Is chivalry dead?
October 8, 2008 8:22 AM   Subscribe

Chivalry: is it dead?

I ask as a twentysomething guy: is chivalry dead? As much as I'd love to be a gentleman for opening doors, pulling out chairs, etc., I've found on recent dates that the action either looks presumptuous or creepy. Perhaps it has its place in already-established relationships, but I'm more interested in hearing from the MeFi's (especially you twentysomething ladies I'm so darn attracted towards). If a guy offers to pull out your chair at a decent restaurant or open a door for you, are you offended at someone else doing what you can do yourself, or are you glad to be treated like a lady?
posted by chrisinseoul to Human Relations (97 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's sweet. I don't know if I'd want it to happen every single time, but every so often is good.
posted by youcancallmeal at 8:28 AM on October 8, 2008

My wife says: door - yes, chair - totally creepy.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 8:30 AM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I answer as a twenty something guy: If you force it, you will get creeped-out looks. Don't dash to open the door, don't make a fuss over walking on the street side, don't stand there waiting to pull her chair out... If you can make the gesture without making it obvious it seems to be appreciated, if it seems forced, even a little, you look like a weirdo.
posted by piedmont at 8:31 AM on October 8, 2008 [10 favorites]

No, chivalry is not dead. If it's coming off as presumptuous or creepy, you're not doing it right. Try to think beyond the cliche (opening doors! pulling out chairs!) to things that will be organic both to you and to the woman you're trying to impress. Of course pushing the same 'ole slop at every woman you date is going to come off poorly.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:31 AM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

On review, chair is probably always creepy, come to think of it.
posted by piedmont at 8:32 AM on October 8, 2008

Door is fine unless you make a huge production out of it. Same with chair, actually, though it's a little less usual, and a lot of women aren't sure of the best way to sit in a chair which someone else will be pushing in.
posted by jeather at 8:33 AM on October 8, 2008

I'm on the other side. I think it's presumptuous if you make a big deal of it. Don't make a big scene and move in front of me to open the door; on the other hand, don't let it slam in my face either.

Also definitely definitely do NOT get upset if I hold the door for you. I want to be nice too!

Unfortunately I think this will vary by person, and as with all things, women are individuals and you should figure out what your particular individual (or individual du jour) wants.

I should also mention I have a personal dislike of the word "lady"; it can come off as patronizing. I say this partially to mention that I'm likely strongly on one side of the spectrum here.
posted by nat at 8:35 AM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

I personally don't think it's creepy unless it becomes a Grand Gesture. In fact, the only thing time a display of chivalry is annoying me is when there's the big cluster of people trying to get on the elevator, and I'm standing behind a guy, and I want VERY much to get on -- but he can't see me, and he's standing like a stone because he's letting the cute girl he CAN see in FRONT of him on first, and meanwhile I'm standing behind him seething because he's in my way and I just want to get on the freakin' elevator, GOD almighty....

...but that's just my issue.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:36 AM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

M.C. Lo-Carb!'s wife FTW - I would be creeped out by anyone trying to pull out my chair, and the obvious "WAIT! LET ME GET THE DOOR FOR YOUUUU!" is weird, too. Having a door opened for you if you're both in position is nice, but not when you have to rearrange yourselves for the dude to open it up. So, basically, listen to those who posted above and make it casual, organic, and Not a Big Deal.
posted by alpha_betty at 8:36 AM on October 8, 2008

Best answer: I'm a 60+ woman and hold doors for anyone who needs help. I appreciate getting a seat on the bus. It's polite behavior, not chivalry. Let's all do it.
posted by Carol Anne at 8:37 AM on October 8, 2008 [46 favorites]

I'm a petite woman, but quite strong (firefighter). On airplanes, frequently men in my parents or grandparents generation insist on grabbing my bag for me and putting it in the overhead compartment. Though I'm quite capable of doing it myself, I invariably thank them courteously and smile. When guys my age try it, I thank them, but don't let them do it.

For the most part, I try to give men who are much older than me a little more lee-way since they grew up in a different time. Even though it is sometimes annoying when they, for example, grab my bag, I always tell myself to be appreciative of their motive and their kindness.

As long as the setting is appropriate, I like it when guys hold my chair or open a door for me, stepping back to allow me to enter before them. I love to be treated like a lady- as long as it is paired with a healthy respect for me as a strong, independent woman.

I'm not sure if you include the man always getting the check as part of chivalry- I don't. I don't mind switching off paying for the check, but I do mind when the guy always insists on paying. I appreciate the gesture and won't consider it presumptuous or creepy, though, unless you go ahead and get the check every time despite me making it clear I'd rather go dutch.

Are you trying this on the first date? For the first date, I'd stick to grabbing the door for them. Allow them to seat themselves- you shouldn't (IMO) be going to nice enough restaurants that chair-holding is required. You can indicate that you are a gentleman and will treat them with courtesy in future dates by speaking with respect and maybe getting the door for them.

