Repairing Relationships

Building intimacy and joy into your relationships

Should Women Expect Equality And Romance From Men?

Is chivalry dead in an egalitarian society?

Christy Krumm raises a controversial question sure to infuriate men in a recent blog post: "Do women have the right to expect chivalry from men?"

Don't feel bad if you aren't quite sure what chivary means. Chivalry is a quaint word dating back to the days of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, referring to gentlemanly behavior towards women. We think of Sir Walter Raleigh gallantly spreading his cape down on a street so Queen Elizabeth of England could walk across a puddle without getting her feet caked in mud. Over the centuries it manifested itself in such common courtesy as opening the door and letting a woman enter before you, pulling the chair out so the man's date could sit down, or helping a woman take off her coat.

It's hard to believe now, but in the early 1960s John and Jackie Kennedy era, chivalry was a huge part of our culture, along with men wearing suits and hats to baseball games and women wearing gloves, hats and mink stoles. Then the whirlwind of women's liberation swept over  the land  the next three decades. This resulted in  American society expecting that women should be treated as equals to men in rights, in opportunity, in education, in business and even in sports, highlighted when women's tennis legend Billie Jean King defeated former mens tennis champ Bobby Riggs in the much ballyhooed "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match in 1973. With Title IX firmly in place, today's women have equal representation in high school and college sports and college admission is 56 percent female and 46 percent male. Professional schools reflect this parity in most fields. Americans expect a female president in the near future after Hillary Clinton's near-miss in 2008 and the glass ceiling is shattering.

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With all this change it is no wonder courtship would be affected. National treasure Ben Stein captured this upheaval in relationships in his short story, "Men's Club":

"I have figured out something," he said. "It came to me on my 45th birthday one year ago. This is what it was. All my relations with women the last 10 years have been terrible. I don't know why. It doesn't matter if the women are here or in New York or in Hawaii or anywhere. Somehow, sometime in the last 20 years, a great rip took place in the fabric that binds men and women together..." 

Basically in the last half century, courtship rules have become as vague and uncertain as the unwritten rules of baseball or the judging of Dances With the Stars. Today's men express frustration because they accept the equality of women but are afraid that acting romantic will be interpreted as being antiquainted, sexist and offensive. And chivalry by men was interpreted by many politically active women as wanting to control and keep them down. So for many men, doing nothing is better than risking being offensive.

As Eat, Pray Love author Elizabeth Gilbert observed, both men and women have no role models to emulate in this Brave New World of courtship and marriage, so there are going to be misunderstandings. But common courtesy is always in vogue. Use that as your compass to guide you through the shoals of post-liberation America.

Most men and women appreciate a door being opened for them or a chair pulled out for them, so their is no reason to not do it now. Take the challenge to live a lifestyle of good manners. Most decent people will appreciate it, and those who don't are best identified, noted and subsequently avoided.

J.R. Bruns, M.D., is co-author of The Tiger Woods Syndrome, a book about repairing relationships.


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