Is chivalry dead?

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Weekly article submitted by Terrell Tebbetts

Terrell Tebbetts teaches English at Lyon College.  Readers can reach him atterrell.tebbetts@lyon.edu. His articles are also featured in the Arkansas Weekly.  

 

Last week when I read an opinion piece by a woman explaining why chivalry has died, I was surprised to see her saying that feminism hacked it down.  Last week when I read an opinion piece by a woman explaining why chivalry has died, I was surprised to see her saying that feminism hacked it down.

She acknowledged that the feminist movement has made men “unnecessary” to women financially, a change she was not criticizing, but then she argued that the movement also tells women that since they don’t need men financially they don’t need men for anything, a change she does criticize.

Needless to say, that writer got me thinking. My first thought questioned whether chivalry is actually dead. Well, maybe it is in New York City, where the writer witnessed an incident that got her attention.

But the urban North is far from the small-town South in more ways than geography. I practice small acts of chivalry habitually and have never had the recipients assault me as an agent of the oppressive patriarchy. So chivalry may be on life support, but it will hold on as long as southern gentlemen do.

My second thought was that chivalry has been so common historically because men are hardwired to take care of women. We experience that impulse early. Many ­teenaged brothers, for example, take special care of their little sisters. Like most impulses, of course, this impulse to take care of women can both harm and help.

Feminists like the one the writer criticized concentrate on its harm. The desire to take care of others can morph into the desire to control others, a desire that can lead to abuse. If chivalry is only a mask for abuse, it ought to die.

But men’s desire to take care of women can lead to good as well. It can lead a man to a lifetime commitment to one woman, for example, and to their children. Will men in whom that desire has died marry and raise families? Or will they see women merely as providers of pleasure and children as nuisances?

The trick, then, is not to kill men’s innate desire to care for women but to channel it into productive behaviors.

Many men are doing that. Male teachers and professors are encouraging their female students to think big, to pursue fulfilling careers. Lyon’s women graduates this year are entering advanced programs all over the country, right up to Yale School of Law.

Male professionals are mentoring young women associates, showing them the route ahead and rewarding their successes. A Lyon alumna this year won two outstanding graduate teaching awards at the university where she’s completing her doctorate.In short, men’s natural impulse toward chivalry can help feminists achieve all they hope for, just as much now as when men in Congress and in ¾ of the state legislatures approved the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women political equality.

Recognizing that, the woman who wrote the article ended with this advice for today’s women: “Embrace chivalry. Praise chivalry. Praise men, for God’s sake! And then watch what happens.”

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