Some women, even today, rank men on a scale between Chauvinist and Chivalrous. The ones that open the door and pull out a chair for you and get your drink are the good ones. Women smile at them more, pay more attention to what they are saying and readily agree when these guys ask them for a dance. On the other hand, a sexist comment, a “women make bad drivers” joke or even some harmless (and possibly understandable) generalisation makes men incorrigible MCPs within seconds. Now, I’m not sexist at all – in fact, I’m a feminist to the core – but I also don’t believe that a man needs to open the door every single time. Or constantly pay the bill. Or do the whole pull-out-the-chair-stand-up-when-she-hasto- powder-her-nose-open-the-car-door-for- her circus. I thus wanted to figure out what chivalry is actually supposed to be, and entered ‘Chivalric Code’ into the waiting arms of Google. That’s when things became a little confusing.
The Chivalric Code was laid down between 1170 and 1220, as a code of conduct for Christian knights – and of all the 17 commandments in it, only ONE deals with how to behave with women. All it says is “To respect the honour of women”. Period. Basically, translating this to the Olde English of King Arthur’s court, it means: Mine loyal knight! Thou shouldst not picketh random lass up and fuck them at thy owneth fancy just because thoust had a longeth day at war and some fucking wouldst be good to relaxeth with. Or some such shit – I don’t know how King Arthur spake.
The other 16 rules spoke about valour and respect and fighting honourably and fairness and truth and various other things that nobody gives a damn about today. Interestingly, during the 20th century, the Suffragettes movement actually wanted to do away with the hyper-masculine attitude of chivalrous upper-class men. They were also critical of the oft-used trope of the “damsel in distress” and her “knight in shining armour” in literature and the arts. Somehow, though, after all these years, a distorted form of the code still exists.
Let’s face it: knights need something to keep them from misbehaving, right? They fought by day, hit the taverns afterwards, wounded, maybe without an eye or two, drank incomprehensible amounts of booze and needed entertainment. Grabbing a wine-server, ripping her clothes off and taking her right on the tavern table sounded like a plan. They were hot-headed, arrogant, extremely proud of their strength and masculinity and challenged anyone they didn’t like to a duel with lances. That kind of man still exists today, sure, and slapping the Chivalric Code on them makes sense, but the rest of us are pretty tame creatures, to be honest. Making eye contact with a hot girl at any public space for over a few seconds is a big win, for us.
What on earth is chauvinism, then? Nicolas Chauvin was this crazy dude who loved Napolean so much that he wouldn’t listen to a word against his hero. Chauvinism is thus essentially jingoistic nationalism. Clifford Odets loosely used the term “male chauvinism” in his 1935 play “Till the day I Die” and since then, “chauvinism” has been equated with MCPs. Fun fact: there are female chauvinists too. Thanks to people having absolutely no clue about what they are saying, something from a forgotten play became a catch phrase, and today is a response to everything from leching to shall-I -carry- your-bag-for-you.
Thus, my confused friends, what is the Gentleman’s Code today? Two words – ‘charm’ and ‘sensitivity’. Open the door for her if you reach it first – and hold it open for that elderly couple who are right behind her, too. When she chooses to use the ladies room, there’s no need to stand up. Open the car or cab door for whoever your companion is and allow them to get in first – it’s rude for a man to be any less polite with his male friends or colleagues. Offer to pay the bill, but if the lady insists on paying or going Dutch, say yes. Treat everyone (especially waiters and house help) politely. Try not to swear during first dates or meetings. Always drink responsibly. Learn how to dance. Remember, while the word “chauvinist” might not make much sense today, “sexist” and “asshole” do. Don’t be either of them.