Is chivalry dead?
I hear mostly women ask this question and when they do, the focus is almost entirely on the eroding values of men. Chivalry, though, is similar in some ways to gift-giving. In gift-giving, there is the act of giving, of course, and the act of receiving. Giving and receiving make up the complete process which we call gift-giving.
If chivalry is dying, you can put it squarely on the boorishness of the 21st Century man if you want, but you’d be missing an important part of the picture, which is this: the decline of chivalry has coincided with the rise of the self-made woman. To think about it a different way, the modern-day woman presents a modern-day double standard; women who pimp their strength in independence demand from men behavior that would seemingly undermine this sense of self-sustainability. Ladies, may I remind you that acts of chivalry have to be received if you want to call it that at all.
Let me present a micro-level example to illustrate how this might play out.
The Subway Seat Rule
The Subway Seat Rule goes something like this. In subway trains, if all seats are filled, it is my chivalric duty to give up my seat for a lady.
Sounds simple enough, but over the course of two years living and commuting in New York, I’ve found that it’s not so straight-forward. There are certain exemptions to the rule:
- If there are two or more women standing in front of me, I am exempt from the rule. If I stand, I leave the awkward decision of who gets to sit in the seat up in the air, and in the end, no one sits.
- If I’m handicapped in some way, I am exempt. If I try standing up with a broken leg, all I do is make other people feel uncomfortable.
- If I’m sitting next to a friend, I am exempt. By standing, you put undue pressure on your friend to offer his/her seat to someone else as well.
If you’ll notice, all these rules are designed to avoid awkward and unanticipated consequences of a failed attempt at chivalry. Even with these carefully honed safeguards, backfires often do occur.
Why, just a few hours ago, I was riding back alone on a crowded subway train when a young woman carrying a heavy bag stood in front of where I was sitting. I did my mental check. She was the only woman in my vicinity, I was of sound body, and I was alone. To top it off, she had a heavy bag, a sure sign she would happily accept my gesture.
I stood and offered my seat. She said no thanks. But by now, I was standing already so I insisted. She insisted back…no thanks.
Ok, now we’re in an uncomfortable chivalry backfire. Ladies, you have to understand that for chivalry to work…for it to live, breathe on and survive, you have to accept it. Otherwise, it’s not chivalry, it becomes an uncomfortable social situation. You see, part of what makes chivalry difficult for the guy is that he has to put himself out there. If you don’t reciprocate by accepting, you leave him hanging.
Anyways, so this girl gave me no choice but to take my seat back. If I chose to remain standing, the empty seat would have just become a symbolic manifestation of male stubbornness and misplaced egoism every passing second that it remained unoccupied. But it didn’t end there.
It was 8 stops until my stop. On the next stop, another girl entered the subway car and stood directly in front of me. Other people had seen my first gesture and even commented on how nice it was. But now, a new girl was standing in front of me. Do I stand again? Why not stand for her if I stood for the first girl? If I do stand again, am I just overdoing it? Are my gestures even genuine at this point or contrived and socially forced? As a veteran of these situations I knew exactly what to do.
I closed my eyes and pretended to take a nap.
But do you see the point? Do you see what you’re doing to me when you don’t accept my gentlemanly gestures? The act of chivalry is incomplete and it becomes instead a rote exercise in avoiding social discomfort.
Ladies, for the love of Prince William…save me from my self-imposed machinations. Just take the seat.
It would make things so much easier.