Yes, dramatic opening, isn’t it?
The concept that people of past generations were more polite, kind, well-mannered, and chivalrous, admittedly, is not exactly novel. Yet it struck me once again on the subway the other day. A scenario simple enough. A man and a woman, both relatively attractive, about the same age (mid twenties) were about to get on the train. The woman would have stepped through the door first, speaking from the logistic point of view here. Yet the (not-so-gentle)man cut in and basically pushed her aside to get in first and (a round of applause) scored the last vacant seat in the carriage.
It is not as if he was in the position of holding the door for the lady.
This is just one example, one instant, but even out of context (assume they knew each other and were fighting, she was a gold digger and stole all his money, she assassinated his beloved Schnauzer puppy Brian) this just made the bloke look pretty bad. There you go, our starting point is set.
So, if we presume that chivalry is dead for the moment (and not just in hiding or hibernation) it is time for some good old-fashioned finger-pointin’ (yay! How fun).
Who can we blame for the demise?
The most comfortable perpetrator (speaking from a woman’s point of view) would be The men. They simply haven’t got manners any more and are *nothing* like the beautiful illusion of masculinity created by the likes of Noir Hollywood. How dare they! No more Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grand, Humphrey Bogart, James Dean. But, catching a breath and stepping away from stereotyped character expectations, there never really was a Mr. Darcy to begin with (I know, taking an example from a satire is bad style, but mentioning Austen’s gentleman-protégé appears to be obligatory for any conversation of this sort) . They are just a figment of someone else’s creativity, nothing more.
Hence, it could have been us women. Did we drive The gentleman into throwing himself over the railing by constantly demanding ridiculous expectations to be met, constantly comparing them to the silver screen heroes, role-models of perfection, setting out unreachable standards that would frustrate anyone into resignation, into throwing the hat and not even trying for politeness any more.
Moving on. Emancipation could have murdered the concept of the gentleman. Bear with me here. Consider endless lectures of gender equality, equal pay, equal chances (not that I oppose any of these developments, I wouldn’t really like living in the world of Mad Men, myself). But maybe, maybe, these movements of levelling out differences in gender concepts worked better than expected. Men no longer have only other men as rivals, women are out to get to the top of the professional and private food chain now as well. Thus, competition is no longer gender bound. Is the downfall of chivalry then another positive step towards absolute equality?
Did evolved Betty scare her suitors from holding the door for her lest she’d think they’re conceitedly patronising her? And I’m not speaking sleazy date encounters of men who pull off the chivalrous card for their (well… let us call it) “romantic agenda”. This is every day encounters, motive-free, common-place manners.
As a quick side note, as much fun as generalizing admittedly is, I should point out – for fairness’ sake – that I might be caricaturing the tiniest bit here. I could add tons of examples of every-day chivalry. For instance, to stay with the imagery up top, another day on the train, there was only one free seat (how uncommon) as I got on, the sole seatless passenger. As I approached the man next to it looked up, glanced at the seat and picked up a small candy wrapper (which I hadn’t even noticed) and dumped it into the trash. I thanked him (parents, be proud) and he just mumbled “no worries” and continued sitting there, no further interaction. It was just the briefest instant, and it might as well have been his own wrapper, but it stuck with me as a memory of non-agenda inspired kindness. But, as I said, please consider this as a side note to the greater issue at hand.
Chivalry, what happened?