Is chivalry really dead, and does it even matter?

How do you define chivalry: Is it gender equality and equal opportunity, or is it free dinner?

I stumbled across an interesting piece of hyperventilated literature today. It’s the typical blog post: someone with a poor grasp of punctuation rambles on, finally getting something off his or her chest, something they just couldn’t possibly leave alone. Until the next day, of course, when they’re onto something new. (And, yes, that is exactly what this post is.)

I’m guilty of it. All the time. I write and write and write and, by the end, I’m not even sure where I was when I started. Words are tough, especially words without friends.

But a piece posted to Elite Daily – titled “Why Chivalry Is Dead, From a Man’s Perspective” – tweaked me just enough to put thought to pixels.

I expected something different than what I found written by John Picciuto, who argues that – I think? – there’s no such thing as classical, American-Catholic chivalry anymore, at least not the kind he grew up with. (He didn’t call it ‘American-Catholic’, but every thing he labeled as chivalrous or anti-chivalrious felt like it was ripped from the first date scene in Scorsese’s Goodfellas or soaked up from the bottom of a frat house keg, so I took a swing.)

I, too, struggle with chivalry in 2013. I was born to treat women with respect – more respect than I’d treat men with – to lay down the coat with they cross a puddle, and to open the door for them, whether it’s the first time you’re seeing them, the last, or one of those times in between.

But, if chivalry is really just a fancy, gender-slanted term for courteous, then I guess I’m chivalrous to everybody. Rather, I should be chivalrous to everybody.

And, I think courtesy goes both ways. For as many times as women have leaned on me, I’ve leaned on them. Our genders are unique to each other but equal in weight, which makes the seesaw not only tough to balance but impossible to define.

Gender equality will throw a dagger into 1950s chivalry. Frankly, it’s supposed to. The private should become public and the glass ceiling should be smashed.

But Picciuto doesn’t go this route or see its steps. Instead…

“… the more I look around, the less I see men treating women the way that we’re raised to. What happened to paying for dinners and drinks? What happened to pulling out chairs and holding doors? What happened to walking on the outside, closest to the street and all that sh*t? Where did we lose the chivalrous touch? When did it become acceptable to just text a girl, inviting her to come bang? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining about those instances, I’m just saying, why have we strayed away from what has been established as the norm?”

Well, John, the thing about the norm is, it changes. All the time. It evolves.

And, if paying for “sh*t” is your definition of chivalry, then aren’t you assuming all women are as shallow as you?

With that, he continues:

“Eventually, I feel that women will wise up and start asking for the things that they deserve, the things used to be automatic and expected of men, like holding a door, pulling out a chair, and paying for dinners.”

Wise up? Yes, ladies, go back to the time when chivalry was really alive. You know, when men paid for you but got to treat you like a child and mock your wisdom in return?

Boy, those were the days…

Picciuto also derides what he calls today’s “hookup culture”, where he says men are basically allowed to sleep with women one night, not call them the next day, and this is the woman’s fault because she’s not holding him accountable for his actions.

(His words.)

There are, of course, women who do this to men. There are women who string men along for years and years and years and never look at them in the way he’s waiting for. You’ve heard of the “friend zone”. You’ve heard of it because it’s real.

He concludes with my favourite sentence, the most unintentionally hilarious stamp he could have ended this tableau with:

“It’s pretty obvious that women own the cards, and when they start acting like it, they’ll finally start getting dinner from places that don’t deliver.”

Again, the one thing that all women need, above all else, in 2013: a free, sit-down dinner.

Picciuto’s picking at low-hanging fruit and relying on the Instagram generation to back him up.

Sure, the women he sees may not be getting free dinners or drinks, but the discussion is changing: chivalry in 2013 means standing up for a female co-worker who’s the victim of harassment. It means walking alongside women in their quest for equal pay and equal opportunity. It means holding male politicians – in Canada and the United States – accountable for legislating change, for striving to alter our historically sexist culture, and for making sure children know this book is far more offensive and dangerous to women than any airbrushed photo of Melissa McCarthy ever could be.

Personally, ladies of my life, I will continue to hold the door for you, I will continue to bring you soup when you have a cold, and I will always strive to do something nice for you just because it’s a Wednesday. And yes, I’d like to treat you to dinner.

But I won’t do it for the sake of some outdated ideological battle and I won’t do it just because you’re a woman.

I don’t think equality needs to come at the expense of common courtesy, but I also don’t think I need to condescendingly explain that to anyone else.

If you’d like to listen to Picciuto – if you’d like to cash your chips in on a free steak or a crantini – then be my guest. But there are more important feminist issues on our docket, and they should be taken up by men and women.

Just know, getting something will always come with losing something.

Free dinner from time-to-time? That shouldn’t be a biggie.

But being the first off a sinking ship? That’s a tough one to lose.

*Originally published on White Cover Magazine

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