Feminist Gave Me Back My Lance — Chivalry Part 4 | joeccombs2nd

  2. Pingback: Hadn’t planned to post | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: Sex is a beautiful cathedral that liberals want to demolish. Who knew? | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  4. Pingback: Honor and its discontents | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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