Listen: Is chivalry outdated? Emma Mullings asks Etiquette writer Anna Musson.
A Twitter photo of a couple walking down a footpath has gone viral, sparking a debate over chivalry that’s divided feminists and traditionalists .
The picture, posted on May 18 by American Twitter user “Ibi”, is accompanied by the cryptic challenge, “I’m sure half of you guys don’t even know what’s wrong with this picture”. Her aim is to get men thinking about chivalry; the fellow in the photo is not walking curb-side. The picture has been retweeted around 11,000 times to date.
In reply to Ibi’s challenge, one of her Twitter followers replies, “Never let a woman walk on the outside.” Others protest, saying it’s no big deal for women to walk closest to the street, to which another Tweeter responds, “The ones saying it’s not a big deal weren’t raise [sic] right”.
The discussion has got us talking here at Hope Media. Breakfast show announcers Dwayne and Dan are at odds. While Dwayne says his wife feels no need for him to practice old-fashioned chivalry, Dan on the other hand boasts that he is the ultimate gentleman.
“If I saw a puddle in the footpath, I would pick my wife up and carry her over it,” he claims.
Mornings announcer Emma says her hubby was the first man she dated who ever opened doors and walked on the curb side of the footpath, and she loves it.
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Hope 103.2FM listeners weighed in on the discussion via Facebook. Sarina wrote “Chivalry was lost years ago, I don’t know why it is a big thing now”, while Aajna wrote “don’t women want to be treated as equal?”
Meanwhile Scott waved the flag for gentlemen, saying, “I always walk on my wife’s right side. We are the best of friends. Friends look out for each other.”
The discussion got us thinking. Is chivalry outdated? Is it based in an assumption that women are weak? Or is it a sign of respect?
The Origins Of Chivalrous Behaviour
According to etiquette writer Anna Musson, author of Etiquette Secrets and founder of The Good Manners Company, said chivalry still has currency.
“While the feminist movement is a positive thing for equality, what it’s really done is confuse a lot of us about what is appropriate behaviour,” she said.
She explained that most chivalrous gestures have practical origins: “If we look at the example of a gentleman walking on the outside, it started because we used to throw all of our waste out the window onto the street, and if a horse and carriage came past and it had been raining, the water and waste would splash up onto the footpath.
“A gentleman would walk on the outside to protect the lady from those splashes. So the reason for the practice has changed but the thoughtfulness and the custom has stayed with us.”
When Women Are Offended By Chivalry
Men often fear being chivalrous, as they’re at risk of being criticised by prickly reactions from women who take offense. According to Ms Musson, this kind of reaction is feminism gone too far; chivalry was never intended to be patronising.
“If someone offers you their seat on a bus, holds the door for you, waits for you for the lift, that’s actually just thoughtfulness,” she said. “It’s not because you are weak or don’t have arms. A well-mannered person will always say thankyou to thoughtfulness. So a ‘thankyou’ and a smile is the best response.”
Hope Facebook follower Charlotte concurred, saying it made her “blood boil” when feminists said chivalry was sexist. She argued that it was in fact the ultimate expression of equal rights.
“When a man opens a door for a woman or pulls her chair out for her to sit more easily, it is a sign of respect,” she said. “I, for one, am touched when anyone opens the door for me (never mind a man!) and have never felt that it was done because I’m weaker or less capable. Chivalry has always been about high regard and honour, not about oppression! “
Their message? Chivalry is not about pretending women and men have identical strengths and qualities, rather, it is about acknowledging their equal worth.
“The premise of good manners is always putting someone else before yourself,” Ms Musson said.
This attitude echoes the Bible: “Regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)
Chivalry Tips For Single Men
For single men who would like to be known as a gentleman, Anna Musson suggests the following:
- Introduce yourself with your full name
- Insist on paying for at least the first date
- Stand when the lady comes to the table and leaves the table.
She admits the third point is a little formal in modern dating contexts, but believes it can still be practiced with older company.
“It’s a wonderful thing to do with your mother or grandparents, especially if you know that that’s important to them,” she said.
Tips For Women To Encourage Gentlemen
With many men now shy of practicing chivalry, Ms Musson suggested women need to encourage them by setting the example.
- Smile and thank men for their small kind gestures
- Open the door for a man
- Act with kindness if he looks surprised
“One of the best things woman can do is start opening the door for gents,” she said, “and they will get that feeling of ‘Oh, that was really nice’. We create the environment we want. “
Etiquette Tips For The Workplace
For the gender-neutral business environment, Ms Musson suggests men and women follow basic good manners:
- Show courtesy to everyone, and especially to those who are senior to you by position.
- A gentleman is not required to hold the door for a lady; rather, whoever gets to the door first holds it for someone else.
- When dining out, whoever invites the other person pays.
Read more about Anna Musson at Goodmanners.com.au.