Putting Down Chivalry’s Baggage

Scott Farrell comments:

Women’s rights and gender equality are often cited as causes for the supposed “death” of chivalry. Somehow, we’ve been led to believe, modern society cannot encompass the notion that women should be treated with both respectful equality and courtesy at the same time. But this young author, who writes for the Baylor University campus newspaper, has a stunningly simple idea: Maybe the notion that men and women are created equal doesn’t eliminate the obligations of chivalry — maybe it means that women should be equal to men when it comes to being helpful, compassionate and proactive in making a better world for everyone. Her experiences being confined to a wheelchair for a period of time made her see that cynical baggage about the death of chivalry is an unnecessary burden on society. Who says a woman can’t hold the door for a woman — or a man, for that matter?

The Universal Rewards of Helping Others

holddoorA car accident confined me to a wheelchair for a couple of months during 2004. I was helpless, and taking me anywhere was a burden.

I vividly remember one trip with my mom to the doctor’s office. She struggled to push me through two sets of double doors while trying to avoid running me into a wall or whacking one of my broken limbs with a door. Just inside the office, a woman sat and stared at our struggle.

Although I’m sure we looked amusing and pathetic, I wasn’t embarrassed. Instead, I was humiliated for that woman and her lack of action.

If a man had noticed our spectacle, we probably would have had a door or two opened for us. Why is chivalry only considered a male trait? And why don’t we train little girls like we do boys to look for opportunities to be chivalrous?

Instead of blaming men for abandoning chivalry, women should take on the trait. And have men really abandoned chivalry? I sit on the fence when it comes to this debate.

Women are quick to point out how little boys should be more feminine by telling them not to slug their friends in the shoulder or torture turtles, but to instead pass the time with their hands folded in their lap. But maybe it would do some good for girls and women to act chivalrously.

Conveniently, most of us women don’t think in these terms. Instead we want to get together and lament with the old “where have all the cowboys gone?” sob story. It’s always easier to blame someone else instead of taking action yourself.

You may think chivalry withered away a long time ago. But there’s still tons of “nice guys” out there. If you disagree, well, you’re sadly jaded, and maybe it’s time you get some help with that baggage. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find a man nearby to carry it …further proving my point.

This correlation of chivalry and masculinity stretches all the way back to the days of lords and ladies. Back in medieval times, a man had to work hard (a lot harder than today) for the privilege of hanging out with a young bachelorette. If a man wanted to go out with a girl (which he could hardly even opt to do, as most marriages were arranged), he had to ask her father. If the father granted permission, the young couple could see each other — under the close supervision of a chaperone. This trend evolved, but it continued in some shape or fashion right up into present-day America.

Maybe you could attribute a decrease in modern chivalry to the women’s liberation movement. Women aren’t as helpless now as they once were, so maybe this spurred a lessening in the amount of chivalry. If that’s the case, chivalry was a small price to pay for the rights modern Westernized women enjoy.

Either way, the least we girls can do to celebrate the role of women is to treat others respectfully, courteously and chivalrously. And maybe open the door for the woman pushing her daughter in a wheelchair while we’re at it.

© 2006 Anite Pere

About the author: Anita Pere is a junior journalism major from Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, attending Baylor University.