The myth of chivalry

chiv·al·ry Pronunciation Key (shvl-r)n. pl. chiv·al·ries:
The medieval system, principles, and customs of knighthood.The qualities idealized by knighthood, such as bravery, courtesy, honor, and gallantry toward women.A manifestation of any of these qualities.A group of knights or gallant gentlemen.

chiv·al·rous Pronunciation Key (shvl-rs)adj.:
Having the qualities of gallantry and honor attributed to an ideal knight.Of or relating to chivalry.Characterized by consideration and courtesy, especially toward women

The last time a man stood up when I walked up to his table, I thought he was leaving at the sight of me. It wasn’t till I saw Pretty Woman that I learnt that it was considered good manners for a gentleman to stand up when a lady approached or left a table.

I was taught that good manners were about saying ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’. And about being polite to my elders. And nice to children. And do things for the sick and the old. I seem to have forgotten a lot of it. Everyone has. I don’t treat people with courtesy because they don’t treat me with respect. Men, most of all.

My mother, a long-time proponent of the old-fashioned value system of gender roles smirks at my dilemma and says, “You want your independence and feminism and chivalry as well? Isn’t that a little too much?”

Is it? Yes, I know, I’m hardly a lady..most women like me aren’t. We don’t smile sweetly when men open doors for us. The last time I took a flight alone, three men offered to help me hoist my suitcase onto the luggage rack but I smiled thinly and refused. I didn’t need any help, thank you very much. Besides I had a sneaky suspicion none of them would have bothered, had I been 20 years older and wearing a saree instead of well-fitted jeans.

Is that all there is to it? My search for a definition and similar meanings of the word ‘chivalry’ tells me that it is an ancient custom derived from the knights. That’s the Western system of course. Here in the east, we had our own code of conduct towards women.

Chivalry encompassed compassion, gentleness, protectiveness and above all, respect for women. Ah….that’s what is missing. Respect, respect, the big ‘R’ word. It about more than just doing things for one gender. It is about an understanding and appreciation of the other’s differences from yourself; a willingness to not make them wrong for it but dignify them anyway. Something as simple as offering a seat to an older person or a pregnant lady on the bus….not because you want to underline that they are weaker than you are but simply because it would probably benefit them much more than it would benefit you.

While on the topic of seats on a bus, I notice that men don’t offer seats to women on buses anymore. Could this have something to do with the fact that the first three rows on the left are reserved for women? I think so. Compassion like respect can’t be forced (or enforced). It just happens.

And here’s how the equation goes furthur: Men plainly resent the fact that there is a forced reservation of seats (on the bus or in Parliament…what’s the diff?) and they make it very obvious. I’ve fended off sneering comments about how the travelling is no issue if one is a women in Mumbai. I’ve also dealt with accusations that I could breeze my way through much faster on account of the 33%-syndrome.

Here’s how I deal with it: I get bitchy. I wouldn’t offer a seat to a man, no matter how tired he looked. At least that is what I was doing till I realised it. And I’m determined to use every single advantage I get on account of my gender, since I’m accused of it anyway.

I wouldn’t go so far to say that chivalry is dead. A lot of women I know who have had gyanaecological check-ups tell me that a male doctor is far better than a woman. You know why? Because they treat the patient with care, with gentleness..and with respect.

A month back, I had a dizzy spell and took a rick home. The driver offered to escort me right up to my door, asked me to call my family to come and get me and even after I declined all this, stood by and waited till I had walked across the lobby and gotten into the lift safetly.

Yes, it exists in brief flashes. People still remember how to be considerate to each other. Not every single moment is lost in these gender/ economic class power-equations.

It is a two-way street. I guess I don’t respect men really all that much. I don’t expect them to treat me with respect….I don’t even remember a guy I could describe as a gentleman. Which side started it is an endless debate. I am just not strong-willed enough to break the endless chain. My attitude goes something like:

Call me a bitch by all means, I need to be one in a world of dogs. If you want me to be a lady, you be a gentleman first.

Is that weakness on my part? Yes, it is. I don’t know what chivalry is. It hasn’t existed in the world in all that I’ve known of it.

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About IdeaSmith

IdeaSmith is the digital doppelganger of Ramya Pandyan (intrepid train-traveller and frequent spouter of post-midnight rhymes and rants). As IdeaSmith she battles obscurity and slays boredom with her stories about men, books, digitalia and Mumbai. She performs live and also blogs, tweets, Instagrams, Facebooks, +G’s, Youtubes and Goodreads all as IdeaSmith. Ramya is a blogger, digital storyteller and spoken word performer. She also runs a forum for aspiring writers called Alphabet Sambar. Tweet-bomb her at @ideasmithy.

Posted on January 1, 2006, in Battle of the sexes, Seriously speaking, Times, they are a-changing. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. It’s a world where ‘equality of gender’ screams to be heard. Chivalry, yep, sure does look good, but it ridicules the aforementioned gender equality, in a way. I don’t see any lady rising to greet a gentleman! Do you!?

  2. True, chivalry is not dead..yet. It has about 40-50 years left. Unless I get hit by a truck t’row. 🙂
    It is your prerogative to seek equality. It is everyone’s duty to maintain chivalry.

  3. Chivalry is as alive as you let it be. With you calling your self a “bitch” you automatically disqualify yourself from recieving gallantry at any level. You can not complain about chivalry, or the lack of, when you do not accord your side of it. I honestly have no clue what side your taking on this ordeal. You are either complaining about the absent of chivalry or the idea that is presents.–>

  4. Ghada Hamati

    Chivalry- June 12th , 2007

    Chivalry has pathetically dropped in the last decade. Both men and women are becoming competitive in all aspects. Needless to raise a vital issue that men had started the initiative stop honoring women and showing some etiquette that ladies value more than anything in this world !!!!! Wake up men before its too late!!!!!! Wake up women too as you both are capable to to be noble, lving and giving.

  5. Thank you for granting me the opportunuity to express my own individual conviction that we are living in a chaotic world that requires a stand from each one of us. Let us start with ourselves first and be positive in our attitude. We ought to race with time and regain the honorable qualities and never cast them away.Chivalry, courtesy, respect are the ingredients of a civilized life. It is never too late…… Trust me , if we collaborate together , life will be just wonderful as you all are.

    Ghada Hamati ( Jordanian )

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