Valentine's Day 2013: Chivalry Isn't Dead, It's Just Different


I think I collided with my coworker inside of doorways about five times before I realized that he wasn't going to hold the door for me.

Hailing from the South, but finding myself transplanted to New England for college and then Manhattan to pursue my dreams of becoming a writer (cliché, I know), I was brought up to expect "gentlemanly" manners: Men open doors for women, men walk on the street-side of the sidewalk, and men always pay for dates.

But as I've learned from my coming-of-age moves and experiences, this chivalrous behavior can be nearly impossible to come by outside of the realm of my childhood. While my grandmother, who is still desperately trying to find me a golf-playing, God-fearing, blue-eyed husband, and even some of my friends, would argue that a lack of these manners is a deal breaker, I disagree. Sure, it was a bit shocking at first, but I'm fine with a weaker grasp on social graces as long as men respect me. Fortunately, I find that most of my male peers do. I've realized that chivalry isn't dead, it's just different.

While I can't help but think it's a cop-out for a guy to claim that he thought I'd be offended if he paid for the date (lookin' at you, Matt), I don't expect our generation to uphold men to the "good ol' boy" chivalry of generations past. Compared to the men of older generations, my male peers grew up in a culture of more divorces, more two working-parent homes, and fewer family dinners. As the traditional family unit dissolves, so does the traditional source of the edification of manners. Today, children find their behavioral role models on Nickelodeon. SpongeBob may be a good guy at heart, but his etiquette is subpar at best.

Clearly, male and female roles in our society have changed drastically even in the last fifty years, and the expectations of our treatment of one another have changed with it. Nowadays, women our age can, and do, have jobs, so we can split the tab.

In fact, letting the man always pay implies an acceptance of the archaic idea that men should make more money and thus have more money to spend. A recent study by the American Association of University Women found that women today are paid 82 cents for every dollar their male peers receive, but this is all the more reason for a woman to fork over her share of the date. When a woman takes care of her portion, she is putting herself on the same playing field as the man, proving that she is his equal. So if a woman can be a man's equal on a date, she can be his equal in the classroom, office, home, and government. Women such as Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, and even Anna Wintour, in her own right, have proven that women can be leaders in our country.

Women are no longer perceived as helpless, delicate flowers. Opening the door ourselves won't risk a fainting spell as it did for our corseted ancestors. I don't hold the door for my male colleagues and they do not need to hold the door for me. But I treat them with respect, and they should do the same for me.

In my mind, chivalry is less defined by manners and social graces, and more defined by treating women as men's equals. To steal a line from the lovable, and often clueless, Shoshanna of Girls, we all are "the ladies" and what we consider "point-blank" deal-breakers are really just any signs of disrespect.

Young women these days are more than willing to trade a few niceties for simple acts of respect. He doesn't have to pay for the date, but he needs to give me the one-on-one attention of a date rather than subjecting me to the scrutiny of his friends or the potential awkwardness of "following along" with a group. He doesn't have to hold the door for me (although I wouldn't suggest entirely throwing this one out the window), but he has to understand that my ideas are just as valuable as his. And for their part, most of my male peers do. They display chivalry by asking for opinions, seeking advice, and considering what I have to say as they would anyone else regardless of gender.. 

After all, I'd much rather split the bill with you and have you read — I mean really read — and consider my writing, than have you pay and expect me to do the dishes till death do us part. Our modern lives may have changed what we get in the way of chivalry, but it has also changed what we expect, and know we deserve. Chivalry is not dead. The definition has simply changed, and I'd say that's definitely a good thing.