Modern chivalry looks like kindness

Let’s get one thing straight— I’m a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man. Ah, I can see hackles raising already. If women are so independent these days, what place do good old-fashioned values have? What’s the place of chivalry?

Chivalric code stemmed from the obligations knights had to protect the weak and serve God. We use it these days
to describe the proper way for a gentleman to treat a woman. It takes a lot of its influence from tales of courtly love— think Lais of Marie de France. Chivalry is a key ingredient in the proto-typical fairy tale: a damsel in distress, a knight in shining armor, a daring rescue, a triumphal kiss.

Don’t get me wrong. I love fairy tales, but I also know that I’m no damsel in distress. I don’t need to be saved by anyone but Jesus, and I’m quite capable of being a whole person through Christ. And frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

On the other hand, I know how this line of thinking makes my male friends feel. It’s a very natural masculine impulse to be the protector, the hero. Good! Own that. Pursue that. But don’t take it too far.

How far is too far? I’m glad you asked.

A friend of mine recounted an incident when she held a door open for a guy, and he downright refused to step through it. He probably didn’t mean to, but he made her feel as though she had nothing to offer, that her small kindness was worthless. It was impractical and more than a little silly.

You see, it all comes down to objectification.

There are two ways to objectify your female friends. There is the way we’re most familiar with, that is, thinking of them as merely tools to be used for your gratification or self-importance. We all know that’s wrong. We know that it’s wrong to undervalue women, but it is also wrong to overvalue them.

We are not angels. We are not precious beings to protect at all costs. We are human beings, with flaws and complexity and inconsistency. To treat us as anything more is a sort of idolatry. It’s not healthy for you, and it’s not flattering to us.

Chivalry? Sure, be chivalrous, but not for the sake of principle or honor or duty. In fact, leave chivalry behind and try being kind.

Ladies, this goes for you, too. Genuine kindness is more important than any social construct or fairy tale. We should all strive to treat each other, as fellow human beings, with unconditional love, in humility before God.

Wright is a senior majoring in chemistry. She can be reached at wrighthj@jbu.edu.