I'm in my 20's.
posted by arnicae at 8:37 AM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Do it but don't make eye contact.
posted by plexi at 8:41 AM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a twentysomething lady, I think you're right when you say that it's all right in established relationships (because you know the person and your status) but not so much on initial dates. It can tow the line between condescending and charming, depending on how you do it. Holding the door is nice, but I do that too if someone is coming after me. Pouring my water for me and helping me with little things that I am obviously capable of, not so nice. At that point, I would start to feel like a little kid.

I find the chair thing a bit strange, as well. Even if my boyfriend did that for me I would feel a little bit uncomfortable.

I would much rather be treated like a person than treated like a lady. Being considerate in conversation and nice to the waiter would endear you to me much faster than showy gestures of chivalry that aren't practiced much anymore.
posted by amicamentis at 8:42 AM on October 8, 2008 [4 favorites]

Would someone else like the opportunity to answer this first? No, after you, I insist.

For my money, you want to display two things -- (1) that you were raised correctly and understand social protocol, and (2) that you are treating the particular individual specially.

There is invariably some tension between these. But #1 is ill-served if you misunderstand protocol (which has dipped since the days when a gentleman supposedly would toss his coat on a puddle to help his lady friend ford it) or if you look too self-satisfied with your manners, which is much the same thing.

Personally, I hold the door for everyone for what I deem to be an appropriate interval, which I think is polite but non-sexist. I would not deal with the chair, save in the sense of asking if the person I'm with has a preference. And if I tried to order for my lady friend, I would expect to be punched in the schnoz. Though I have been told that some groove on that, suggesting that you need to know your audience.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:45 AM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

I like it when the first person to the door holds it open, at the very least, male or female. If I'm first to the door, I'll hold it for my boyfriend. But for me it's not a chivalry thing more so than just being respectful of other people. I feel like many people today are in their own little selfish bubble and completely disregard what's going on around them, and it makes me angry when one of these "me me me" people walks into me or slams a door in my face because they didn't even see I was there.

I agree with everyone above who says that the chair thing is creepy. I saw a guy order dinner for his date in a restaurant the other day and I think that's creepy too.
posted by cabingirl at 8:47 AM on October 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

And I gotta say, that whenever I hear guys complain that "chivalry is dead", what they're often really saying is: "It bothers me that all women everywhere don't fall down and worship me in response to my cliche, calculated, scripted moves".
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:55 AM on October 8, 2008 [34 favorites]

Best answer: I'd say the dividing line between "adorable" chivalry and "annoying/creepy" chivalry is whether you're making the woman wait around while you futz about to pull off your move.

For example: pulling open the door if you're closer to it? Adorable.

Getting a bit huffy or falling over yourself the first time she opens a door, so each subsequent time you two come to a door she has to sit there and wait for it to be opened for her? Creepy.

99.9% of the time, pulling out a chair falls into the latter category--she has to stand there, waiting for you to wrestle this chair out then position everything right so that she can sit down and be pushed in. 0.1% of the time, the guy is smooth enough to pull this off without making her stand around awkwardly, feeling like everyone is looking at her. (I think this is limited to certain hosts and waiters at high-end restaurants, my father, and Rhett Butler.)

Other making-her-wait gestures you should avoid: please don't insist on opening car doors unless you happen to be standing right next to the passenger door. There's nothing worse than a guy who insists you sit there and twiddle your thumbs while he parks, unbuckles his seatbelt, gets out of the car, walks around to your side, and opens your door. Jesus, I hate this one just as much as the chair-pulling thing. What are you going to do next, unbuckle my child seat?

So: there will always be guys out there who are smooth enough, or have enough practice, to pull off ANY chivalrous gesture in a way that reads as charming rather than making a woman feel awkward. Conversely, there are some guys who are just so clumsy or uncomfortable that no chivalrous gesture will feel "right," which can read as creepy (even though I tend to think it's not really creepy so much as uncomfortable for the woman). If you fall in the second category, I'd suggest scaling it back to a very low level; the last thing you want to do is make first dates more awkward and painful.
posted by iminurmefi at 8:58 AM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

This really depends on the culture of the area that you're in. Here in conservative, smallish town Texas, this sort of behavior is the norm. I get doors opened for me, seats given to me on the buses, my boyfriend does the chair thing and even opens car doors for me and carries all the groceries, and so forth. While the ultra-feminist side of me can get a little frustrated, I generally find it well-intentioned. It's not like these guys are trying to enforce the patriarchal norm by opening a door.

However, when I'm in Dallas, unless you're clearly a small-town transplant, if you go beyond opening a door then I'm probably going to assume sleazeball. The main difference here is, and this is important, intention matters a lot.

Most small-town guys or whatever get an automatic pass because they have been brought up to behave like this to everything female, regardless of age, good looks, etc. I'm a cadet in an ROTC, and while most of these guys would never date me in a thousand years (strong believers in genders roles that conservative types tend to be), they still do the door/bus seat thing. They do it for the 40 year old professor, too. It's automatic, and pretty strongly culturally ingrained. With my boyfriend, I do generally like it and find it sweet, but then again, he would do the same thing for his mom, or sister, or female friend, get the idea. It's an aspect of his personality that I like, not a trait I require or even look for in a boyfriend.

