By AUDREY JENKINS – STAFF WRITER
Editor’s Note: This article provides the female perspective. The accompanying male perspective is found here.
If we define chivalry as the sexist notion of performing tasks for women because they are too dumb, weak, or pathetic to do these tasks themselves, then I’m all for the death of chivalry. Heck, I will personally lead the coalition to hunt down the chivalry monster and stab it through its sexist heart.
However, I think most of us here at Centre can agree that women are perfectly capable of doing the things that men can do. As a real live primary source woman, I can personally attest to the fact that my own two arms, weak as they may be from hours of underlining books, typing articles, and trolling on Facebook instead of working out, are perfectly capable of opening up even the heaviest of doors on campus.
I can also bear witness to the fact that walking on the street side of the sidewalk has never made me feel uncomfortable and pulling out my own chair at the dinner table has never caused me any undue emotional, physical, or spiritual trauma.
But if we really want to talk about chivalry, let’s go back to the roots. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the Middle English word ‘chivalry’ was originally used to denote a group of knights or horsemen equipped for battle. A chivalry was a group of riders—mounted, armed, and ready for a good old fashioned Middle English battle.
Over time, ‘chivalry’ was developed to mean the honorable, brave, and courteous practices and character associated with being a knight. Chivalric knights were pure and selfless, ready to help at a moment’s notice whenever someone was in need. To be chivalrous meant being dedicated to upholding certain moral, social, and/or religious standards. To be chivalrous meant being willing to wield the sword in defense of all things that needed to be defended, whether that thing was a moral ideal, a lovely lady, or a fellow knight.
Once knights stopped swinging swords and killing dragons and saving damsels, chivalry evolved to become a blanket term to encompass the code of conduct that dictated how a true gentleman was to treat a lady.
Chivalry later included such norms as holding doors, carrying bags, walking on the ‘street side’ of the sidewalk, standing when a lady entered the room, etc. And while these things are nice, they don’t exactly scream gender equality. Chivalric practices can often come off as condescending and outdated. After all, the modern women I know and respect are hardly weak, vulnerable, or in need of special male assistance to perform basic tasks.
It seems then, that chivalry may have become a practice that we have outgrown, or at least modified to fit the standards of our time. “I feel like chivalry now is the same thing as common decency. If someone slams a door in your face when you’re standing right there, that’s rude no matter who you are,” senior and Feminist Alliance President Elizabeth Alexander said.
Senior Cheyenne Evans agrees that chivalry as a gender-specific practice may be a bit outdated in certain circumstances, but that respect and consideration are always welcome. “I’m all for independence, but I appreciate someone wanting to go out of their way to be kind to another person,” Evans said.
This emerging view of chivalry as a practice of common decency and respect that should be extended to all people is one that I personally can get behind. If we truly want to live out an ethic of compassion for our fellow human beings, we need to operate with a generosity and empathy for all people that could very well include holding doors and carrying bags. In a society that claims to value equality, I think we have a duty to treat everyone with the utmost respect.
While I do know for a fact that I am capable of carrying bags and pulling out my own chair at dinner, if you see me struggling and genuinely want to help, go for it. I will appreciate it beyond belief.
As a first-year student here at Centre, fresh from the cornfields of Hinton, Iowa, I remember being absolutely floored by the considerate behavior of some of my peers. When one of my friends and I ran together, he would purposely run on the street side of the sidewalk. When I asked him why, he just said it was because it seemed like the respectful thing to do.
It was not condescending or belittling in any way. I was perfectly capable of running on the street side of the sidewalk, but he did it because he personally wanted to respect me, and I was 100% okay with that.
What I mean to say is, if you are a person who holds doors and pulls chairs out, please don’t feel like anyone is telling you to stop. This ethic of universal human respect and chivalrous action can manifest itself in many different forms, each of them equally valuable.
The way in which you show that you appreciate the individual men and women in your life may be different for each person and situation. I don’t want to say that ‘It’s the thought that counts,’ because that’s probably the hokiest thing that anyone could ever say, but I’m going to say it anyway: It’s the thought that counts.
If you are performing chivalrous acts because you want some sort of pay-off, sexual or otherwise, or because you have an air of superiority that you carry around with you, then cut it out. But if you treat people well because you care about them, then by all means carry on. Senior Nick Niehaus agrees, “Chivalry may be dead, maybe because we’re getting lazier. It shouldn’t die though. Equal rights is still a thing, but chivalry is as well,” Niehaus said.
While there are no more physical dragons to fight, everyone is fighting their own private battle with the beasts of fear, insecurity, academics, family life, etc., and we could all use a helping hand (or sword) every once in a while. The kindness and respect that you give to the people around you could be just the thing they need to defeat their own dragons, and I see nothing sexist at all in that.