Keep Chivalry Dead

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As I entered Dwinelle last Thursday, I tried to hold the door open for a guy, but he refused to walk through it. After a few awkward moments of “Oh no, after you” and “No, no, you first,” I finally had to concede, crossing the threshold first because he just plain refused to do so before I did. That, and because I was going to be late for class if any more time was spent on this chivalry charade. But I quietly snickered to myself as I preceded him.

Later that day, I saw a young lady waiting in front of the same set of double doors of Dwinelle for her beau to leap out from behind to prop open the door for her. And yes, she had a functioning arm. Two of them, actually. Again, I quietly snickered to myself.

Chivalry. It’s derived from the French word “chevalier,” which originally referred to one who rides horses. But the term has come to encompass the ideal qualities that accompany knighthood. You know, stuff like bravery, courtesy, honor, gallantry and all that jazz. Just picture some Sir Lancelot character rescuing a fair maiden from a fire-breathing dragon-like creature. That pretty much sums it up.

But all that happened back in the 11th century.

Today, in the 21st century, “chivalry” basically boils down to all you men out there holding doors open for women. Or at least that’s what we most commonly associate with the term. I guess we can also throw pulling out the chair for her at a restaurant and walking on the outside of the sidewalk to protect her from road hazards to the definition (although the whole sidewalk thing used to be reversed before the invention of indoor plumbing: Men walked on the inside of sidewalks to prevent women from being splashed by buckets of fecal matter tossed out of windows).

In this day and age, any mention of chivalry is sure to spark the old “chivalry is dead” adage. That chick waiting in front of Dwinelle probably had it running through her head as she waited for her doorman. And to a certain degree, it’s true. Historically speaking, chivalry died with the disbanding of the steed-riding wealthy class of valiant lady-defenders at the beginning of the Renaissance.

But let chivalry remain in its grave. May it rest in peace.

We’re way past the times of the medieval archetypes, when only men were heroes and women were damsels in distress.

At the risk of having this sound like a feminism-tinted argument, chivalry only emphasizes the differences between the sexes. Depicting men as saviors only highlights the subservience of females to males, as if women aren’t capable of fending for themselves. Enforcement of chivalry even perhaps lays the foundation for the social gap between the genders.

Plus, there are probably a good number of chaps out there who see the hypocrisy in women demanding a fair playing field but refusing to relinquish the undeniably endowed perks of being female. Give us equality, but don’t take away the special treatment. (Trivia: Guys, what is the one situation in which you’re suppose to break the Holding the Door Open and Letting Her Enter Before You Do Rule?)

But don’t get me wrong. We shouldn’t completely do away with the principles behind chivalry. It’s still important to be a decent human being. Kindness still counts: Hit the elevator button for someone whose arms are full, give up your seat on the bus for the weary or offer to grab the check for dinner (or at least go Dutch). Caring and cooperation are conducive to a civil community.

The difference is that it shouldn’t be gender-dependent. Men, don’t assume that women need you to swoop in to save the day, nor that we swoon at displays of your masculine courage. In fact, this is usually the part when I start to snicker.

On the flip side, ladies, if he’s holding the door for you, don’t assume he’s patronizing. He’s probably just being polite and would do the same for another guy.

So let’s just stick to the common courtesy code of whoever gets to the door first opens it for whoever follows. Forget what fairy tales taught you about the proper role of knights. Oh, and gentlemen, it’s okay to walk through when a lady is holding the door for you.

Maybe it’s just easier to install revolving doors everywhere instead.


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