Now, on the other hand, there are the guys who are very chivalrous...if they think the girl they're doing it to is attractive. Hot blonds get a door opened, the chunky girl behind them get a door in the face. You've seen the type, and trust me, so have we women. If you're playing up the gentlemanly aspect to try and get in a girl's pants or to impress her, count on the opposite happening. We can spot fakes, and it is certainly very off-putting. These are typically the same guys that think all girls like flowers and chocolates and jewelry, and can't understand why women don't like them when they're "such Nice Guys™" who "do all the Right Things™".

So, yeah. If you genuinely want to just be polite, feel free to try it, but if this is a behavior that you only want to direct towards dating interests, then you're probably doing it wrong (and since this is the context you've phrased your question in, yeah, I would take a second look at your motivations). And if this isn't something you've been doing a lot, it's probably going to be obvious that you're not just naturally doing this.
posted by internet!Hannah at 8:59 AM on October 8, 2008 [6 favorites]

I can't stop opening/holding doors, though I've been glared at a couple times for it. I don't think I'm ostentatious about it, and I do it for men too. It's just a locked-in polite (?) habit.

I was once actually hit with a purse for daring to try to give up my seat on a train to an older lady, though. There's some kind of irony there. Chivalry might not be dead, but it's risky these days. You may get lectured.

As for running around the car (carriage?) to open the door for the lady, or pulling out her chair... that's a bit grand, I think, and I'd probably only be able to do that with a straight face if it was ironic, like a deliberately big fancy date to a pretentious restaurant.
posted by rokusan at 8:59 AM on October 8, 2008

I love it when boys act in a chivalrous way. However, I think that part of chivalry's charm is its unobtrusiveness. So, yes, do these things, but don't make a big production of them.
posted by maryrosecook at 8:59 AM on October 8, 2008

No. It's not dead. It's just framed differently.

I am a cranky punk rock feminist anarchist old lady. Attractive but not in my 20's. Sorry.

But I like little things sometimes, when appropriate. My SO insists on walking on the street side. If we are sitting down to a meal, we always wait for the other person before eating whenever possible. (I say 'sitting down' to contrast it with 'grabbing a quick bite on the couch while watching tv'.) I think it is sweet when he offers to order for me in a nice restaurant - of course, he asked the first time before he did it.

I also agree that common sense and general politeness towards everyone of either sex from either sex is the right idea. I help old people with their shopping carts up the subway stairs, get up and offer my seat on public transportation to pregnant women or the elderly of either sex - or even to someone who just looks like they're about ready to fall over. I hold the door.

You're asking if it's out of place to hold a chair out for a woman "at a decent restaurant". You're not asking to do it every day. And it all depends on your delivery. If you do it because that is who you are and what you think is polite in the situation, then it will come out that way. But if you do it with a flourish and a little smile and a "oh how great am I," then it's going to be creepy and you're going to look like a jerk.

Same thing with the doors, or waiting for a woman to exit the elevator first, etc. There are guys who do it that you can tell that's just who they are. Is that who you are? Then it should be okay.
posted by micawber at 9:00 AM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

Yyeah, what everybody else said...attitude is everything. If you're all "HEY! LOOK AT ME I'M A KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR!!" you end up looking like a d-bag. And as a 20-something woman: whether or not a guy opens the door for me falls about 34th on my list of things I'd notice on a date. (my husband usually opens the car door for me. i usually reach across and unlock his for him... once it gets below freezing outside, whatever maneuver gets me in the car and out of the wind fastest is the most desireable. i'm a bit of a pragmatist.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 9:07 AM on October 8, 2008

Twenty-something woman here. I'm all for gender-neutral politeness and holding doors. I think chivalry in the sense of "you should do this for a lady because she's a lady" is antiquated, if not dead.

If you're doing something for someone because it would inconvenience them or be difficult to do it themselves, then that's polite and good. But if they're perfectly capable of doing it themselves, then it comes off as a little weird.

As an example, for a few years I used to housesit in a nice high-rise condo building where they had a doorman who would revolve the revolving door for you. I always felt insanely awkward going through the door - except when I was carrying a suitcase or a bag and couldn't push the door as easily myself; then I really appreciated the help.

Part of it stems from people doing more things for themselves, I think. We rarely encounter bathroom attendants and full-service gas stations and the like, so we don't really know what to do when we see them.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:08 AM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

On a first date I had once, the guy went around to my side of the car to open it for me. I'd never had that happen before.

Three years and four months later, we got married.

Ten days shy of eleven years after that, he still does it every once in a while.
posted by Lucinda at 9:09 AM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

In my (30-year old, female) experience, if the restaurant I'm at is fancy enough for the chair thing to be appropriate, then it's going to be the staff person seating us who does it, not my companion/date. As the sitter, I will say that regardless of who does it, it feels slightly awkward and I'd prefer it didn't happen.

