in Essays, Social Commentary

Gentlemen Misrepresented (thoughts on some of the origins of Chivalry)

> Chivalry — pulling out chairs to seat woman, rising when she excuses
> herself to the restroom, the art of clearing the way through a crowd
> with one arm while gently cradling the woman with the other, among
> other things — will go the way of the curtsy, rendered irrelevant by
> men who do not know how to accomplish it and women who do
> not appreciate it.

For what it’s worth, many of those “chivalrous” things men do (or did) for women like pulling out chairs and opening doors and such originally had nothing to do with some higher manhood code of conduct. Most of these originated in Europe and came to the Americas as the result of four words from the 16th through 19th centuries that most of us men have never heard of: Farthingales, Panniers, Crinolines, and Bustles. In plain English, “women were wearing huge frilly hoop dresses supported by undergarments that were often stiff and uncomfortable”.

Back then, the wealthier the woman, the bigger and more elaborate her dresses tended to be, especially when attending social functions. Because of the styles of dresses, women actually needed doors opened for them, assistance taking a seat or standing up from a table, or climbing in or out of stagecoaches. In those social settings, since all the women were dressed this way, it was a man nearby who would provide this assistance. This form of assistance somehow got labeled as a part of “chivalry” because the men in those high social settings had often had been raised with various etiquette protocols, college educated, and had social status and wealth (or they were servants working for such people). The wealth of the man also explains the “man pays for everything” aspect, too. Commoners (working class men and women) often didn’t readily know or do some of these “chivalrous” things for women because the women usually couldn’t afford those elaborate dresses, thus they didn’t need assistance.

Eventually the fashion trends faded away, the traditions continued and the “why” of these actions was lost and replaced with “this is what men are supposed to do”, especially after being adopted by minorities in the late 19th and 20th centuries. The traditions were socially perceived as part of what wealthy (or prosperous), culturally-refined men do. Fast forward to the introduction of social changes like Women’s Lib and current women’s fashions and many of these “chivalrous” activities seem archaic or completely useless, sometimes even a cause of static because some women are fiercely independent and consider it demeaning.

With all that said, I still open doors for women and sometimes for men, too, just to be polite. If I’m driving, I always open the passenger door for a woman that’s riding with me before I get in. I’ll pay for everything on a date only if I offer to do so — and she accepts my offer. And if I’m at a formal event with a woman I’ll pull her chair out once we arrive at the table. The thing I’ve learned is that if you’re a man and you don’t do these things consistently just because you’re a gentleman, don’t do them just to impress a woman you’re dating. Most women will see right through that sooner or later and it’ll make you look bad when you “stop being polite and start being real”. Even Saddam Hussein could look like Prince Charming by opening a door or two for a lady.

To read more of Max’s writings, check out his latest book, SURVIVING THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE: SAFER COMPUTING TIPS.

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