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Chivalry on Life Support
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Today's is for Valentine's Day, and it's really aimed at men. But I think you'll appreciate it (and you can always show it to your husbands)!

If you want a chick flick to make your wife swoon this Valentine’s Day, guys, Kate & Leopold is an oldie but a goodie. Leopold is an English duke from the 1800s who is inadvertently transported in time to modern day. He holds chairs for women. He stands up when they leave the table or enter a room. He rescues maidens in distress. He is chivalry personified.

My husband has always held the door for me, but after watching that movie, I suggested that perhaps he could start standing when I left the table, too. He said he certainly would, as soon as I stopped talking about politics in public and started speaking only when spoken to. So we let that one go.

Chivalry, though, is largely a forgotten virtue. While we may not want to return to the days of males popping up and down at the dinner table, aiding and protecting women is actually quite sweet. I travel frequently for speaking, and figuring out how I will transfer my carry-on suitcase from the floor into the crowded overhead compartment always causes stress. The suitcase does not seem to want to levitate on its own, and my biceps certainly aren’t sufficient to stuff it up there. Despite a multitude of males among the plane’s passengers, though, rarely does one proffer a hand. I am stuck fighting with this decidedly overweight bag on my own.

A few decades ago no self-respecting male would stand by while a female struggled with suitcases. We believed that men should protect women—an injunction only slightly ahead of “men should have to kill the bugs”. So eighteenth century men protected women from the filth that flew out of second story windows every morning when the chamber pots emptied. Nineteenth century men protected them from the seedier side of life, smoking and swearing only in the presence of other males.
Then that came to a screeching halt. I don’t think it was the fault of the male gender, though; I think my own gender is mostly to blame. We wanted to be treated like equals, and thus we labelled all attempts at emulating Leopold’s kindness to be sexism. Men who held out a chair or who took a woman’s coat were glared at, shot down, and insulted. And so chivalry died.

Speaking as one with a graduate degree in Sociology, I, too, used to be insulted when men did small things for me. Did they think I couldn’t manage life on my own? Then, one day, it occurred to me: why would I want to?

Whatever feminists may say, chivalry was not meant to denigrate women; it was meant to elevate them. It was an acknowledgement that men, though they are stronger, have a responsibility to protect the fairer sex. A man is stronger. He has the ability to push women around simply because of his size (and, in days gone by, his economic dominance). For him to care for a woman instead meant something. It was saying: you’re different from me. You’re worth pursuing. You’re worth taking care of.

What woman doesn’t want to feel that?

Today men and women are supposed to be exactly the same, but we’re not. Acknowledge those differences, and we feel feminine. Treat us the same, and we become mere buddies. And if you’re interested in doing stuff with your wife you wouldn’t do with your best friend, then maybe this Valentine’s Day you had better start treating her as if she is special. Get her those flowers. Open the car door for her. Kiss her hand. Treat her with gentleness and respect, even if you don’t have to. In fact, treat her that way because you don’t have to. And then watch her melt for you.

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At 12:20 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I didn't understand why Leopold would be interested in Kate in this movie though. She is mannish, inappropriate, rude and has probably had a lot of lovers. I thought it was another feminist fantasy about how woman can be men and still have the perfect guy fall head over heals for her alone.


At 6:17 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

"We wanted to be treated like equals, and thus we labelled all attempts at emulating Leopold’s kindness to be sexism. Men who held out a chair or who took a woman’s coat were glared at, shot down, and insulted. And so chivalry died."

We did not label all attempts at kindness as sexism, we instead we questioned the motives. A man shouldn't be nice to a woman for the simple fact that she is female. A man should be nice to a woman because she is another of God's creatures, all of whom should be respected.

I am glad that Chivalry is dead, because in its place has come forth the idea that all people should be nice to all people.


At 10:51 PM , Blogger Kasondra said…

I totally agree with your article. I love being treated special and like a lady. Granted, I don't always ACT lady-like and don't want to be treated like I'm helpless...there is a fine line.
Example: I flew alone 8 months pregnant. On the flight out not one person helped me with my bags (I stuffed it into the overhead on my own) and no one gave up their seat in the terminal (I stood on already swollen ankles). On the return flight the person that helped me with my bag was another woman. Each time there was a man standing by WATCHING ME struggle to lift my bag with my huge belly. It was ridiculous.

I don't want to be an equal because, frankly, I'm not. My husband is stronger than I am and should be the one to lift heavy things and take care of me. I have a nurturing side and am a good mom so I should be the one to stay at home.

I think the problem that arises in "feminism" is that it really isn't about a woman having the freedom to choose what she wants to do with her life unless she's choosing to be more masculine. If a woman chooses to be a housewife/mother she's viewed as anti-woman. At least, that's been my experience.


At 8:48 AM , Blogger Llama Momma said…

My husband leads our cub scout den that the twins are in, and during this last snowstorm, he rounded the boys up to go shovel for some of the single moms in the neighborhood. One of the boys asked, "Why do they need help?"

My husband said, "Well, women are strong, but they don't have as much upper body strength as men. It's a way to respect the women in our lives, to do this work. This is what men do."

It was a beautiful thing, watching those boys work, learning how to "be men."

Embracing different roles as men and women is certainly not "popular," and yet, truly, life runs so much smoother this way, as least in our family.


At 8:57 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I like your description that men have the ability to push women around, but choosing to take care of them instead elevates them. One of
those "aha! Somehow I knew that but could never describe it in words" moments.


At 4:14 AM , Blogger Doodles said…

I am so lucky that in my life Chivalry isn't dead at least from some of the men in my life. I love that Llama Momma's husband explained to the boys they were stronger upper bodied then we are which is true for most women. He explained it in such a way that it didn't have the boys think oh women are weak it just showed them a difference. Give him a big hug for being such a great guy.


At 12:08 PM , Blogger Sheila said…

Thanks, all, for the comments! Been on vacation and I'm just getting to them now.

To the first anonymous, you know, I thought that same thing when watching the movie! What was so great about Kate? Loved Leopold, but didn't get that attraction, either.

To the second anonymous: I agree that we should treat everyone with kindness, but I think there is something to men deferring a bit to women, simply because they are different from us. We are not all the same. And they are stronger. I think society would be a lot better if we remembered that.

Llama Mama, love your husband! :)

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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