All for you, my lady

COURTESY SAKE

All for you, my lady

Does modern-day chivalry really exist? In the light of the 21st century gender equality, does chivalry have its place, wonders Meera Vijayann

Coffee-shop dates, the movies and that awkward first-time dinner – few of us have memories of these special moments. Yet, talking to my friends, I am constantly reminded that the rules of the game are different now; women complain that they often foot the bill on their first dates and men complain that the ladies simply refuse to pay their fair share after a meal. And the word I hear often thrown around in these conversations? Chivalry.

The truth is that ‘chivalry’, as our generation (one that grew up reading the Indian mythology, western classics and watching Walt Disney) knows it, has changed. 

Medieval chivalry, which is the most romanticized form of courtesy, simply has no real place in today’s reality. In the past three decades, social movements towards women’s rights, equality and sexual freedom have played a tremendous role in shaping the way we look at relationships. 

It’s common to see young women shaking their heads, tutting about how their male friends aren’t chivalrous enough. Some say radical feminism has killed chivalry. 

Others argue that it’s a kind of disguised sexism. In the age of equal opportunity, there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps, it’s time that we dug deeper, embraced new rules and stopped waiting for that knight in shining armour. 

Keeping it classic

The 21st century demands courtesy that is soft, smooth and less melodramatic. Modern-day chivalry clearly has nothing to do with tipping your hat or protecting a damsel in distress. In fact, it takes just a bit of effort from men and women to demystify what this fine line is. Let’s get back to basics. For men, opening doors, offering a chair when she is standing, and making sure she gets home safe may sound a bit too much. But these small gestures go a long way in showing women that they are respectful people. 

When men push their way ahead in the company of a significant other, it might make them seem like self-involved and uncaring people. Women, on the other hand, shouldn’t simply judge a man who is a bundle of nerves at their first meeting. Men aren’t mind readers and if it is a person they care about, it’s best to gently let him know that it would be nice if he approached them differently. 

Financial ethics are often the hardest to discuss. Left to men and women, the Mars vs. Venus debate can lead to a never-ending conversation on who is responsible for paying on the first date. Relationships aside, money discussions often make men and women in traditional societies such as India, who are used to defined social roles, plain uncomfortable. In a study called Who Pays for Dates? Following versus Challenging Conventional Gender Norms, it was found that nearly 44 percent of women get offended when asked to split the bill. Odd enough, this view doesn’t change with the fact that most of the women surveyed were financially independent.  

The notion of the ‘alpha male’ often surfaces in these instances, as women believe that it is simply courteous of the man to reach for his wallet. This conventional gender norm is quite an anomaly now, for obvious reasons. If there are two financially independent adults, it is definitely acceptable to offer to share the bill. But financially independent women, who don’t offer, might actually push away men as it shows an early sign of dependency. On the other hand, when men don’t offer to pay, it comes across as plain ill-mannered. 

Modern Knight vs Modern Lady

The question that a lot of men have been asking these days is: what do women really want? After all, if women are independent, why would they expect chivalrous courtesy? The truth is, it matters. Courtesy goes a long way in allowing the sexes the room to appreciate each other in a way that does not bring into question where they stand in society. 

Tom Chiarella, Professor at DePauw University wisely advised young couples in Esquire magazine, “The new chivalry demands that you actively read the texture and tension of a circumstance. Sometimes you step forward, fill the need, hold the door, step in front of trouble. But sometimes you don't. You gotta read things. Chivalry cannot come from a need to control the circumstance. It must rise out of a willingness to surrender -- which, of course, is a kind of strength in its own right.” 

Coming back to the case of the ‘Modern Lady’, what women expect from a male partner or a friend isn’t a dramatic display of medieval honour. What they look forward to is some sign of support or respect that shows their company is of value. 

The rules of an honor-based society might, of course, involve different rules for chvalrous behaviour altogether. In gang sub-cultures, it is common to avenge a woman’s honour through violent disputes. 

Around the world, there are different views on how chivalry is seen: the Japanese concept of chivalry centers around the term ‘Bushido’ (‘Way of the Warrior’), which is a loose interpretation of the code of ethics followed by the samurai. The Chinese ‘Xia’ (chivalry) ethics also derive heavily from martial arts forms from thousands of years ago. In every culture, there is a unique way in which courtesy is interpreted. 

Naysayers argue that old-world chivalry is dead and that it holds no place in today’s fast-paced world. The argument that is often made against chivalry is that it is oppressive and sexist. The truth is that unlike the 15th century, modern-day chivalry often dictates simpler gestures. In relationships, it demands inclusivity, where each person makes an effort to appreciate the other without pushing the other into a conventional gender role. Among friends, it demands mutual respect and gratitude towards one another. Towards peers and strangers, it demands a sense of humanity. Now, is that too much to ask for? 

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