A friend & I were standing in a crowded elevator when I noticed that a gentleman standing behind me had one hand on a baby stroller while he held on to the shopping bag with the other. As the doors opened on the ground floor, I stepped aside to allow him to walk out but he turned politely towards me and said “Ladies First!” My friend seemed truly impressed with this ‘Officer and Gentleman” yet I stood my ground and insisted he go out as he had his hands full.
This incident led to a much-needed conversation about chivalry and etiquette and became the backdrop against which this article was written. While Etiquette (Manners) deals with how one should behave in a social setting and is a much-needed skill, Chivalry is an age old concept that is based on certain societal notions and expectations of an honourable character, much of which is based on how a man behaves with a woman. It makes many women go weak in the knees when a man is chivalrous, rarely recognizing that it tends to feed the stereotype of women being beholden to men or needing male protection.
Just as etiquette has evolved to become more relevant to realities and more equal in terms of gender, so also must these notions of chivalry which project women as the fairer but weaker sex while putting undue pressure on men to be their saviours or rescuers even when they may themselves be vulnerable.
In the 21st century, good manners are gender neutral. While we all love a man who has good manners, let us have realistic expectations from men while we ourselves practice the same good manners that we expect from them. As women, we can appreciate the difference between chivalry and common courtesy and not rely on a sense of entitlement that expects men to do all the hard work in the courtesy department just as men must not expect women to be solely responsible for housework and parenting.