Chivalry: not impressed

Sometimes, when I’m walking with a group of people, I arrive at the door first. It felt like it happened a lot at my old job. I’d open it, and like any polite person I’d hold it open for the people behind me. BUT, frequently, if there was a man in the group he would either hesitate in a strange dance of wanting to take the door or he would take the door from me and awkwardly try to usher me through.

It was weird. It looked weird, it felt weird. For fuck’s sake, if you’re trying to impress me or anyone else watching for that matter, stop. You’re doing it wrong.

Maybe I’m wrong in thinking this, but modern chivalry, as I understand it, isn’t meant to be an arbitrary set of rules you put on display when interacting with women. It comes off that way to those of us who think it’s outmoded, but it isn’t meant to. Chivalry arose as a code of conduct for knights. The specific wording of the rules of chivalry varies, but some elements were present in most versions. A knight’s code of chivalry boiled down to a few things:

  1. To be skilled in weaponry
  2. To defend one’s country and church – FINALLY, we can use our religious beliefs to justify war.
  3. To defend the weak – Women, children, and the elderly.
  4. To be virtuous – In the “having high moral standards” sense of the word, not just “keepin’ it in your pants”.

Women being the “weaker sex” meant something different then than it does now. Hell, I’ve been that girl in the 40 pound dress trying to get up a rail-less flight of stairs. When I was in The Barber of Seville, my friend, Tony, held my elbow every night as I trembled slowly up the rickety steps to Rosine’s window. I’m sure I looked positively sick at the prospect of singing in front of an audience and I was weak after eating one, small, forced meal a day for two solid weeks. To me, Tony’s show of physical support was also one of emotional support. He could tell that I was not okay and did something for me that I couldn’t do for myself. I’m still grateful to him for that. The fact that steadying a lady while she walks up a flight of stairs is a traditional show of chivalry was less important to me than the fact that he was perceptive and legitimately helpful.

However, not many women where I’m from find themselves malnourished in heavy dresses often. Maybe in the early 1900s, a meaningful show of chivalry would be if my husband supported my right to vote. In the 1960s perhaps a good example of chivalry would be a man protecting a woman’s right to access family planning resources. Hell, it would still be today. Weakness manifests itself differently now than it did when chivalry was first conceived. Women have always been weaker politically, so wouldn’t showing support for their causes be a more meaningful show of gallantry?

If you think that chivalry is simply remembering to walk on the street side of the sidewalk and pushing in a woman’s chair at the table, you’ve completely missed the point. Not to mention that you’ve been co-opted. Any asshole can remember to open the car door for a woman – they frequently do – but it takes a considerate, observant individual to assess situations as they come and act in a way that is appropriate in a given moment.

I realize that the guys from my old job not allowing me to hold the door open was meant to signify that they were respectful and had good manners. However, not allowing me hold a door open is weird. It makes me uncomfortable when a man doesn’t allow me to do that. It tells me is that this pageantry that chivalry has become, is more important to the man performing it than the very real awkward situation they created by having everyone stop and convincing me to move so that they can reclaim control of the door and consequently their “good-guy” identity. In other words, it tells me that their priorities are fucked up.

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