I have given two interviews recently regarding the place of “chivalry” in modern society…whether it is a dead concept, and how a “gentleman” should respond when his polite behaviour is met with derision by a woman.
But what is chivalry? In his study of Chivalry, The Broad-Stone of Honour, Kenelm Henry Digby offered the following definition: 'Chivalry is only a name for that general spirit or state of mind which disposes men to heroic actions, and keeps them conversant with all that is beautiful and sublime in the intellectual and moral world.'
The Oxford dictionary defines chivalry as: .
I don’t think that misogyny is a concept upheld by the vast majority of men; but there are a number of women, particularly in the age group who grew up in the 70s heavily influenced by the feminist movement, who regard equal opportunity, in all it’s guises, to include equality in all things social. And they in fact can be most demeaning of men who attempt the old fashioned gestures which in earlier times would have had them regarded as “gentlemen”.
Women’s advocate Melinda Tankard Reist agrees chivalry is still welcome in our increasingly gender-equal society, as long as a man’s intentions are pure.
“Is opening a door or offering to pay for a meal an act of sexism in and of itself? I don’t think so,” she said in a Herald Sun article. “But it can be if the man is acting in a way which assumes a women is weak or couldn’t possibly look after herself. Is he acting out of a position of respect for her as an equal? Or is he trying to show his superiority or trying to get something back?”
Certainly manners have changed since the 70s; women are no longer the primary care givers and “household management specialists” but active members of the workforce. Anna Musson, founder of The Good Manners Company, named feminism as a chief culprit in the demise of decorum. “Many women are making their own money and getting married later so they feel they can take care of themselves ” she said in an article published by The Herald Sun. Ï can invite a man a man out for dinner and pay if I like. I don’t need to wait for a man to buy me jewellery”.
A recent survey carried out by British clothing retailer, Austin Reed, confirmed modern women would rather their men send them romantic text and Facebook messages, help them through hangovers, take out the garbage and make dinner than hold a door for them.
I have been pleasantly surprised by Generation Y men. They seem to be much more comfortable in their own skin and if they want to open a door and pull a chair out it is appreciated and not awkward. Equally the Gen Y women, who have rarely if ever, encountered sexism, appreciate the “old fashioned” gestures. When I speak to even younger people in school environments, there are always suppressed giggles when I speak about the manners of opening doors, pulling out chairs, standing up for the elderly and the pregnant on public transport…but they all usually agree that these gestures are pleasant and should be appreciated.
Equally, both women and men acknowledge that in a working environment, gender equality should be paramount in business etiquette and it is just as appropriate for a women to open a door for a man who has his hands full, as it is for a man to be considerate to a woman. Common sense should rule and good manners should be respected and admired.
And so some comparisons of manners through the ages, taken from The West Australian article:
50 Years ago:
Men should stand for a woman when she enters the room.
A man who hold the door open for a woman.
A man should pay for a woman on a date
A man should walk closest to the road.
In an office situation it is polite for both a man or a woman t open the door for the person behind them.
In a social/romantic situation it is polite for a man to hold a door open for a woman.
In a lift/elevator, common sense should prevail.
But if it is just a man and a woman, he should let her alight first.
If a man is chivalrous towards a woman she should acknowledge him with a thankyou.
As for me, while proudly independent, I enjoy being treated as a lady...