As for doors and other politenesses (and I think Carol Anne is right, these are polite, rather than chivalrous, behaviors), I agree with the people upthread who say that as long as you're okay with your date also doing these things for you, then it's not weird. I recently moved from CA to MI, and discovered that men in mid-Michigan of all ages expect to do "chivalrous" things like open my car door for me -- to the point where I am supposed to stay sitting while they get out, run around, and open it. This seems silly -- would they truly expect me to run around and open their door for them? -- and is one of those things that implies that you think I'm incompetent, or will need to be handed down from your enormous masculine truck, or whatever... (and come to think of it, probably is a holdover from when people *did* need a hand getting out of unstable or high carriages). On preview, clearly there are cultural differences at play here -- you might want to pay some attention to what people in your neck of the woods are doing, specifically.

In other words, my distinction between "polite" and "chivalrous" in the context of this question would be that politeness is gender-neutral, and chivalry is ostentatiously gendered, often in a way that feels overbearing.
posted by obliquicity at 9:11 AM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

TPS sort of has my knee-jerk approach. The thing about chivalry is that it harkens back to a time when gender differences were more regularized and understood across the board, and there was closer to one standardized way to be polite/charming/handsome/etc. That's less true now so it's always a bit of a crapshoot and the people who I'm most likely to be thinking "chivalry, you're doing it wrong" are people who have this rule-following "I was taught to do this and if you don't appreciate it you are wrong, not me" attitude. No matter what the situation, trying to on-up someone with superior etiquette is a bad plan. However I don't think that's what you're asking.

I sympathize truly however, because it's hard to want to do the right thing and be told there is no right thing and even sometimes get hit with a purse or whatever. My Mom likes to tell a story about how feminism in her world meant that she saw a man hold a door open for a woman and the woman said "Fuck you" and oh how horrible that was. That woman was rude and chivalry had nothing to do with it, I think. Part of manners is not putting someone in a position where they feel like a big doof for trying to do the right thing. However, I also think the fact that my Mom has held this little story close to her since the seventies and tells it occasionally also indicates her discomfort with not knowing the rules and passing on to her daughters a "here's what NOT to do" message which I think is also suspect. That said, I do not like waiting in the car while someone opens my door. That said, you can tell by looking at me that I am not that sort of woman.

A lot of people are telling you what I also beleieve which is that if you can do this so it comes naturally -- involving reading the room, reading your partner, and reading the situation -- then something like that can be nice and comforting and sort of great. However, getting it wrong can suddenly highlight different attitudes in gendered behavior or other things that are a little tough to bring up so early in a date. I am not your target audience, but I feel like politeness [into which category I lump holding doors and offering seats and whatever] goes a long way whereas the more chivalrous-type stuff [ordering first, pulling out a chair, helping off witha coat] is more hit or miss.
posted by jessamyn at 9:12 AM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure its chivalry, just politeness. I always open doors for anyone if I happen to be the first one there. I always open car doors for any woman in my car (unless there are multiple passengers). I do the chair thing only if its a date. Elevators etc, thats just being civil and polite. Unless you are rushing into a hospital, would it really kill anyone to just be patient and let someone get ahead of you, or give up your seat to a elderly person or woman, or anyone carrying a heavy load?

I have, however, noticed that some younger folks (women mostly) take offense sometimes, as if by being polite, I'm somehow disparaging their independence. Whatever. Doesnt change the lessons of my upbringing.
posted by elendil71 at 9:14 AM on October 8, 2008 [3 favorites]

Woman in her early/mid 20's.

If a random guy holds a door for me because he doesn't want it to slam in my face because I'm directly behind him, that's one thing. If he opens it for me and lets me walk through before him.. well, I'd stand there awkwardly before realizing his intent, and then I would be overcome with a feeling that can only be described as "what the fuck was that?!"

The door holding thing is totally acceptable if the woman is pushing a stroller or has a child or otherwise has her hands full. But that's not chivalry, that's just being a decent human being, and you should do it for men as well.

If some guy pulled a chair out for me, I would be insulted or at least weirded out. The only way this could not be creepy is if we had a long-standing relationship and you did it solely to be goofy. And you need a certain personality to pull this off. Basically, the only time it is okay for you to do this is if we're having dinner in the Captain's quarters on the Titanic.

Just.. don't do anything for me unless I ask for help. That "Gift of Fear" book makes me afraid to let someone pick up my dropped can of cat food. I, for one, am extremely hesitant to accept a strange man's help, solely because it's been hammered into me that if I trust a stranger or someone I don't know well, I'll probably be found 10 days later at the bottom of a creek somewhere. If you help me take my coat off, I think you're going to try to steal it.

I agree a million times over with nat -- don't call me a lady. You sound like my condescending father. Or my asshole manager. Or that guy I dated that wouldn't let me open my own car door.
posted by giraffe at 9:15 AM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Chivalry died when it became less about horsemanship, honour & courtly love and more about hokey old gestures like pulling somebody's chair out for them.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:15 AM on October 8, 2008 [5 favorites]

I always open doors for dates (in buildings, and in cars) and have never had any negative responses. But holding a chair seems kind of weird, and hard to do in a way that doesn't make everyone uncomfortable.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:20 AM on October 8, 2008

No matter which way you gok, you will sometimes lose! I was going into a college building, where I taught, and held the door open for a young woman (student) entering. She smiled and thanked me. The next one--I continued to hold the door--sneered and said I was patronizing.
posted by Postroad at 9:27 AM on October 8, 2008

The next one--I continued to hold the door--sneered and said I was patronizing.

as a very general rule of thumb, the younger somebody is, the more likely they are to make a big song & dance over something which is obviously intended as a polite gesture.

a friend of mine was actually punched & verbally abused by a girl for holding a door ajar for a split-second too long for her after having passed through it himself. that was on a university campus, would you believe? in the real world, adults don't normally behave in such a way as to make the cure worse than the symptom.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:38 AM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I don't think that chivalry is dead, and I think that women can be chivalrous as well by accepting a chivalrous gesture graciously. A simple thank you is always appropriate.

