Chivalry Isn’t Bad, But It Should be for Everyone

What Women Really Think
Aug. 29 2013 3:49 PM

Toward Pan-Chivalry: A New World Order

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Chivalry isn't dead or outdated, but we should universalize it

Photo by Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images

Writing in the Advocate today, Neal Broverman poses an intriguing question: When straight guys treat gay guys like women, is it progress? He sets the scene: Stylish in “tight Top Shop pants,” a polo shirt, neat hair, sunglasses and a “man-bag,” Broverman is riding down the elevator at the end of the workday when the lift stops and three men garlanded in heterosexual signifiers—“semi-fitted beige khakis and billowy blue button-downs”—troop in. The doors open in the lobby and team Straight pauses, waiting for Broverman to exit first. He does. He’s pleased. And then he vacillates. Chivalry certainly beats derision, but wouldn’t it be better for straight men to treat gay men as their equals, rather than “like the more rarified sex?” “Wait! I’m not a woman,” Broverman writes. Was that respectful hesitation in the elevator actually closer to a backhanded slap?

It’s a nuanced, exploratory, fair-minded piece. Remembering his shy smile when the men entered the lift, Broverman reflects: “Maybe if I gave them a straight guy nod, instead of turning coquettish, they would have exited the elevator first. Maybe it’s on me for turning the energy around and underlining the differences between us.”

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But then he decides he’s OK with the whole interaction, concluding: “I may be a man, but I still crave a bit of chivalry.”

The thorn bush of arguments for and against chivalry (good manners or benevolent sexism? Exaltation or condescension?) has snagged many a would-be Prince Charming, and many on the receiving end as well. Polite gestures feel so nice when they happen to you, but they grow harder to swallow when you remember they’re predicated on your supposed weakness. Broverman, who seems to take for granted that men should treat women with extra honor and respect, wants to know whether gay men count as knights or ladies. Here’s my solution: They count as ladies. And so do women. And so do straight men. To paraphrase Shoshanna on Girls, “We are—all of us—the ladies.”

What this means: Rather than do away with chivalry as the relic of a sexist epoch, let’s make it universal. Broverman was tantalized by his brief taste of courtliness because courtesy feels good—whether you’re Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jessica Rabbit, or somewhere in between. The author (whose name contains the morphemes “man” and “bro”—discuss) insists that his special treatment in the elevator had to do with gay vibes, but what if the Hetero Club was just…being nice? That social development—human beings showing kindness to other human beings, not worrying about power dynamics, sexual preference, or gender—would be the real revolution.

Yes, a new world order of pan-chivalry might present logistical challenges at first (“After you.” “No, after you.” “No, after you.”) But I’m sure we’d figure it out. Perhaps everyone would wait for a moment when the elevator doors opened, until the person in the biggest hurry snapped back into action. Perhaps both partners on a date would reach for the check, only for the person who paid last time to graciously defer. Maybe we’d share umbrellas on the street or open doors for passersby. Chivalry doesn’t have to represent sexism or homophobia’s silver lining. It can just be the golden rule.

Katy Waldman is a Slate staff writer. 

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