The death of chivalry

A woman misdiagnoses the cause:

Sitting in traffic sucks, but it’s the ultimate observation capsule for people-watching. Might as well scrutinize while you’re stuck between a ditzy chick in a monster SUV and a tourist trying to snap pictures of the White House from the driver’s seat.

It’s where I spied a young couple out on a date. He cracked a wry joke, she giggled daintily, and they held hands as they strolled up a block in the heart of downtown D.C. How in-the-honeymoon period adorable are they? I thought. But when Cute Couple paused to enter a restaurant, my foot almost slipped off the brake: he all but broke his neck to get in ahead of her and let the door slam—I mean, physically slonk her—on her shoulder.

I sent her a telepathic message to turn tail, hail a cab, and end that date immediately. But she didn’t. She grimaced and limped in after him. And that’s one of the reasons why chivalry is dying a slow, brutal death.

A failure to provide negative reinforcement for impolite behavior is one of the reasons, but it’s not the primary or the secondary one. The primary reason is that women are behaving in an increasingly rude manner and men are taking note of their behavior and reacting accordingly. And by rude, I mean ludicrously, obnoxiously so. It’s not just the classic door-opening routine. Women just no longer wait for men; watch a man park at the mall sometime and you’ll notice that more often than not, the woman will be halfway to the entrance by the time the guy has locked the car door. Women have also become prone to issue commands rather than making requests; if you hear someone barking “hold this” or “buy that” in public, it will almost always be a woman issuing orders to a man.

I’ve also noticed that many women will simply come to a complete stop on the sidewalk or in public places without warning those behind them. It happens all the time in the grocery store, but I was most impressed with a woman I saw at a theme park a few weeks ago. She actually stopped, bent over, and started messing around with her kid’s stroller despite the fact that she was standing right in the middle of the single chokepoint through which hundreds of people were passing. It would have taken all of three seconds to move off to the side before blocking off the central portion of the passageway, but clearly that would have been far too much trouble given the apparent urgency of removing her little boy’s sweater. So, why would anyone, man or woman, be polite to those who behave in such an ridiculously inconsiderate manner?

The second reason is that men are being taught by example that it is totally pointless to even attempt to be polite. I was brought up to be conventionally “chivalrous”, but I am increasingly less so these days since one can seldom do so successfully. After the fourth or fifth time you start to walk around the car to get a door for a woman, but by the time you get there she has already opened it, gotten in, and is pulling the door shut, you start to feel like an ass. Eventually, you stop bothering. Each little such lesson adds up, until finally you reach the point where you are blithely allowing heavy glass doors to slam into your date entering behind you, much to the horror of a watching passerby.

It’s pretty simple. If women are not going to provide men, especially young men, with opportunity, positive reinforcement, and an example, they cannot reasonably lament that men don’t treat them the way their grandfathers treated their grandmothers. However, it must be noted that the young woman does correctly identify what she can do to help improve a man’s social graces.

And if I did so happen to be out with a dude who apparently didn’t know better, I’d stop at the restaurant door and wait. And wait. And wait some more until he got the drift. Same thing at the table pausing for a chair to be pulled out. Same thing at the car door.

That’s what my mother did with me when I was younger. Once, when I was about 10, I was curious to see what would happen if I didn’t get the door. She didn’t say anything at first, she just stood there silently at the entrance to Rosedale looking straight ahead. Finally, without turning towards me, she said “I don’t know about you, but I’ve got all day.” My curiosity assuaged and my lesson learned, I opened the door.