This can take some doing (see giraffe's post) because we all have some suspicious or cynical attitudes to work through, and because sometimes people do have ulterior motives when they are making those gestures.

I went out with a man who was very chivalrous, and at first I had trouble with some of it. I enjoyed it when he would open a door for me, for example. I would accept that from anyone, and I would not hesitate to open a door for someone else, man or woman. I liked that he would open the car door for me. Because we were seeing each other, I loved the thrill of the palm of his hand against the small of my back as I would walk through the door, too. Little things like that added to the intimacy.

But I had trouble with him ordering food for me, which was old-fashioned etiquette as far as he was concerned and just plain overbearing in my mind. I learned to adjust my attitude, though, as I saw that he was always polite in asking what I wanted, listening intently, and then ordering--so it obviously was intended as a courtesy, not some arrogant douchebag control move. I apologized, because I was in the wrong there, and I came to enjoy the experience.

I did know one woman whose husband would order for her without even asking what she wanted, just assuming. That looks nice in James Bond movies, guys, but it's really a control issue, and not cool. Don't do it.

My take on the whole chivalry issue is that if you are sincerely courteous in your behavior, the least your partner can do is be sincerely appreciative of it. If either of you has the wrong attitude, that's when the whole "chivalry is dead" feeling takes over.
posted by misha at 9:39 AM on October 8, 2008

It almost died for me personally when I opened the car door for a date and she squinted at me and said, "I'm gonna see how long it takes before you stop doing that."

I was able to rally though and still find myself holding doors open for people.
posted by jon_kill at 9:40 AM on October 8, 2008

A form of Chivalry is alive.

I think now it's more to do with being a thoughtful, kind person rather than being a male who makes a sacrifice of sorts to makes something easier for a female. Today I'm not going to lay my jacket over a puddle of mud for you to walk across... but, if you were unaware I would definitely point the puddle out to you.

Someone stole your coat at a party on a cold night? I'd gladly lend you mine. But if you purposely wore a mini skirt with a tube topwith 6 inches of snow and asked to wear my jacket I would decline.

I will hold the door open for people directly behind me. If I see you running, or if you're pushing a stroller, in a wheelchair, elderly, or a child I'll hold the door open and wait. But if you take your time, chat on your cell phone, don't make any eye contact with me, and won't even put up your hand to pretend you're gonna push open the door I'll let it close on your face.
I seriously can't stand people who expect doors to be opened/held open for them. Really, all I need is a smile or a nod and the door is open.
posted by simplethings at 9:40 AM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

Giraffe has a good point here. I've accepted help from strangers, but generally the less I know someone + the less I genuinely need help + the closer the offered gesture gets to my personal space = the more likely I am to assume sinister intentions on the would-be helper's part.

Picking up a pen that fell out of my bag: okay. Offering to help me carry something to my front door: eek.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:44 AM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Chivalry is not in any way related to "how people take it." It's a freakin' code. You don't do it because you are interested in popular opinion. You do it because its a freakin' code.

1. Always hold doors, and car doors for dates.
2. Always give up your seat.
3. Always pull out a chair for a) a significantly older woman; b) a young woman whose affections you believe you have a claim to.
4. Always offer your coat to a woman who is cold. Always. No on the puddle.
5. Always stop your car to allow women to cross the street.

Always do what you think is right, regardless of what anyone else says or does. If a girl takes a swing at you for opening the door, let her. Maybe she just likes you.
posted by ewkpates at 9:48 AM on October 8, 2008


I hold doors open for people a lot, regardless of gender. Often – it depends on mood – I accompany this with a slight theatrical bow and sweep of my free arm. Just one of those stupid habits I've had forever. Lots of people smile, quite a few laugh, some don't notice, and every once in a while someone says something along the lines of "Why, thank you sir". In a lifetime of doing this, perhaps surprisingly, no one has ever given me any indication that they have taken offence. I've never done it to make a point, it's just a frivolous, light-hearted gesture. Truth to tell, I've never really given it much thought until this thread – it's just one of those things I do.
posted by mandal at 9:48 AM on October 8, 2008 [6 favorites]

Politeness is excellent and should always be practiced. That said, I am no more polite for a woman as I am for a man (and I'm a man). Chivalry, in this sense, is dead I believe. A certain group of women and, sadly, many men seem to have a bee in their bonnet about not emphasizing the natural advantages of gender and instead believe everyone should be "equal" but, most important, believe that's how everyone should think .. given that, and that they're winning, chivalry most certainly should be dead for equality's sake.
posted by wackybrit at 9:53 AM on October 8, 2008

Always stop your car to allow women to cross the street.

