Long Live Chivalry

chivalry1The Atlantic posted an article last week by Acculturated’s own Emily Esfahani Smith entitled “Let’s Give Chivalry Another Chance,” a reconsideration of the old-fashioned medieval ideal. The piece has garnered, as of this writing, an astonishing 590 comments which devolved into heated debate about everything from the origins of chivalry to lifeboat etiquette on the Titanic. But most interestingly, they reveal a seething anger about the topic from both women and men. Why such a visceral reaction, especially from men?

The commenters largely dismiss chivalry as an outmoded term loaded with sexist and classist baggage. They confuse it with politeness and point out that courtesy knows no gender. “BOTH sexes should be chivalrous,” wrote one woman. But chivalry is more than merely opening a door for someone. It used to be understood as the expression of the noblest and most honorable qualities of manhood. Edmund Burke called it the “nurse of manly sentiment and heroick enterprise”; Irish writer Kenelm Digby called it the “spirit which disposes men to heroic and generous actions.”

And yes, that heroick, manly sentiment includes a gallant, respectful deference toward women and a devotion to protect them if necessary, because that’s what a real man does. Only cads and cowards do otherwise. A chivalrous man doesn’t shove women and children aside to flee danger like a panicked George on Seinfeld.

In a rebuttal to Smith’s article at Jezebel called “Death to Chivalry, Long Live Politeness!”, Katie J. M. Baker sneers at this and declares chivalry itself to be threatening: “Chivalry actually supports many of…

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