Green Room

Can we resuscitate chivalry?

posted at 4:01 pm on December 11, 2012 by

Via Instapundit, The Atlantic published an interesting and thoughtful piece from Emily Esfahani Smith that asks whether feminists actually won anything by killing chivalry.  Smith relates the historical development of chivalry and its beneficial role in society, perhaps more especially apparent in its absence.  Can it be revived, Smith wonders — and shouldn’t feminists be trying to do so?

Chivalry arose as a response to the violence and barbarism of the Middle Ages. It cautioned men to temper their aggression, deploying it only in appropriate circumstances—like to protect the physically weak and defenseless members of society. As the author and self-described “equity feminist” Christina Hoff Sommers tells me in an interview, “Masculinity with morality and civility is a very powerful force for good. But masculinity without these virtues is dangerous—even lethal.”

Chivalry is grounded in a fundamental reality that defines the relationship between the sexes, she explains. Given that most men are physically stronger than most women, men can overpower women at any time to get what they want. Gentlemen developed symbolic practices to communicate to women that they would not inflict harm upon them and would even protect them against harm. The tacit assumption that men would risk their lives to protect women only underscores how valued women are—how elevated their status is—under the system of chivalry. …

Chivalry is about respect. It is about not harming or hurting others, especially those who are more vulnerable than you. It is about putting other people first and serving others often in a heroic or courageous manner. It is about being polite and courteous. In other words, chivalry in the age of post-feminism is another name we give to civility. When we give up on civility, understood in this way, we can never have relationships that are as meaningful as they could be.

If women today—feminists and non-feminists alike—encouraged both men and women to adopt the principles of civil and chivalrous conduct, then the standards of behavior for the two sexes would be the same, fostering the equality that feminists desire. Moreover, the relations between the sexes would be once again based on mutual respect, as the traditionalists want. Men and women may end up being civil and well-mannered in different ways, but at least they would be civil and well-mannered, an improvement on the current situation.

I suspect that the insistence on gender equity — which Smith partly blames for the death of chivalry — has less to do with its decline than the breakdown of the family.  Men who grow up in fatherless homes, or homes where fathers and stepfathers abuse and discard mothers, are not likely to get a sense of chivalry from their role models.  Cultural pressures such as the rise of astonishingly misogynist themes in rap music in particular might both reflect and perpetuate that experience.  But I think Smith is essentially correct that both genders need to rediscover chivalry and social graces in order to reverse the growth of coarseness and self-indulgence in our culture.

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Comments

Who knew that conservative values and ideas were actually a good thing for society, eh?

Logus on December 11, 2012 at 4:18 PM

We can only resuscitate that if women resuscitate modesty.

You first, lady.

ajacksonian on December 11, 2012 at 4:41 PM

Can we resuscitate chivalry?

Unfortunately, no.
Gender politics has dealt Chivalry a death blow.
While I will ALWAYS be as chivalrest(sp) as posible ( My mom,rip, would kill me if not so ) I will also have to put up with being called a sexist pig.
It’s disheartening.

Jabberwock on December 11, 2012 at 4:41 PM

I had a 1962 Chivalry that lasted quite a while. It’s dead now, though.

The Rogue Tomato on December 11, 2012 at 4:41 PM

Jabberwock iis exactly right.

And the authors assertion that a resuscitation of chivalry would bring about the equality feminists want is wrong. Chivalry pre-requires a recognition of traditional gender roles, e.g.men fight and women let them. And to try to redefine chivalry around modern conceptions of gender equality is as perverse and intellectually dishonest as attempts to redefine marriage.

avgjo on December 11, 2012 at 4:51 PM

I was yelled at my woman I held the door open for. You can guess what part of the country this occured in.

Oil Can on December 11, 2012 at 4:52 PM

Oil Can on December 11, 2012 at 4:52 PM

UC Berkeley?

Ed Morrissey on December 11, 2012 at 4:56 PM

It’s part of the larger issue of cultural reclamation and renewal, and that starts when we begin to renew the moral imagination of society, through the creation of substantial artistic works that find commercial success and the rebuilding of social institutions. All of this is prior to electoral and partisan politics. Until we remember that liberty is not mere license, that it is connected to the grand purpose and adventure called life, we’ll just continue to crash our heads against political walls. And until conservatives (and libertarians) get that through their heads, we’re just whistling past the graveyard.

David Marcoe on December 11, 2012 at 5:04 PM

It’s funny that I hear liberals all the time complain that conservatives just want to poor to fend for themselves. They don’t understand that they are the reason for this. Chivalry not only defended women, but all those that were weaker, including the poor. Now that chivalry is not wanted in society, why are they surprised at this view? I would gladly care for the poor, if I were allowed to keep the resources to do so and if my worldview weren’t persecuted daily!

dominigan on December 11, 2012 at 5:07 PM

There are organizations that teach and practice chivalry on a daily basis; however the libs just seem to hate our military.

DAT60A3 on December 11, 2012 at 5:17 PM

Men won’t start behaving better until their fathers (if known) and the women in their lives start demanding it (including those women start to behave like ladies)

krome on December 11, 2012 at 5:23 PM

There are organizations that teach and practice chivalry on a daily basis; however the libs just seem to hate our military.

DAT60A3 on December 11, 2012 at 5:17 PM

The Boy Scouts, too.

GWB on December 11, 2012 at 5:40 PM

UC Berkeley?

Ed Morrissey on December 11, 2012 at 4:56 PM

Close (in terms of Politics) it was Hollywood. It wasn’t even at a University.