What? Always? In what instance would you stop for a woman and not a man? Beyond being potentially dangerous, that seems rather sexist.
posted by wackybrit at 9:54 AM on October 8, 2008

I'm with UbuRoivas -- I'd be really happy if we'd stop calling politeness "chivalry." (Especially since beyond the horsesmanship bit, the "code of conduct" hails from a pretty sexist, classist past.) And I agree with all the responses upthread that suggest that a nominally polite gesture becomes rude if you have to go tremendously out of your way or are insisting YOU ARE A LADY I DO THIS FOR YOU IN CHIVARLY.

At this point, pulling out a chair for me is something that the waiter or maître'd does, so it's not a very practical way to try to be gentlemanly.

Holding doors and giving up your seat on the bus to someone elderly, pregnant, injured, etc. is just polite. It really irritates me to have a man on the bus announce to me that he's "giving up his seat for the lady" while ignoring, for (real-life) example, a guy who looks ready to drop with exhaustion or has a ton of bags from the grocery store.

I once dated a guy (very briefly) who insisted on walking on the outside of the sidewalk... despite construction in that neighborhood forcing us to switch sides of the street often. This meant he was buzzing around me like a fruit fly to stay "polite," forcing me to keep shifting my bag from one arm to the other to maintain the politeness of not bashing the dude's hip with my bag. Argh.

I have an older car without auto locks. I unlock the door for a guest when I'm driving. I LOVE it when a guest thinks to reach over and unlock the driver's side door for me.

I notice that the men who ride my bus almost universally allow the women to board first, and the men in my office building allow the women to exit or enter the elevator first. I think that this is sweet. I'm not totally unromantic.
posted by desuetude at 9:55 AM on October 8, 2008

Chair pulling is weird, door holding is fine if done naturally. Helping a woman put her coat on is generally weird, especially because most of us aren't used to it and would have to struggle to get hands into armholes when not looking, which would make the whole thing awkward and self-conscious making.

Little bits of attentiveness that don't call attention to 'femaleness' are nice, like I like it when Mr. Llama takes my coat for me and hangs it up in a restaurant if there's a coatroom or coat area, or pours more wine when my glass is empty, or asks for more water when I'm running low because he knows I drink a lot of water. Little things that show an awareness of the other person's needs and comfort and preferences are more important than some notion of 'chivalry.'

That said, if Mr. Llama weren't a long term llama, maybe I'd find it a little freaky if he was automatically pouring me more wine without asking. Like he was trying to get me drunk. So in that case, I'd like to be asked before assuming. Still the thing about finding a place to put my coat in a restaurant where I'd otherwise drape it over a chair is nice.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:55 AM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

(Should be: When driving, I unlock the door for my guest from the outside, before going 'round to my side to get in.)
posted by desuetude at 9:58 AM on October 8, 2008

Always stop your car to allow women to cross the street.

Eeegads please don't do this.

a) it makes the person you're stopping for feel like they have rush across the street when they would otherwise have walked naturally
b) it makes the person you're stopping for work extra hard to see around you, because you've likely created a blind spot
c) making exceptions in traffic rules makes everyone a little nutty. Somebody's invariably behind you seething or honking.
d) it's often hard to see through the glare in someone's windshield, so you're not sure if they're waving you across or leisurely checking their iPhone seconds before hitting the gas and killing you.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:58 AM on October 8, 2008

Oh dear, its about politeness and courtesy. It is about preserving and respecting the other person's sense of dignity. Courtesy quietly helps and is not loud. It is offering your seat, helping the lady with kids open the door or holding it open for the person behind. It is discreetly telling someone that their slip or fly is showing/open; it is kindness made ordinary.

I have never been impressed by the big gesture; I am suspicious of it and the staging. I am impressed when someone changes the subject deftly to be inclusive of other people. I am impressed when someone does something without expectation of kudos or immediate reward but because the kindness in them allowed it to happen. Maybe I am zen that way.

So pull out the chair if she needs the help, do not pull out the chair because it is a move. Open the door to be courteous not because you are making a move. Courtesy and its manifestations become easier when it is practiced everyday with everybody. Really, women do notice what is real and not real in behavior so no grandiose gestures, just kindness and courtesy.
posted by jadepearl at 9:59 AM on October 8, 2008

A big thing with the chair thing is location. If you're at Chez La Maison Tres Chic and you pull out your date's chair, that's one thing. If you're at Denny's, it's a whole other thing.

But overall, I agree with what others are saying. There are a few women out there with an interminable chip on their shoulder about anything that even vaguely smacks of special treatment for being a woman, but most women are graciously accepting of non-showy politeness like holding doors. If you're running into this frequently, there's something wrong with your technique or your expectations.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:03 AM on October 8, 2008

As much as I'd love to be a gentleman for opening doors, pulling out chairs, etc., I've found on recent dates that the action either looks presumptuous or creepy.

I think the key is that you make eye contact and smile and make it not about yourself "Look, I'm doing the right thing!"

