Teacher Cord Ivanyi, a Latin instructor at Gilbert Classical Academy, was tired of seeing boys physically push aside girls as they rushed through the classroom door. So at the beginning of this school year, Ivanyi told his students the new classroom rules about chivalry: boys would hold doors for girls; boys would ask girls if they would like to be seated; boys would offer to take girls’ backpacks before they sit down; boys would stand if a girl leaves the room; and girls would be served first if food is in the classroom.
“All boys will understand chivalry,” Ivanyi told The Arizona Republic. “It’s teaching them social grace. It’s things they should know when they do go out on dates.” All the students, boys and girls, were reportedly awkward about the mandated chivalry at first. But Ivanyi, as well as girls quoted by various media outlets, say girls seem to be enjoying the chivalry and some chivalrous behavior is even extending beyond the classroom.
Mandated chivalry may be a well-intentioned idea. And it may well have taught some kids to be conscious of the basic concept of good manners, which is to be considerate of others’ well-being. But mandating chivalry in the classroom could not be a more misguided set of rules. Any etiquette expert will tell you the definition of “good manners” is having consideration for other people: their dignity, their comfort, etc. And believe me, I will be the first cranky grump to start grousing about how “kids these days” — and adults, for that matter — have no manners. I was raised by a crazy WASP in Connecticut who, no joke, collects etiquette books. Mom used to poke us with a dinner knife if we had our elbows on the table. She once sent my brother to his room during dinner because he burped at the table. It’s unconscionable to her — and as a result, to me — that someone wouldn’t write a thank you note after receiving a gift, however small, or staying overnight at someone’s home. I sometimes feel like I am very, very alone in having been bred this way.
But good manners are quite a different thing from chivalry (which Amelia has written about here). While the idea behind having good manners is to be considerate of other people, the idea behind chivalry is to treat women as if they are of a different status, a “special” status even. Proponents of chivalry would argue chivalry teaches men to show women respect. I’m sure this is what the teacher, Cord Ivanyi, was thinking. But opponents of chivalry can see how that respect is just superficial. It may look “nice” and feel “nice,” but if you are really trying to teach boys and men to respect women, it’s a Band-Aid. Teach men and boys not to catcall women or girls on the street or to rank their hotness by number. Teach men and boys that women and girls are just as good at math, science, computers and engineering as men are. Teach boys and men not to assume a woman must have done something to “deserve it” if she says she’s been raped. Teach men and boys to be feminists who believe women and girls should be treated with respect in all areas of life.
… [T]here’s a big difference between chivalry and manners. Being a nice person that opens doors for others (regardless of their gender) and being respectful is something that we should encourage in all people. That’s being kind; it’s mannered and it’s nice. Chivalry, on the other hand, is straight up based on the idea that women are weaker need to be taken care of. It’s insulting. It’s also a trade-off — one that we’re supposed to be grateful for — for being at the s**t end of the patriarchy.
The world in which women are treated like delicate flowers who need dudes to pay for their dinners and put on their jackets is a world in which women are expected to live up to their end of the bargain by being submissive and embracing traditional gender roles. No thanks — I’ll take equal pay over paid dinner dates any day.
I think Jessica Valenti’s point about gender roles is really key here. Nothing about having good manners has to do with traditional gender roles, yet everything about chivalry does. That’s antithetical to the idea of achieving equality by eradicating sexism; I would even go so far as to say chivalry can impugn a woman or girl’s dignity because it points out how she is different from the man and must be treated differently. So really, when it comes to chivalry, who needs it?
I do want to be honest, though, that I am often the beneficiary of chivalrous behavior. My old-fashioned father has held doors open for me since childhood. My boyfriend holds open the car door for me nearly every time I get into his car and he paid the dinner bill on our first date. (I offered and did “the reach,” though!) My male roommate, a Southern boy, will practically grab heavy suitcases or packages out of my hands so I don’t have to carry them up the stairs. All the guys in The Frisky’s offices hold doors open for me, too. These little acts of chivalry are well-intentioned and I do appreciate them insofar as it’s nice to have some help when I’m juggling, like, six packages in my hands.
But is chivalry necessary for me to feel respected by any of these men? No. Not one bit. Really, it is the manners inherent in chivalrous behavior that are appreciated and those manners (to give and to receive) are just as important whether they’re coming from John DeVore or whether they’re coming from Amelia. I would much prefer my boyfriend not slap me across the face when I won’t acquiesce to his request than I would he open the driver’s side door for me every day.
I am lucky that I have men in my life who treat me with good manners. But I can see the forest for the trees and I know what is the difference between truly being respected and what is for show.
What are your thoughts on chivalry? Tell us in the comments.