Scott Farrell comments:
Opening doors, offering seats, saying “please” and “thank you,” and being thoughtful and polite — these are the sorts of things that are often referred to as the demonstrations of “old fashioned” chivalry, especially when done by men for women. But it is important to remember that this sense of courtesy and politeness as part of the code of chivalry was not intended as any sort of implicit statement about the status of women in society. It was, in fact, a way of creating an awareness of the need for compassion among the warrior class (the knights) of medieval Europe in a time when compassion, charity and respect were in short supply.
In fact, chivalry might be called the original campaign for “random acts of kindness.”
Today, we still need people to perform random acts of kindness — such acts go a long way toward making society more civil, and the world more peaceful and stable. As author Jessika Shanon points out in this article (reprinted from her column in Siskiyou Online the campus news site of Southern Oregon University), what might be called “random acts of knight-ness” are simply ways that anyone – male or female – can express the principles of chivalry in today’s world.
Since medieval times chivalry has helped hold up a moral code of ethics that has maintained a certain order in society. It has pulled us out of barbaric and violent times into a world of principles that the majority of people have lived by or respected. Today, chivalry is mainly used to describe courteous behavior of men toward women.
When many people think chivalry, they think of a romanticized time that no longer exists. That now, in a time where women are fighting to be treated equally and competing against men in the job market, men don’t need to show chivalrous behavior. It is understandable that some may feel this way. When a woman wants total equality, she means it. Why hold the door open for her when she wants to open it for herself?
The answer is yes, you should still attempt to hold the door open for a woman, ask her if she needs assistance with a heavy load, and treat her with respect and kindness. This isn’t because women are the weaker sex or because they are in a status below men. They are not. Chivalry should be saved because it maintains a very respectable value system where people practice sincere gestures and random acts of kindness.
Women in turn should respect the act of chivalry. I know many women out there who do not want the door opened for them because it makes them feel like their power or independence is somehow being taken away from them. They are aggressive and headstrong in society. It may not be because they want to be, but because to make it in the world, they have to be. This is true. However, can you imagine a world where chivalry didn’t exist at all? Would you want your daughter marrying a man that didn’t show her this appreciation for being the amazing, strong, supporting, dynamic woman that she is?
Chivalry toward women starts with women. Statistics show that 84 percent of households with children are single-parent households, and that the majority of these households are of single mothers. That doesn’t include the women around the world raising and supporting children on their own. It is extremely important that they teach their sons how to treat women respectfully. It is also important for mothers to teach their daughters how to treat men respectfully, and that they deserve the same respect and more. They deserve chivalry and equality, and should expect nothing less.
There has been a mentality that because women weren’t thought of as equals throughout history, a woman was rewarded for her suffering by kind acts of chivalry. Was this supposed to even out the fact that women have been suppressed, oppressed, or disregarded? Chivalry should never die, and not just because it won’t make up for the centuries that women have endured suffering and inequality. But because women are wonderful, nurturing creatures who birth, and in most cases raises your children and they possess qualities that many men do not have. They deserve your respect and admiration.
This article was originally published under the title “Is Chivalry Dying?” at The Siskiyou Online on March 1, 2010.