That's not to say you are doing it, but that's what might drive some women crazy.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:08 AM on October 8, 2008

(clarification: my husband opens my car door on the way into the car, as in unlocks my door if he has the keys...if i had to sit in the car, waiting for him to run around the other side and let me out, i'd sort of feel like i was in the back of a cop car or something...)

Chivalry is not in any way related to "how people take it."

So....chivalry is about YOU, and not the person you're doing these things for?
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 10:09 AM on October 8, 2008

As a 24-year-old female, it really depends on how the guy frames his actions. This is just my personal take on this:

My last relationship was with a guy who opened the door for me instead of for the lady at the other set of doors with a small child in one arm and a grocery bag in the other, juggling both to get inside a store and out of the freezing cold. Yeah, it's great that he paid attention to me and all, but I really can open the door myself, and the other lady could have actually used the assistance. I think I'd actually have been more impressed if he helped someone who actually needed it, rather than the perfectly capable lady right in front of him. He would always do that sort of thing, which gave me idea that it was just a show put on for my benefit, and when asked, he said his lady was more important blah blah blah. Rubbish.

That said, as an echo of the replies above mine, it's more a question of politeness than anything. If the guy does it lightheartedly, and for everyone who needs it as just a reflex because that's just how he is, I think people notice that--just as those of either gender can notice if it's forced. If you act as if we need saving from the evil, evil door that blocks our path, then I'll probably be slightly offended and begin to make plans for an escape to call the psych ward and ask about escapees. If you open the door ahead of us because Dad/Mom/Uncle/TV always taught you "ladies first, it's polite," then that usually prompts a smile out of me.

Don't think of it as chivalry, because it's really not. Think of it more as politeness, being kind to everyone you meet, and I really mean everyone. I think it was Dave Barry who said, "the person who is kind to you, but rude to the waiter, is not a nice person." Holds true in any situation, I think. Kindness will get you far.
posted by Verdandi at 10:11 AM on October 8, 2008

I always hold the door open for anyone I'm seeing, but I've never felt it was awkward when its someone you're developing an intimate relationship with. I also open her car door first, but I also live in a major city and I feel that it's just the safer thing to do.
posted by mattsweaters at 10:15 AM on October 8, 2008

If the lady is in formal wear then every courtesy should definitely be extended.
posted by canoehead at 10:16 AM on October 8, 2008

I am a twentysomething lady.

One piece of chivalry I'm usually always in favor of is when a guy lets me go through a door first. I once dated someone who never, ever did this. He would just barge on through himself. I did think it was a little rude, or at least inconsiderate.

For the most part, I second what's been said about context. If I'm all dressed up and at some unusually fancy event, reception, or something, then I enjoy the extra, old-fashioned chivalry of being helped on with my coat or having a chair pulled out for me.

As a day-to-day thing, though, the only chivalry that I want or expect is the door thing (not from random strangers, just from a man I happen to be talking to, whether we're romantically involved or not). Yes, it's pretty arbitrary and I don't know how it squares with generally considering myself a feminist, but there it is.
posted by toomuchkatherine at 10:23 AM on October 8, 2008

Being a caveman I often do things of this kind, but don't take it too seriously or make a show of it, except in a humorous manner. The ghost girl enjoys some of it, but we have these things worked out and I know she won't think twice before letting me know if I go too far.
posted by ghost of a past number at 10:26 AM on October 8, 2008

Chivalry is not in any way related to "how people take it."

Which is exactly why it's so weird. The whole idea of chivalry is that you would best a thousand knights and climb the highest mountains in the kingdom if only the lady in question would favour you with the slightest glance or merest touch of her gloved hand because you respect and honour her so much. Right?

But if she lets you know that she'd rather pull out her own chair in a restaurant, thank you very much, that's impossible because she is the woman and you are the man so she doesn't get a say in how she's treated.
posted by lemuria at 10:28 AM on October 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

is chivalry dead? As much as I'd love to be a gentleman for opening doors, pulling out chairs, etc., I've found on recent dates that the action either looks presumptuous or creepy

Please stop calling acts like these as chivalry - you are not being chivalrous holding the door open for a woman or pulling out her chair. Unless you're a knight from the middle ages where the concept of chivalry involved semi-rigid behavior norms that would force you to engage in battle and risk your life for social or cultural "affronts", chivalry doesn't exist anymore. There are plenty of other external social constructs to keep you busy but chivalry isn't one.

Now, what is the intention of your question? Are you, like many people in this thread, are assuming that certain behaviors on your part will "charm" these women to fall into your arms easier and are weirded out when this isn't working? If this is true, your question has less to do with holding doors open and more to do with you relying on the wrong gimmicks (or dating the wrong people) to get your gimmicks to work. And if gimmicks are your primarily dating aresnal (and, lets face it, most people have a bunch of them in their ammo dump), those are easy to change. Rather than holding open doors, be polite when a door is opened for you. Say your please and thank you. Allow the young woman to flex the behavior freedom she cherishes when she is on dates with you and it'll be much easier for you to work your way in. Instead of working on the gimmicks that you think will make your dates go better, feed off her gimmicks and assumptions and let her do the work. It's basically the "let her talk about herself" addage but applied to all your behaviors. It's a gimmick that'll eventually fall apart (like all gimmicks do) but if you're just looking for an in, it's pretty effective.

