Maybe it’s that time of the Women’s History Month. I feel some indignation coming on.
On campuses across the nation, the Network of Enlightened Women has dedicated this month to its annual Gentleman’s Showcase. This group is trying to Bring Back Chivalry.
What is this, the Middle Ages?
I thought the deal was that everyone was supposed to be as rude as possible at all times. Chivalry was the price we paid for being, er, mostly equal, these days. Sure, now we have to hunt and gather instead of just gathering, and if there are boxes to carry upstairs, we have to do it ourselves. But it was going to be worth it!
So whenever I run into modern-day chivalry, it makes me nervous. It seems like a rejection of the deal.
If a man holds a door for me, I become irritable. “Next you’re going to ask for my handkerchief and go ride at someone with a lance,” I say, snippily, slamming the door in his face. “Why don’t you demand coffee and a side of 1950s-era stereotypes while you’re at it?”
“I was just trying to do something nice,” he says, weakly.
A likely story!
To get through my life, I have started excusing away these little courtesies. Men want me to leave the elevator first because they feel threatened by me. They carry my boxes up stairs because they think I might be a terrorist and want to inspect them. They offer to pick up the tab because they think that women should not earn as much as they do.
But then whenever I think we can do without chivalry, Chris Brown does something.
Most recently, he reportedly exploded after an interviewer on “Good Morning America” was audacious enough to ask him about the fact that he beat up his ex-girlfriend Rihanna two years ago. Chris got upset and allegedly tossed a chair in his green room after the cameras stopped rolling. “That was two years ago!” he insisted. “I am here to talk about the music!” Really, Chris Brown? You are complaining about how hard it is to be asked about this, as though it’s your hardship? How rude!
More chivalry would be a path away from that. “This demise of chivalry doesn’t promote equality between the sexes,” the group’s Web site states. “Rather, it breeds mutual disrespect.” Perhaps that’s true.
But the problem with chivalry is that most of its rules date from a time when the relationship between the sexes was rather one-sided. Chivalrous men are encouraged. But can ladies be chivalrous? The definition of chivalry would seem to preclude this. Whenever I try to hold doors for men, they look askance at me, as though I’m implying that they are infirm. I get on an elevator and men remove their hats. What am I supposed to do? There’s no female equivalent gesture, so I shake my fist and shout “I enjoyed the King’s Speech!” They all get immediately out of the elevator at the next floor, even though I am pretty sure that is not their destination.
There’s got to be some way of resolving the equation. Instead of women’s participation being limited to waving complacently from turrets as the men ride off to battle, maybe we can do something, start a Chivalry 2.0 They carry boxes for us. We can carry swing districts for them. They hold doors. We can hold babies for nine months. (I’m just brainstorming here.) They let us out of elevators. We let them out of pretending that recently unearthed books written by 17th-century Italian women are more worth reading than Mark Twain.
But the more I think about this Chivalry 2.0 thing, the more familiar it sounds. There’s got to be a word for this — treating everyone with respect, regardless of gender, a concept that encompasses what I mean without implying that someone is about to start iJousting the instant I turn my back.
Sure, Chris Brown was unchivalrous. But he was also plain rude. Maybe the answer isn’t a return to chivalry. Maybe we should all just be — polite. Even Chris Brown.