Stop a moment, before you read the rest of this blog.
Ask yourself: Do you believe in chivalry? I’m not asking if you think chivalry has died; that question has been all but beaten to death.
Instead, I’m asking this: do you believe chivalry in our society is a good thing? Why, exactly, do you think so?
Now, I’ll let you in on a little secret. The idea of chivalry never fully vibed with me. Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that it’s a touchy topic, and it’s been a cultural undercurrent for modern society, even since many have claimed its demise. I’ve been immersed in its practices since I was born, and being chivalrous has become second nature. However, I never really had the best reasons for doing it (besides, of course, being scared of being punished by my parents). It always felt a bit peculiar that there was a collection of actions that we should do for the opposite sex, just because they are a member of the opposite sex.
Why open the doors for women when they get out of cars, but not for men? Why help my mother with her coat when we leave a restaurant, but not my father? Why walk on the side of the street closest to the car with my girlfriend, but not for my brothers? I decided to keep doing the actions, but I couldn’t blame others for deciding against them. The reasons I was always told were a bit hollow; that they were not based on philosophical grounding. Unfortunately, the popular arguments I heard were hardly convincing.
Many people argue we need it in our society more than ever. It reminds us of ‘traditional’ values, of a time when there are understood roles, and actions through which men and women were meant to act within. However, in the growing age of LGBTQIA+ agency, we must realize the world isn’t only filled with cisgendered heterosexual people. We must strive to develop a more nuanced code of actions than traditional chivalry affords. Moreover, with the powerful presence of feminism in our society, many people argue that chivalrous acts, previously done by men, can be happily done by women, for themselves. The point here is, why hold our modern society to a code of rigid, problematic values stuck in yesteryear?
On the other side of the coin, why not get rid of chivalry altogether? Much of the argument is as follows: if women aim to be equal, they should be treated as such; thus, men should treat women the same way they treat their brother. This argument, however, is overly idealistic and callous: it fails to acknowledge the systematic sexism and patriarchy that has occurred in society for millennia. It’s disrespectful to the people who live, today, in the aftermath of such subjugation; it doesn’t acknowledge the invisible privilege that men have exercised for generations.
Moreover, I think the argument fails to acknowledge the main point behind chivalrous acts: the acts are nice things to do; and it’s a way we’ve learned to acknowledge our fellow human beings; to show respect to people with whom we exist in this world. That respect and acknowledgement seems to be what’s missing in our society as a whole.
When people want chivalry back, I don’t think they really want it because it’s ‘old school.’ I feel like, instead, we harken for a time when individual relationships, no matter how fleeting, were cherished. Chivalry was a means to that end, no matter how problematic.
So, what’s a good man to do? Ascribe to outdated roles of action and communication, or cast off years of systematic oppression by acting as if men and women are equal? Neither option seemed like a correct way to live my life.
Until I saw a particular video short named Minute Man, made by the ingenious YouTube studio, BlackNSexyTV. Made to be a short talk show for men, by men, and with men, they talk about present issues which plague the Black American man in society. The topic of discussion was if a man should pay for the date. Take a second and watch the brothers.
Though I agreed with some points, and opposed others, I appreciated the presence of the conversation. However, I then heard one of the brothers, at about 4:36 into the video, say ‘…I say first date, man pays… because at the end of the day… women go through a lot of shit, on a daily basis…’
For me, that’s all it took. The linchpin for new chivalry. It’s not about harkening to the past, or aiming for some ahistorical actions of equality. Its about understand the society we live in today.
The truth is, the types of things women have to do every single day to gain social acceptance would make the average man’s head spin. Women get paid less, they are forced into physical impossibilities engendered by the media, and across the globe, they are treated as second class citizens, as the invisible linchpins of society.
I realized, anything I can do to show respect, to show alliance with the plight of women in society, is worth doing. The basis of chivalry can be shifted; instead of focusing on an ahistorical reading of sexual equality, or focusing on outdated roles of conduct, we can redefine chivalry. I can do chivalrous acts because I consistently acknowledge, and act as an ally for, the systematically marginalized. In this new ideal, chivalry is not charity. I do these nice things to make your day a little bit better, because the world has had it out for women for generations.
However, if we can redefine chivalry, we should adapt it to the world today. We should have real conversations about what chivalry actually means: about which aspects of chivalry should be kept around, and which should be discarded. Should certain respectful acts be culturally coded by gender? What if both people are nearly broke, and go out on a date? Should we all wait until our partners open and close car doors for each other?
I can’t answer these questions, and maybe I’m not meant to. These revelations aren’t fully developed, and they’re my internal rationalizations, no one else’s. However it manifests into real actions, I believe in three common threads:
(1) actions should express respect for others in society,
(2) how you show respect should be your decision, and
(3) the codes of conduct should be as fluid as the society in which we inhabit.
Living our lives by an unchangeable code could get us caught in the same problems of ‘old chivalry.’
Our world is not equal, and changes by the second. and fighting against this inequality must be done with every action. Kill the system with kindness, as it were. Here’s the real point: it pays to be a good person. The world has too many other problems with inequality; it makes little sense to argue against actions which make the world a little more livable.
Many people have spent their whole lives fighting against chivalry. Try buying into the new school of chivalry, and respect your fellow human through your actions. You might even find your own reasons for enrolling in the new school.