Is chivalry dead? I think chivalry definitely exists, but how it is being used has definitely changed. In modern times, our social interactions have also changed, and so have our expectations of fellow humans.
Let’s start with the definition of chivalry and the word’s origin. According to the dictionary:
Men behaving courteously— holding the door open, offering women their jackets when it’s cold — is called chivalry.
Medieval principles governing knighthood and knightly conduct
A rule or standard especially of good behavior – courtesy towards women
Synonyms: gallantry, politesse. Type of: courtesy, good manners
As you can see, times have changed and medieval knights have evolved into gentlemen, and further evolved into everyday humans, or men. Traditionally, chivalrous gestures were simply good manners taught to nobility, but as times changed, so did our social expectations. In modern times, chivalry no longer refers to men only. As gender roles are becoming blurred, most men and women strive to treat our fellow humans with dignity and kindness regardless of gender.
In this day and age, it is common for women to be chivalrous as well. Today, women open doors for men, for other women, and for strangers. I tend to open doors for whoever is near me, I even open the door for the janitor in my building simply because he is human.
There seems to be much confusion about chivalry and its failures. Apparently, a lot of people are upset because their so-called chivalry isn’t being met with adequate praise or reward. And some women complain against chivalry, because it is archaic, because they too partake in chivalry, but mainly because some ‘chivalrous’ men, expect a reward for gestures which are supposed to be free of charge to all humans.
What no one has considered is that chivalry isn’t dead, instead it is being misused and its intentions are often confused with another concept called opportunism. What is an opportunist?
noun: opportunist; plural noun: opportunists
a person who exploits circumstances to gain immediate advantage rather than being guided by consistent principles or plans.
Reading this definition, can you see how opportunism can be a turn-off for many women?
Personally, I am always impressed by good manners. It is a sign of a respectful person who has consideration for those around him or her. Good manners are a sign of fine breeding, a reflection of one’s values, and how a person perceives themselves. Naturally, a person who values others will act in a way to demonstrate that. And a person who respects fellow man will not demand repayment, nor accolades for an act of courtesy.
Chivalry is given freely with no reward, nor further expectations. Opportunism takes advantage of the recipient of that gesture. What critics of chivalry find offensive is the false belief that a kind gesture comes with a price tag. There are many different kinds of men out there. Some will open a door without a second thought. For them the gesture is a matter-of-course, it comes naturally, and is a reflection of their character. I would like to think that when I open a door for anyone, I do it out of politeness and good intentions even though I am female.
As a woman I always notice good manners, and am always grateful to a person who performs chivalrous acts free of charge. But, I understand that most women have experienced “toxic chivalry” or what I refer to as opportunism, and this is something that we all complain about.
There is a type of man out there who uses so-called chivalry to take advantage. He rushes to open the door, he hears Thank You, but follows her to see just how grateful she really is. As she keeps walking, he keeps reminding her that he is just being a gentleman and that she is rude because she won’t give him time of day in exchange for that open door. He takes a woman out on a date, picks her up in his car, opens the door each time, orders her wine, orders her dinner, insists on paying for everything then insists on driving her home. Only, once he has performed all these tricks like a ‘real gentleman’ he awaits his reward. Some men treat chivalrous gestures like a punch card. “I did 10 gentlemanly things for you, therefore I am a real man”, or “I got dinner so you owe me”. An opportunist is always looking to be rewarded for a gesture a person could have done for themselves.
Several years ago, I received flowers twice on a New York City street from complete strangers. One was a heart-melting act of chivalry, the other a stomach churning act of opportunism. I was living in Manhattan, and commuting home from work. A guy standing in the crowded subway car was holding a big bunch of roses, clearly intended for someone else. I paid no attention to him at all and had my face buried in my phone. As the train came to a stop we both exited, he stopped me, took one rose out of the bouquet and handed it to me. He said, “I don’t mean to be creepy, but I saw you on the train and really felt like you should have this rose. Please accept it”. I was stunned, and speechless, and tongue tied, so all I could nervously stutter is ‘Thank You’. He walked away and said ‘Have a beautiful day”. Needless to say, my heart melted, I felt grateful for the kind gesture, and smiled just thinking about that for days.
A few weeks later, I was sitting in an outdoor cafe, waiting for a friend. A guy walking down the street saw me, then stopped at the corner grocery and picked up a nice bouquet. He walked over to my table to hand me the bouquet, and he said ” You are beautiful and I just want to give a pretty lady these flowers to brighten up her day”. Once again I said thank you, that is very nice of you. I was so touched by the nice gesture of the guy from the subway, that my guard was down. Only this guy, wasn’t going anywhere. “So, are you here alone?” “No, actually, I am waiting for a friend”. “Mind if I keep you company until your friend gets here?” Red flag, shivers down my spine, this one is going to be a creep. This guy was not being genuine, and honestly, I really didn’t want his company at all. But he acted as if I owed him my company because he gave me some flowers. Things turned unpleasant, and the waiter asked him to leave me alone. A lot of bickering and few insults later, the manager came out and threatened to call the police. How much did I appreciate his act of fake chivalry and being called a bitch? His flowers were revolting. They were not a gift, they were bait. I couldn’t look at them, and asked the waiter to take them away.
Chivalry versus opportunism. Please know the difference. To be fair, we all should be allowed an opportunity to decide for ourselves whether we want to engage or take part in a gesture that may cost us later. Had I known that he was giving the flowers to earn the reward of my company, or to get a date, I would have rejected them outright. No one wants to feel obligated to reward an unnecessary gesture with their dignity.
And this is the reason a lot of women aren’t comfortable with today’s chivalry. Chivalry used to be free, but in modern times some men are taking advantage and expecting a reward or validation. He demands to hear that an act of common courtesy makes him a real man.
Because today it is very important to begin every assertion with “Not all men”, I will give you that. Not all men are opportunistic assholes. The vast majority of men and women make kind gestures because it is a reflection of who they are, and they understand that human kindness goes a long way. Both sexes are becoming comfortable with opening the doors for each other, for saying Thank You, and for thinking nothing of it.
So, the few men who are opportunists when it comes to using manners to gain favor with women are the ones who give chivalry a bad name. Chivalry isn’t dead, and women have not been corrupted by raging feminism. We are not determined to destroy manhood, in fact we appreciate true and healthy masculinity. What has changed is that we refuse to reward opportunists with our attention, our affection, our respect, nor the validation they crave so badly.
What makes a man a gentleman is that he acts with true character and honor every single day, and he does not require validation from others to be who he is. His value and his humanity speak for themselves. An opportunist is the opposite of that. Only an opportunist will use a gesture such as opening a door, then demand gratitude or the title of “real man” for performing a task a monkey can do.
My five year old nephew is learning his manners, so he has started opening doors for everyone, for mom, for dad, for his teacher and all his classmates. Is he a man? He has a long way to go to earn that honor. What I hope to teach him is that we all do kind gestures for everyone out of love for humanity, and not because we expect to earn a gold star.
So, the next time a woman complains about chivalry, take some time to consider why. A lot of women are tired of fake chivalry and opportunism. We have spent lifetimes fending off goons who claim to be ‘just a nice guy’, but expect a little something in return. We are tired of promised job interviews that turn into an unwanted date. We are tired for having to pay for that open door with validating a man’s machismo. We simply are tired. This is why many of us would rather open our own door, pay for our own drink, and go home in peace, rather than worry that we owe you something. Please consider that we live in an age when most women will routinely open a door for a man and ask for absolutely nothing in return.
Are we taking over manhood? No. We simply want to be left in peace.