Disrespect: The New Chivalry?

Scott Farrell comments:

There seems to be a natural divide between youth and adulthood, and looking across that chasm creates a certain degree of confusion and misunderstanding of those who stand on the other side. But in today’s world, more and more it seems like adults are trying to reach across that divide to hold onto “youth culture” for a variety of reasons — to avoid responsibilities of adulthood, to keep a youthful self-image, and (sometimes) to achieve a level of acceptance and rapport with their own children by demonstrating that they’re still in touch with the “hip” crowd.

As adults try to relate to the younger generation and teenagers step outside once-traditional boundaries of social customs, one of the things that seems to be getting lost is the sense of dignity, respect and decorum that once guided young men and women in their interactions.

You might think that (for better or worse) young people would applaud the disappearance of “stodgy” traditions of chivalry, but as Youth Radio commentator Alana Germany points out, putting chivalry in abeyance has not led to a culture that provides women with a new sense of freedom, liberty and empowerment, but rather has created a values system in which rudeness and vulgarity have become the norm, and women can easily become more objectified than ever. As she points out in this essay, which is a companion piece to an excellent on-air feature segment, chivalry is a necessary shield to guard the dignity and rights of women — and it is the responsibility of the older generation to make sure the traditions of chivalry don’t get eclipsed by the expectation that “anything goes.”

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Formality and the folly of stylish rudness

alana-germanyNo wonder chivalry is dead. Hardly anyone under the age of 21 knows what it means. In fact, I’d say disrespect is the new chivalry.

My mom grew up in a time when she says men constantly showed respect for women; always opening doors, pulling out chairs and referring to women as “Miss” instead of the typical “ay, girl” of today. This “new” approach to courtship really started to bother me. I’d be walking down the street or through the BART train station and, “Hey, lil’ mama!” would come out of nowhere.

One time when I was walking home by myself, two young guys ended up walking a couple blocks behind me. The entire time they were behind me they shouted, “Yee yee,” trying to get my attention. Yee is like signature slang in my hometown — Richmond, Calif. Although I’d heard it used a lot around town, I’d never heard it used as a mating call. I mean, when did the standard “excuse me Miss” become “ay bay-bay” or “hey, sexy” and now “yee”? This question, coupled with my annoyance at being harassed almost every time I stepped out the door prompted me to write this story, and I’m glad I did.

I got to talk to my mother and a few other elders of the community. Listening to how boys used to approach dating, I felt even more annoyed with my male peers. My mom told me stories about how her date would have to come inside the house and meet the entire family. When addressing the parents, it was all, “Yes ma’am, yes sir.” If the parents didn’t approve of the boy, my mom wouldn’t go out with him. It may still be like that in some towns, but that isn’t the case here. Now anything goes.

Our generation needs to raise its standards, but that won’t happen unless we are taught to. This is almost a hopeless cause though. I was taught to maintain high standards, but my mother is over 50, and she raised me based on the standards of her time. For the young mothers having babies at 15 and 16, this is their time. If this culture of disrespect is all they know, they won’t teach their children any different; the cycle continues.

Writing this piece was my way of calling out for help and trying to end the destructive pattern so many teens have become accustomed to.

© 2008 Alana Germany

About the author: Alana Germany is a commentator for Youth Radio. This article appeared as a companion piece to her feature segment Disrespect Is The New Chivalry as part of the series What’s The New What (Link no longer available) for NPR.