DONOHUE: Beyond ‘Nova, is chivalry dead?



Caity Donohue

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to mourn…chivalry? Is chivalry dead? If so, what killed it?

A recent visit by a friend from a different school brought about this musing for my group of friends and me. To his astonishment, someone held the door for us even though we were at least 15 feet from the entrance. As we hurried in and expressed our thanks, I asked why he thought this was strange behavior. Here at Villanova, it’s a common courtesy.

He explained that at his urban school, if you fell down on the street while walking, people would continue to walk over you. A door being slammed in your face is hardly a justifiable cause for irritation.

So I conceded that, our little Villanova-world aside, perhaps chivalry is on its way out. As we continued to dissect the idea of this loaded word, a guy friend chimed in. He admitted that he too didn’t know the meaning of the word anymore. Is it pulling out her chair for her, he asked? Walking on the outside edge of the sidewalk, picking up the taxi fare or suggesting a dinner date? Suddenly, he was on a roll. He finished by muttering something that suggested, “Heaven forbid she’s a feminist, and then you’ve really botched the entire situation.”

I’ve never been sure of how I felt about the word “feminist,” mostly because I don’t like labels. However, I’ve always been an advocate for gender equality, and never once did I consider a correlation between the annihilation of, say, the glass ceiling and a man consequently no longer extending courtesy and respect toward a woman. When thinking about a contemporary man who likely holds these chivalrous attributes to a higher regard, it seems difficult to imagine someone other than an “alpha male.” A man with a type A or dominating personality is the kind of gentleman women seem to demand this chivalry from, all the while expecting that their success either academically or financially makes them independent and not in need of such chivalrous overtures.

It becomes easier to see the link. As women have become more aggressive as a whole, it appears that the cover on chivalry has been blown off, and we may not like what is seething beneath.

Is it possible that “chivalry” was only well and good when a woman’s salary hovered well below that of a man? I might go so far as to say that feminism has caused a decrease in alpha males, and, in that vein, perhaps the extinction of chivalry itself. It must be an incredibly complicated thing to be chivalrous these days; after all, women seem to want to be treated with the same extra care to their feelings, or they demand that a man be the dominating figure in a relationship, while expecting equality in all other areas.

That isn’t chivalry, you might argue. A man who regards women as unequal doesn’t have enough respect to be chivalrous. I would agree with you.

The issue boils down to the fact that there were formerly two kinds of chivalry; one was the act of the socially conscious man, possibly even that aforementioned “alpha male,” and the other is someone who truly offers the respect that anyone, including a woman, deserves.

When I was asking around in order to get a sense of general opinions on the topic, someone presented an intriguing question that really changed my views on the whole topic. A female professor of mine asked why a woman couldn’t or shouldn’t uphold the ideals of chivalry as well. Shouldn’t we get the door for our male counterparts? Maybe the code of chivalry has morphed into what we can now understand as common courtesy. We should only hope that this ideal lasts as long as the medieval chivalry did.


Caity Donohue is a sophomore English and secondary education major from Northbrook, Ill. She can be reached at [email protected].