(Written by my dear friend, "X")
I thought I’d throw my hat in and weigh in on the existence of chivalry (or lack thereof). Writing from a male point of view, I will admit that my personal view is probably not the view of the masses (most men), but it is still male nonetheless.
Some background on me: I was raised in a household with my mother and three sisters and manners were consistently emphasized. My mother was married and remarried several times. Knowing this about me should give quick reference points to an overall sense of who I have become as an aging (though not aged) adult.
I believe that Chivalry is gasping for air, but it is his ailing cousin Etiquette that should be given the electronic paddles. I agree with some of the previous posters who hint that chivalry hearkens to a primitive time where the very act signifies recognition of a lower station. (As I understand) It was a social expectation to act chivalrous to indicate etiquette which was often learned by wealthier men (ironically, from teachers who were women). Men often behaved according to etiquette’s “rules” as a representation of themselves as educated (which again was a elite privilege), and also to show themselves as good potential mates to women who were also groomed to be properly behaved (and subservient). I realize that these societal norms cross many cultural lines with some variations, but the core belief remains the same: (I believe) Men were chivalrous to gain something. Whether it was a “station” in life they were after or a spouse, it appears that many men were motivated by a type of power. (Writers note: I realize that I have simplified egalitarian politeness, which leads to either political power, or male dominance in relationships, but I only seek to make a point that motivations may not be entirely centered on treating an individual as an equally viewed HUMAN).
I have been witness to many male friends who in the process of wooing will open car doors, pull out chairs, and walk on the street side of the sidewalk. These acts are abundant in the first several months of dating, but decline over time. Maybe it’s the process of dating that I am commenting on, but I see that it is not only chivalry that is declining, but in these dating instances, it is manners and etiquette that has declined.
My mother raised me to be polite. She is the first feminist that I have ever known. She demanded that respect be the ultimate rule for interaction with both male and female. She made sure that I knew how to iron, cook, and clean a toilet. She instructed me to be gentle, kind, and slow to speak and this pertained (again) to ALL people. I called people by last name (until instructed by them to do otherwise) and I was told to do for myself the things that I could do MYSELF, and extend that outward to those that I love. I’ve simplified many years of upbringing into a single paragraph, but what my mother taught me was not that complicated: treat all people with respect. In retrospect, I see her not as a feminist as much as I see her as a HUMANist.
So, now I will tell you that I do hold car doors open. I walk on the street side of the sidewalk when I’m walking with a female friend. I make sure I stand when a female friend is leaving to go home and sometimes I even walk my friends to their cars. Is this chivalry? Maybe. But, I think that it is just plain polite. I may not hold a door open for a male friend, but I attempt politeness in other ways with my male friends (also to show them that they are deserving of respect).
I’m even learning “dancers” etiquette now. There’s a whole new set of rules (a good blog topic for the future, perhaps), but I still fall on the side of what is polite rather than what falls under the name of chivalry.
Now that I am single, I have discovered a recognition for the “manners” that my mother made certain that I projected. I challenge myself sometimes with whether or not I am projecting a view that might hint that I am superior in some way (I know that I am not). As I look for a woman who appreciates me, I am hoping that she also sees that my actions come from a place of respect, and are not for others to view and evaluate, but for her to see that even the smallest gesture (even if it's pulling out a chair) that I am elevating her in my affection. Each action is an act of respect, care, and a recognition that she is deserving of just that.
I choose civility. I choose etiquette. I choose manners.