It’s the 21st century. No longer are woman groomed to sit and sew as suitors dream to save their damsels in distress from tall towers and dangerous dragons. Across from you, your date sweats as he stares at the large bill for the tenth time this week. He’s also shivering from the snow building outside on the patio of a five-star restaurant because he gave you his only jacket and is left with a thin T-shirt. It’s polite and kind, yes. But you’re already layered in four sweaters and am doing fine at the new job. You can pay and dress for yourself.
Valentine’s Day is approaching, and romance is brewing in the air. But for the new year, maybe it is time we think of what to change about century-old customs in a developing world. Chivalry is great and all, but there shouldn’t have to be a name for kindness — it’s not exactly a privilege. It should be a simple matter of manners. In fact, I could dare make a claim that chivalry only upholds meaningless gender norms about who should be pulling out whose chair.
Back in the Middle Ages, chivalry was a ‘code of conduct’ for knights, illustrating how one should act and behave in a way that would embody courage, courtesy, and piety. At the time, knights’ ability to fight would allow women to rely on them as protection from other men. Modern chivalry has been reduced to a gentleman holding a door out, paying the bill, and lifting heavy objects for a lady. The intent is meant to be sweet and show courtesy.
However, to what extent is chivalry patronizing to a degree that it subtly exerts superiority? Most women in the 21st century can open their own doors, pay their own bills, and lift heavy things. And many men shouldn’t need to feel obligated to be kind to another human out of duty. If any person were to act kindly, I would expect that kindness to be genuine rather than an act of responsibility. If our generation is seeking to achieve gender equality, why don’t we start with small steps to even out the playing field?
Yet, this doesn’t imply that anyone should use this as an excuse to not help someone. If any person sees another struggling to carry something or open a door, the best response would not be to leave them there because “it’s the 21st century and you should be a strong, independent woman who can handle your own.” As Runjhun Noopur wrote on the Huffington Post in “Chivalry Isn’t What You Think It Is! A Woman Explains,” “needing help is not weak. And lending help is not a favor. There is a term for it—it is called humanity.”
So instead, I encourage everyone, regardless of your gender or past habits, to act not simply with chivalry, but with humanity. We all know we need that now more than ever.
Graphic: Evie Cullen