Courtesy: having politeness in one’s attitude and behavior towards others.
Chivalry: courteous behavior, especially that of a man towards a woman.
Of the bloggers I follow, a few have written about the concept of chivalry this past week, and I’ve decided to add my thoughts to the mix. If we look at the two definitions above, there is a stark contrast that is immediately apparent; Courtesy is for everyone, but chivalry is a term used solely for men in regards to their actions towards women.
This serves to create a gap in gender relations, one that some people find to be sweet and nice…but others find to be oppressive and degrading. Let’s first take a look at some examples of courtesy versus chivalry.
Scenario 1: It is the holiday season, and a frantic looking woman is struggling with getting her packages to her car. A man stops to offer help, which the woman accepts and thanks him for. As she drives away, the man walks towards the mall, whistling a bit as he swiftly passes by another man who is struggling just as much as the woman was.
Scenario 2: This time, the first man stops to also help the struggling man.
In scenario 1, we see an act of chivalry. In scenario 2, it becomes an act of courtesy. Let’s look at another.
Scenario 1: A man and woman are out on their first date. He is a college professor, she is a well known dentist. When the bill comes, the woman immediately gets out her wallet and pulls out enough cash to cover half the amount. The man smiles, waves her off, and tells the server to put the full amount on his credit card. The woman smiles and attempts to give her date the money instead, saying that she would *really* prefer to pay for half the meal. He waves her off again, telling her to not be ridiculous, and informs her that he will also be paying for the movie they’re going to see. Dejectedly, she puts her money away.
Scenario 2: This time, when she offers to pay for half of dinner, her date still declines. However, he does not object at all when she purchases the movie tickets and popcorn for the show they attend following the meal. She smiles thinking about how her purchase is only $2 less than the meal they just shared.
This time, scenario 1 was a case of sexist chivalry and scenario 2 was the example of equal courtesy. We’ll take a look at one more, though this time it is an occurrence from my own life.
Scenario 1: I am walking up to a bank with a set of both exterior and interior doors. An older man reaches the outer door first and holds it open for me. I smile and thank him as I walk through. Obviously I reach the inner door next, and I bow slightly as I now return the favor. However, he just stands in front of the door staring at me with a slight scowl. “After you, sir.” I say, but he walks over, puts his right hand on the door over my head, and motions for me to squeeze between him and the door so I can walk through first. When I simply stay where I am, still smiling, he turns bright red and barks out “Women don’t hold doors for men. Now, march in there!” I shrug, and turn instead to make my deposit using the ATM rather than the tellers inside. He stands there a little while longer, then goes in muttering “Rude bitch” under his breath.
Scenario 2: This time, the man accepts my returned favor of holding the second door for him, and we smile at each other, happy that there are still polite people in this world.
Sadly, in this set of examples, the first scenario is what actually happened…and I think it speaks volumes about what the concept of chivalry really is: “benevolent” sexism. We would not praise someone for only holding doors open for Asians. We would not say “good job” to someone who only buys drinks for their Black coworkers. We certainly wouldn’t condone only giving up a seat on a crowded bus to a fellow passenger who is White. So why do we still teach men that women are somehow deserving of special treatment? Why should a man go out of his way to “protect” a fellow adult who clearly doesn’t need assistance…especially if it could lead to him getting hurt instead? (Such as cases of “defending a woman’s honor” or constantly positioning himself on the sidewalk between a female companion and the street.)
To me, the concept of chivalry is a double edged sword. It tells women that they are too frail to do typical, everyday activities like carrying more than 20 lbs of groceries, learning to change a tire, or even seating themselves at a table. It tells men that they are more disposable than women, and that they should sacrifice their time, energy, (and sometimes safety) to protect another human being…but ONLY if that being posses a vagina.
Courtesy, on the other hand, is a concept we desperately need more of. I firmly believe in helping others whenever possible, whether that means running back to open the vet’s door for a lady with a rambunctious dog, helping an old man carry his groceries up 4 flights of stairs, or buying dinner for a homeless veteran in the city. Too often do I see people, in real life or on the news, who are in true need of assistance, sometimes dire need. The amount of people who simply walk by, pretending not to see or care, is mind boggling.
Chivalry is an outdated concept that disenfranchises both men and women, though in very different ways. Courtesy is a valuable concept that tells us to be polite and helpful to all others, regardless of age, creed, skin tone, sex, or orientation. I know which one I’d pick for a better society. How about you?