“Now I’m the kinda guy who [doesn’t] believe that chivalry is dead…’cause I believe a woman should be treated with the utmost respect.” –The Temptations, “Treat Her Like A Lady”
I have a friend. Let’s call him Antonio.
Ever since he read The Thoughtless Date, he’s given me a hard time for what he’s labeled my “exceedingly high” dating expectations for men.
Now, full disclosure: I’m Southern. Exceedingly and perhaps irritatingly so. So I’ll admit, I’ve spent most of my lifetime operating in a system where men have traditionally opened doors, pulled out chairs, and stood up when I entered the room.
But Antonio says these things are superficial. He says that while nice, these things shouldn’t be par for the dating course. They shouldn’t carry significant weight in measuring the merit of the relationship, and certainly not in measuring the merit of the man. Further, these things shouldn’t be expected.
And I hear Antonio’s point. But are these acts of chivalry really… “superficial”? If they are, then I would argue that they are only superficial in the most literal translation of the word. That is to say that they are superficial only in the sense that they measure the mechanics of a man’s actions, not the purity of his intent or the quality of his character.
But “superficial” as they may be, acts of chivalry—for me—are meaningful. At the very least, they are an indicator of consideration. A man, in my opinion, should want to take care of his woman, even in the smallest, most quotidian scenarios. Making sure he’s not walking with his back to her, that he’s accompanying her to her car at night, and isn’t leaving her exposed to the flurry of traffic, is about being concerned for her well-being. It’s about taking the time to let her know that he puts her first, even in the most ordinary of circumstances.
But Antonio says a man should want to do those things for his woman; not feel obligated by some social construction to do them. I agree, but argue that a man should not only want to do those things for his woman, but also for himself. And herein lies the crux of true chivalry. The chivalrous man’s default is to open a door for a woman; something he does not just because she is a woman, but also because he is a man. His chivalry is indiscriminate; he will walk a woman to her car regardless of who she is, or of who she is to him.
This is something I have always appreciated about men raised with Southern manners in particular. I can trust that whether or not I’m around, his standard for chivalry will be self-set. He doesn’t rely on me to activate it, because it is so culturally ingrained in who he is. He’ll open a door for a woman—regardless of whether he is interested in her romantically—because it is in accordance with his own code of conduct. His belief in propriety—and in the dynamic of male chivalry—subtly emerges from the nexus of personal volition and social observance.
And I dig it.
But this is not to say that these are the only things that matter. In fact, I think they constitute somewhat of a generic baseline, or what my father would call the “price of admission.” Due to their rather mechanical (or superficial?) nature, they are admittedly easy to do. And, precisely because they are so easy, I actually don’t weigh them quite as heavily as Antonio (and readers like him) might think I do. Because at the end of the day, it’s not about what you do, but rather who you are. Like Antonio, I value emotional engagement, intellectual stimulation, and physical chemistry above the mechanics of chivalry—even though I think that they still matter.
What about you, Clutchgents and Clutchettes? Are acts of chivalry superficial ? Should men still open doors and pull out chairs, and if so, what are the attendant expectations of us as women?