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It’s the Great Chivalry Debate, Charlie Brown

Before meeting the Southern Gentleman, elevators were easy.  Walk in, press a button, exit when you’ve arrived. There were no loopholes or extenuating circumstances to consider.

The Southern Gentleman didn’t see life in such simple terms. When the elevator doors would open, he’d throw an arm out in front of them and let all the ladies exit first. I’d be standing in the back, waiting for my turn to exit, not aware everyone else was waiting on me. Then, other times, I’d step forward (because I’m a lady and ladies go first?) and I’d cut someone else off and become your standard, everyday jerkface. I had never before assumed I was always supposed to exit first, but the Southern Gentleman made me acutely aware that others expected it from me.

This brings me to my friend Eric, who recently hosted an intellectual conversation on modern chivalry via one of his Facebook statuses. Ambitious guy, that Eric. Many thoughtful comments were made and a theme slowly emerged, a theme that separated the idea of respect (good, still valid) from old-fashioned, gender-biased chivalry (meh).

Consider Emily’s response to the issue:

First, the rules of dating have changed, because the world has changed, but that doesn’t mean chivalry has completely gone out the window. I think it’s just different now…For me, the rule is whoever is ‘taking’ the other person out pays.

That seems fair. But then she veers into a rant and it gets so much better. Don’t you love when smart people get riled up? For the record, she’s responding to a quote from this article on men, women and chivalry: “The real problem here is that women, for one reason or another, have become complacent and allowed men to get away with adhering to the bare minimum… Eventually women will wise up and start asking for the things that they deserve… Until then, men are going to get away with putting in the bare minimum and receiving what we ultimately want anyway—sex.” Go, Emily, go:

1) DO NOT BLAME ME FOR YOUR LAZINESS. I should not have to tell you, figurative everyman, to buy me flowers or pay for my dinner because frankly, I know that everyone is broke and just like you don’t want to be seen as a douche, I don’t want to be a stereotypical, demanding asshole. Also, if the only reason you’re nice to a girl is because she demands it of you, then you’ve missed the point entirely. 2) Don’t assume that women only ever want romance. Maybe they, too, want to go to a bar and hook up or order takeout. Maybe they want sex just as much as the men, and they don’t want to go through 3-5 dates with a “chivalrous” guy to get it.

Another friend makes the case for killing chivalry altogether.

Opening a door for someone is a kind thing to do for another human, regardless of gender. And taking the time to communicate and get to know a girl you like before attempting to “get laid” is respectful. Kindness and respect are (or at least should be) still important and relevant to modern society. I would say that pulling chairs out for women, walking on the outside of a woman (seriously not something I’ve ever even heard of), or paying for all meals/drinks would = chivalry. And using that definition, I’m okay if it’s dead.

Going into this conversation, I had the specific mission of becoming less awkward around elevators. Do I exit the elevator first? Do I let others exit first? (Sometimes, when I offer my seat to elderly men on the train, I can tell they’re offended. Don’t I know I’m the one with the fragile lady legs? Sheesh.)

I realize the Southern Gentleman was just being nice, showing respect the way he knew how. The problem is that his form of chivalry is outdated. Why open the door to the ladies of the elevator and not the men? And, let’s be real, that door opens itself. His extended arm wasn’t helping anyone.

Kindness, unlike chivalry, can be offered to or from anyone. It’s not a show, it’s not a transaction, not an act held solely between single men and women. So maybe we can do away with the formal rules of chivalry and just go with some off-the-cuff kindness. How’s that sound?

(I’ll probably take the stairs either way.)

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