The mention of ‘gentleman’ brings to mind images of impeccably dressed men of the Victorian era in suits. They hold doors open for women, carry handkerchiefs, wear cravats, and if their female friends are insulted, they challenge the perpetrators to a sword duel/gunfight (depending on which continent you’re thinking of!). But how relevant is it to the current generation of 6-second attention spans and mistrustful mindsets?
The death of chivalry in the 21st century
Much of what was construed as gentlemanly behavior is viewed upon with ridicule and even scorn these days. It is a little disheartening to see normal, everyday guys trying their hand at chivalry, and getting judged for supposed ulterior motives. It isn’t an entirely impractical premise to look upon such acts with suspicion these days, but I think as a generation, we have let our skepticism get the better of us.
Chivalry in the modern context
Putting aside the naivety that chivalry is only suitable for characters from the Downton Abbey series, there is a place for it among us yet. Let me put this in context with a modern day example.
Last week, I was walking along an unusually wide pavement in the city centre. I noticed a handsome couple walking in front of me. The woman was obviously angry about something that had happened earlier. The man tried to reason with her, so as to calm her down. A loud car horn blared on the street, a fair distance away. As if suddenly realizing something, he changed sides with his companion. The man was taking the kerb-side! As I walked past them thinking about chivalry and other lessons that seem impractical and downright tacky to some folks, I could not help wondering if acts like these are not more necessary these days. If ever there was a time to step up and be a man’s man for your woman, today is definitely the era for it.
Recently, an advertisement captured modern day chivalry at its best, the “Bande Acche Hai” campaign by ICICI Prudential. So many people were moved by that ad; I recall my parents nod, and probably even get a little emotional whenever this ad came on.
Behind every chivalrous man…
It is imperative to have the woman’s support for being chivalrous. In the aforementioned Victorian times, due to the limitations on the sphere of duties that women had, chivalry was an easier go-to.
These days when women compete on equal terms with men in so many fields, an act of chivalry can be easily misconstrued. Paying the bill on a date, holding the door open, are things that cannot happen gracefully without her consent. Chivalry is not a surfaced act, but more of a handshake; it takes heartfelt offer and gracious acceptance. A small part of why chivalry is also disappearing these days is that women obviate the need for it. “He doesn’t have to be all meek and gentlemanly with me when we’re out, and behave uncouthly otherwise. You should have heard him screaming at some random guy in traffic today”. Case in point.
Modern rules for modern knights
There are certain common sense rules that will make chivalry a lot easier to implement. For instance, let us consider chivalry rules for a date. Especially on a first date, when both parties are trying to make an impression, it sounds ludicrous if the guy pushes the girl out of the way to get to the door first, or brushes the waiter aside and pulls the chair for her to sit. It has to be a natural motion in the grand scheme of things. If she gets to the door first, and hesitates a little, by all means, go ahead and hold the door open for her. If she opens the door herself, then go along with it.
At the end of dinner, the dreaded bill payment is one grey area in modern dates. A common rule for this, is that the party that does the inviting, does the paying. Simple as that! If she still insists on paying half, and is persistent despite your polite refusal, then be a modern gentleman and let her pay her half.
These are by no means exhaustive, but one should get a fair idea of where this kind of chivalry can fit in modern context. When in doubt, observe; simple observation of her behavior, where she is comfortable, where she hesitates, etc., will clue you in on how to proceed. All these non-verbal cues help in navigating the initial stages of a courtship/relationship.
Bigger than just mannerisms
21st century chivalry shouldn’t be confined to certain social settings, but be an integral part of one’s acquired qualities. This is one thing that has not changed over all the generations. Chivalry spills over to all aspects of a man’s life and conduct. It shows in the way we conduct ourselves even when nobody is witness to our actions. Akin to the knights of yore, it takes much effort to cultivate and keep at. These days, it is understandably a tough attitudinal balance for men to see women as their equals, and yet see the need for chivalry. However, in light of the events of the past few years, it is also my belief that chivalry is more relevant today than ever.