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73979857Early one bustling Tuesday morning in spring on the uber-crowded Metro subway system in Washington, DC, I was forced to come to grips with the fact that though chivalry may not be completely dead, it is probably being bound, gagged and tortured in some dark, unhappy, Camp Crystal Lake-like hamlet and may, in fact, be DOA before we have a chance to resuscitate it.

Picture it: the cast of characters—me (in heels), an attractive brother old enough to know better and a freakish commingling of suit-and-tie stuff shirts carrying around briefcases and bad attitudes; too-loud teenagers en route to a generally unproductive day at school; and camera-toting, perplexed-looking, could-you-tell-me-how-to-get-to-the-White-House asking tourists.

The unfolding plot: In a train car full of chaos, a lone seat opens up to offer comfort, stability and sweet foot relief to one lucky passenger.

In reality, the situation played out every bit as dramatically as my atypical writer’s build-up suggests. Across that congested closet on wheels, he, the beautifully chocolatey Black man with locs, and I, the stubby, less-than-graceful sista girl, simultaneously spotted the opportunity to sit. I was a little closer, but four-inch stilettos ain’t the kind of shoes that allow most of us to pivot, turn and bust into an effortless sprint (unless you are, in fact, Beyonce Knowles), so although space and distance were on my side, we lumbered over to the object of our intention at the same exact time.

There was a brief pause, ostensibly so that the home-training his mama and other female relatives undoubtedly worked to instill in him could bubble itself up to the surface of his consciousness. He grappled for a moment, avoiding my eyes, which surely by now were pimp smacking him into submission, then proceeded to bend his long, lanky, designer-suit-wearing legs and park his narrow rear in the open seat. The punctuation mark on his blatant move of un-manliness? He crossed his leg. I had officially been served.

What just happened here? I struggled to not only to keep my balance against the swaying jerkiness of the train (and thwart the offers from the three-toothed fella two rows over who told me I could take a seat on his lap), but comprehend where the kindness and gentility of our men had gone. Maybe if I hadn’t grown up with a grandfather who took his hat off when he entered buildings and held doors open for as many ladies as there were to parade through them, I wouldn’t have come to expect respect and courtesy from Black men.

So here, fellow Clutch-ettes, is where a very unwarm and unfuzzy theory began to formulate in my overactive little mind:

With the breakdown of this generation’s sense of tradition and uprightness, can I really expect a man to hold a door for me when his culture and his music have ingrained in him that I’m only good enough to hold his… well, you get where I’m going here.

Just like Sophia loved Harpo, I am in love with hip-hop. Like theirs, it’s a tumultuous and sometimes dysfunctional relationship but that passion, that desire, that mutual understanding is still there. That being said, I recognize that it’s been used to loop a continuous message of outright, flagrant disrespect, let alone a general aloofness when it comes to being an honorable gentleman. The finger has already been flexed and pointed at misogynistic lyrics for relegating women to nothing more than trickin’, jigglin’ body parts. But I also have to lay blame at the feet of the macho hip-hop mindset for the rapid breakdown in basic, common manners. Between that dynamic and the failure of parents—many of whom are barely out of the same generation as their kids—someone has done a pretty poopity job teaching their son – the dudes who make up our shallow-behind dating pool – what to do and coaching their daughters on what to demand.

To top it all off, I find that sistas are either scared to insist on the kind of old school manners from their husbands, boyfriends and jump-offs that separated average men from gentlemen, or they themselves don’t know that we’re supposed to have passenger doors opened and closed for us. We’re supposed to get our seats pulled out and be helped into our coats. We’re supposed to ceremoniously have doors held so that we can sashay through them first. And in the name of all that’s good and decent and right-side-up, we’re supposed to have first dibs on an empty seat on a jam-packed subway.

This much I do know—if the good Lord blesses me with the opportunity to have a son, that little dude is going to be the friggin’ Billy Dee Williams of his generation because his mama is going to make ever so certain that he knows ‘gentleman’ is more than a compound noun (of course, he’ll know that too, since Mom is also a grammar geek). It’s not even about his becoming the object of desire for every girl who thirsts for a charming guy. His dad may slap him a high five off the benefit of that. I just want this yet-unborn manners prodigy to understand that chivalry is the kind of behavior traditionally expected from warriors, knights—and Black kings.

