“You don’t have to open the door for me because I’m a lady, you know” the bossy woman said indignantly
“I didn’t open it for you because you are a lady. I opened it because I’m a gentleman” the man politely smiled
You’ve probably heard this meme before, both being praised and refuted by many.
I was having a chat to my
bartender therapist about it the other day. In our usual ‘what is it with women’ conversations, we started discussing chivalry. Not too long ago, Boag’s ‘St George’ Beer ran a series of advertisements stating that ‘Chivalry isn’t dead’, and had a competition for men to send in their best examples of chivalrous behaviour.
There seem to be many arguments about chivalry. Check out the tag ‘dating’ on WordPress and you’ll see a range of attitudes from women about chivalry. Some dream of dating (and marrying) a true gentleman, who’ll open doors and pay for meals and be kind and polite. Others proclaim the ‘you go girl’ attitude and encourage the sisterhood to go out and get everything on their own. Many feminist writers aggressively proclaim that chivalry is the domain of the patriarchy and should be smashed and is demeaning to women and blah-de-blah-de-blah angry feminists.
We all know what chivalry shouldn’t be. It’s not a man falling over himself to open a door for a women, then giving her ‘the eye’ as she awkwardly walks by. It’s not a man inappropriately ‘complimenting’ a woman. It’s not buying a gal a drink with expectations attached to it.
What is chivalry to me?
It’s the simple notion of acknowledging others and simply putting that person first in an everyday occurrence. I love watching programs of yore where, when a lady walks into a room, or comes and goes to a table, the men stand up and acknowledge the lady. It’s being, where practicable, opening the door for anyone – being polite, paying respect to seniority. It’s going out of your way for a social nicety, without expectation.
Chivalry is graciously accepting manners, too. We so often hear of stories where anyone (usually a man) has extended a social grace to a lady, only to be shut down and insinuations to him that he is acting out of some 1950’s playbook of social expectations. As easy as it is for someone to show chivalry, it is just as easy to accept chivalry, for no other reason than you acknowledge the ‘givers’ desire to employ a social grace.
In many respects, it’s nice not to be bound by ridged social rules of yore. If I was a lady, I think that it’s grand that I don’t have to wear a hat, gloves and a layer upon layer of hot clothing. As a man, I appreciate not having to wear a three-piece suit or dress up for dinner. In some ways, however, we have lost our way.
So at the risk of offending both sexes, here’s the Vidins’ Guide to Chivalry:
For the Men:
The general question I ask myself before acting chivalrous is ‘would my mum or sister appreciate this’. This works in so many ways. Would my mum appreciate me opening the door for her? Would my sister appreciate me helping her with heavy luggage on an aeroplane? Would my mother be comfortable if I complimented her on a nice perfume or dress? If you think your mum, your sister or your wife would appreciate a random stranger acting this way, it’s generally safe to do it.
-Would your mum, sister or wife appreciate an open door and a ogle at her bottom? No? Then that’s not chivalrous. Would your mum, sister or wife appreciate a man pulling the chair for her at the table and a perv at her breasts as she seats? No? Of course, that’s not chivalrous!
-Men, displaying chivalry involves looking after yourself. I’ve written before about men’s grooming and dressing for office. Essentially, dress up to the occasion, not down to the occasion. Invest in a handsome cologne and be proud of smelling nice. Keep your hair well-coiffed and your breath fresh.
-Acknowledge when someone enters the room. If you are sitting, stand. If someone leaves the table, stand. Regardless if it’s a man or women entering or leaving. Confidently and appropriately shake hands, especially in a professional setting. Both men and women appreciate the integrity of a confident handshake.
-Don’t fall over yourself to be chivalrous. Don’t barge through to be the first to open a door, don’t bumble around trying to assist someone with heavy luggage. There is nothing more undignifying than a man who tries too hard.
-When your chivalrous actions fail, don’t blame the ungrateful recipient. Remember men, many women have been told they can do it all (and lets not beat around the bush – women do have the skills, capability and nous to achieve it all) and don’t appreciate social graces extended towards them. In these cases, don’t blame her or call her a feminist, but extend her the courtesy that she can, in fact, do it all herself. In time, she will find that she will be doing it all herself. No one likes to help the ungrateful.
And for the ladies:
-Never accept a ‘kind’ act that comes with an ‘expectation’. A man’s kindness should not come with an expectation that you will provide him with your telephone number! Men that hide behind faux-chivalry are mere playboys with outward manners.
-When a man opens the door, a simple smile or ‘thank you’ is all that is needed. It has cost him nothing to open the door for you, surely it costs nothing to extend a nicety back in thanking him. Despite what you may have been led to believe, not every guy wants to get into your pants. Believe it or not, most men simply act this way out of respect. He does not think that you are incapable or in any way needy of a man’s assistance. He is simply being nice, with no expectations attached.
-An un-required offer for assistance can also be handled with poise. Should a man offer you assistance with heavy luggage, or putting an awkward IKEA box in your car and you don’t require his assistance, a simple ‘thank you for your kind offer, I can manage myself’ is all that is needed. Don’t huff about him thinking less of you. Don’t slap back his offer with shrieks of the imposition of 1950’s values. Thank him and move on.
You may think of this as me trying to convince women that men’s egos are fragile, and it is the role of womenfolk to pander to that. To the contrary. It takes a strong man to confidently offer a social kindness to another (man or woman). A truly chivalrous man does not need a quick ego-boost from faux-altruism! He is simply seeing what he perceives as an opportunity to extend a social grace and has the confidence to extend himself in that situation.
There’s no doubt that expectations for manners have shifted greatly over time. Roles for men and women have equally changed – certainly for the better!
I’m interested in your thoughts on chivalry – the good, the bad, the ugly!