Oil Can on December 11, 2012 at 5:47 PM

I suspect that the insistence on gender equity — which Smith partly blames for the death of chivalry — has less to do with its decline than the breakdown of the family. Men who grow up in fatherless homes, or homes where fathers and stepfathers abuse and discard mothers, are not likely to get a sense of chivalry from their role models.

Your argument is plausible, of course, but I think I disagree with you.

“The insistence on gender equality” is probably part of the cause of “the breakdown of the family.” I’ve been pressured my whole life to accept the idea that men and women are the same, and any differences I might notice from time to time are a product of my sexist imagination. The idea of equality has been well and fully distorted into sameness in the same way it’s distorted in progressive politics from bottom to top, from disparate outcomes being evidence of racism to women in the military in an inextricable march toward the trenches.

I think many men are living in a loop that starts with work and ends with three beers, a couch, and a video game, not because they started out as sad sacks, but because they’ve been brow-beaten so long they’re like human broken horses. This kind of feminism we’ve been dealing with has hated men a long, long time now, telling them that their natural desires to do things as small as lift the heavy object or as large as running to defend, are patronizing and archaic. They’ve told us we are unnecessary, even writing books about how we’re biological anachronisms slated for extinction. And we are going to build families from these men?

In a sociology class, you are going to see a power-point presentation on sex and gender, where sex is what you are born with and gender is what you choose; where anyone who assumes anything from sex is being deterministic and opening themselves to homophobia and misogyny. That’s today, in every sociology class in America.

Anyway, you want families back, you’ll need men. And if you want men back, you’ll need to stop telling them they are broken women and let them open the dang pickle jar. And if you want chivalry back, you’ll need to expect them to open the pickle jar, if they just happen to be stronger up-top — or to at least try, even if they aren’t.

No idea how to get from here to there.

Axe on December 11, 2012 at 5:47 PM

*It doesn’t help that “chivalry” is “quaint.” :) I told a younger family member that America needed a Renaissance, and she laughed, saying it would be funny if people started wearing ruffled shirts. It would help if chivalry wasn’t a synonym in people’s minds with patronizing bluster. Wearing armor.

Axe on December 11, 2012 at 5:51 PM

UC Berkeley?

Ed Morrissey on December 11, 2012 at 4:56 PM

Oh Ed,

I was 18 years, weighted 115 lbs wet, and very shy at the time. And her response was loud so everyone in earshot could her it.

If it was done to me now I’m pretty and I would have more colorful response. I’m married and now loud.

Oil Can on December 11, 2012 at 5:53 PM

Chivalry is – was – a series of virtues and taboos that BOTH sexes had to uphold. It maximized civilization. Women and men can not be equal, not because one is better than the other, but in the way apples and oranges can’t be equal.

It makes no sense for men to return to chivalry until women return to holding up their part of the bargain as well. Until then it’s a suckers game.

Like Menkin said, “In a democracy the people get what they want, and they get it good and hard!”

Boogeyman on December 11, 2012 at 5:54 PM

I have no problem with civility. I just don’t need it cloaked in this “ladies first” ridiculousness. The first person to the door should hold it for the rest regardless of gender. The partner who makes the most money pays for dinner more often, and every once in a while the lower-income partner springs for it. Be civil to men as well as women, and accept it graciously when a women holds the door open for you. It’s all I’m asking.

alwaysfiredup on December 11, 2012 at 7:19 PM

Women and men can not be equal, not because one is better than the other, but in the way apples and oranges can’t be equal.

Boogeyman on December 11, 2012 at 5:54 PM

That may be so, yet there’s a lot more difference between an apple and an orange than there is between your monolithic “woman” and “man” (there’s a ton of variation within those categories btw). Some men are more womanly than some women. “Average” does not mean “all”.

alwaysfiredup on December 11, 2012 at 7:21 PM

Chivalry in our modern culture can no more survive than a housecat in the Sahara Desert. Chivalry is something you only get when you have certain cultural standards that are rigorously upheld.

MelonCollie on December 11, 2012 at 7:55 PM

I have no problem with civility. I just don’t need it cloaked in this “ladies first” ridiculousness.
alwaysfiredup on December 11, 2012 at 7:19 PM

Why? I wasn’t aware that gallantry precluded common courtesy. In fact, I seem to remember that the ideal of a gentlemen included both. For my part, I’ve never had a woman react negatively when I behaved like a gentlemen, and others have noted that young women generally respond positively when men practice chivalry.

For all the chastising you give Boogeyman for over-generalizing, you miss the forest for the particular trees. Men and women are different; physiologically, neurologically, genetically. There is an absolute physical baseline that delineates them. And the hard numbers show that, as groups, they do act differently, without anyone telling them to, and often against the message pushed by society that there is no difference between the two. The numbers generally back up what history and tradition have held to be true.

Chivalry merely sacralized the differences between men and women, uniting the traits, passions, and instincts of men to the protection of the fairer sex. If you want to see what its absence looks like, look at the hard numbers concerning rape and domestic violence. In social terms, you either bid men be heroes, or watch them become monsters. The hoped-for middle ground of androgyny is a fantasy.

And androgyny is boring. The eternal clash and interplay between the sexes is a comedy and an adventure. Half the stories that we tell involve some element of romance, and romance doesn’t make much sense with chemistry of the masculine and feminine reacting to one another. It takes a dim imagination to be irritated at chivalry.

David Marcoe on December 11, 2012 at 9:10 PM

correction: without the chemistry

David Marcoe on December 11, 2012 at 9:11 PM