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  • JuneBug

    What I wanted to say was:

    I wonder if he would have allowed a white woman to sit.

  • Please

    *Our men*

    *Im in love with hip hop*

    sigh

    never mind

  • On the Metro, I have been offered a seat on many occassions by young African American men, some with sagging pants and locs. I think the issue in the author’s case was the man was wearing a suit. At my job, Black men of all ages that do some type of manual labor will speak most of the time. Black men in suits that do not work in my department generally do not speak. I think some Black men turn in their card when they wear a suit.

  • OHIO_614_GENTLEMAN

    I wonder how the conversations would be if todays technology existed prior to the 80’s. Somehow there’s this assumption that chivalry was alive and well back then and now it has kicked the bucket. says who? people were nowhere connected as we are today. there was no platform for people to share their experiences.There are always shifts in generations,cultures and socities but the same crap that goes on now,happened back then. Once key difference is that we can talk it about 24/7. I dont believe chivalry is regional either because people will always see things differently. That same guy giving up his seat when youre present,might not when someone else sees him.

    I will open doors,give up seats for anyone. Having manners mean you will extend it to everyone. Its just the kind of man I am,so its not something I
    do for show or because a woman is attractive. Even though I live in ohio,Im from dc and am very familiar with metro. I dont see any difference when im riding the train in toronto,dallas or the buses in columbus,minneapolis or
    dallas. Having manners isnt gender specific,so one can’t just point out what men arent doing. I see women all of the time,not give up seats pregnant women,the elderly or men. It seems to only be an issue when a man doesnt do it. If you are not the exact opposite of what you complain about,then you should get some manners.

  • 2 way street

    I haven’t seen this mentioned yet: “Chivalry is dead, but women killed it.” Women want to be made to feel special, but they also want to be equal. Those two things are completely contradictory. Much if not all of the women’s rights movement was predicated on the idea that women and men are equal on all accounts, that they deserve the same things.

    What those activists were going up against was a system that had a particular set of expectations from women, and another set of expectations from men. Women were expected to stay at home, cook for the family, make sure the man was content, etc. Men were supposed to make enough money to feed everyone, protect the family, be the main enforcer of child discipline, etc. These roles were carried further in this system to say that an extension of protecting women was to participate in a set of small courtesies, like opening car doors, pulling out dinner chairs, that sort of thing. In turn, women were to make sure they took care of their looks, had dinner ready when their husbands got home, all that. Then the activists said, “Hey, listen up. We think your system is stupid. We are smart and responsible enough to vote. We do just as much work, and there is no basis for paying men more to do the same thing. We want to abandon your system, and we want to prove that we really are equal.”

    In abandoning and replacing that system, women also must come to terms with the fact that if they don’t want to be stuck in a kitchen or at a secretary’s desk by default, then they should also expect the courtesies extended to women under that patriarchal system to disappear. If anything, those courtesies stem from a male desire to be needed. On a deep, unacknowledged layer, they allow the man to feel like he is completing something weak – perpetuating the idea that women are prim, prissy, and fragile. If women still want those courtesies to be extended to them simply because they have a vagina and breasts, they should also be ready for the forms of discrimination that say that those breasts and that vagina should bar them from the voting booth. Holding the door for someone is a courtesy, as is giving up a chance at a empty seat. If the rest of the patriarchal system is out the door, then those actions should and must become unhinged altogether from gender. I realize that it may seem as if I am saying that voting and holding a door are similar things – I’m not. But I am saying that the system that said women couldn’t vote is also the system that said men should hold doors open for them.

    In case you haven’t guessed yet, I am a man. I hold doors open all the time for people. It’s a courtesy that I enjoy giving to everyone, not just women. Saying that women are equal doesn’t mean that men should stop holding doors open for women; it means they should stop holding doors open *simply because* they are women. On their part, women should stop expecting that kind of courtesy *simply because* they are women. Your vagina is not some magical door-opening contraption, and a penis is not some kind of ticket into the voting booth. Equal is equal, and courtesy should be based on humanity, not gender.

    Basically, Ms. Harris’s complaint is simply dressed up nostalgia for one of the few bright spots in a societal order that would have brought with it a host of conditions far more infuriating than the loss of an empty subway seat.