Now, if you're not looking for a gimmick and truly are missing on current social cues when it comes to dating, first thing you need to notice is that people have memories and the social behaviors you're doing are a reminder, to others, of a period of time when social, political, and economic roles for women were more defined. They were rules were men, and women, were placed into specific boxes and where women received the much smaller box. Depending on your social and cultural circle, the box for women now is much bigger and, above all, is something that they don't want shrunk. On a first date, the behaviors you're doing are reminding others about that damn box. You're setting yourself for an epic fail if you give of signs of favoring (and it doesn't matter if it's not true - the fact that those signs can be read as such is the problem) the restriction of that young woman's social, political and economic priveldges and opportunities is not going to come off very well. Don't do acts that can come off as freedom controlling or restriciting. Those young women you are dating can take care of themselves and don't need you to act otherwise. You are, on the first dates, the unknown. Until you become the known, focus on letting your date make choices and supporting that. Everyone loves being the special snowflake and that idea is the current social behavior that carries a lot of weight.

Of course what I just said sounds great in theory but, in practice, it can get dicey and you're going to look foolish a few times while you do it so here are my tips.

1) allow the person who arrives at the door first to open the door. If you arrive first, open it and allow your date to go through. If you arrive last, thank your date for opening the door.
2) do not pull out the chair for your date. this behavior is only acceptable for special occasions in a long term relationship or if you are at a very nice (not decent) restaurant. And, if you are at a very nice restauarant, the host will pull out both of your chairs anyways so that point is moot.
3) if you are on the bus or subway, ask older women or men or people who are handicapped if they would like your seat. ASK. don't assume. If the woman looks pregnant, ask if she wants a seat. There's a chance she could just be fat, and you'll hurt her feelings, but you win some, you lose some.
4) hold the door for anyone who could use the help - if you see someone needing help with a door while walking through the streets, help them. This really has nothing to do with your situation but, come on, show a little love.
5) say please and thank you and be nice to your server.
6) you do not always have to walk on the side closest to the road and, if you're not on that side, do not make a big scene if you want to switch. The only acceptable reason to switch is if your partner has problems walking in a straight line and keeps running you into other pedestrians.
7) if it is raining, give her the umbrella. this isn't debatable.
8) don't order for her unless you are at a restaurant where you know the language and she does not. and if that is the case, ask her what she wants first, and order what she requested. if she says "surprise me", keep in mind a local backup place incase she hates what you order.
...there's more but that's a good start.

As you can see, these tips have less to do with what SHE should do and more with what you should do. And it has more with being considerate and kind and letting her make certain choices and you responding with her considerations in mind.
posted by Stynxno at 10:32 AM on October 8, 2008 [4 favorites]

Lots of long answers, so I'll leave mine short: Move to Georgia. You'll find a girl who will appreciate you.
posted by zpousman at 10:48 AM on October 8, 2008

I think every man I encounter should open the door for me if he reaches it first. If I reach it first I'll open it for you. It's not chivalry, it's common courtesy.

I'll thank you to pull out my chair, but let me scoot it in. It's awkward to have someone else do it.
posted by agentwills at 10:58 AM on October 8, 2008

I think this has a LOT to do on where you are in the country. I am from VA where this kind of thing is pretty normal (and often even expected). When I pull that stuff here in CA, people look at me like I am a bag of dead babies.

It is akin to how people here drive like assholes with no regard for anyone but themselves, and people there let you in when merging and stay out of the slow lane when people are going faster than them . . .
posted by milqman at 11:00 AM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm a guy who just graduated from my 20's, here are my rules of thumb:
1. Try to open the door for her, but don't push the issue. If you have to maneuver awkwardly in front of her to get to it, forget about it.
2. Don't pull out her chair unless you're in some place really old school. Like a steakhouse that you wear a suit to.
3. Always offer her the chair with the better view of the restaurant, but if she declines and says you can have it then accept graciously.
4. Offer her your arm if the sidewalk is slippery and she's wearing heels.
5. Offer to carry heavy things, but again don't press the issue if she declines.

These are, in my experience, pretty safe ways to be courteous. If she doesn't like you doing that, she'll probably let you know. I've never had anyone get angry at me for any of those things, but if they did I'd probably see it as a warning sign that she's got some sort of issue.
posted by TungstenChef at 11:13 AM on October 8, 2008

I think there are little things you can do to be courteous, and they're very endearing to me (another 20-something woman). If you get to the door first, open it for me instead of barreling through. If it's cold and you don't have a remote car-door unlocker, unlock my side first. When pouring drinks, pour mine first. Ask my opinion when making decisions about what we should do, where we should go, what should be on our pizza, etc. but have a plan in case I say I don't care one way or another. When we get to your place, offer me a drink and include a nonalcoholic option - "Would you like a soda or a glass of wine?" - then make your own drink match mine in terms of alcohol content. When we're walking, especially if I've got fancy shoes on, match my pace - please please please don't insist on walking one step ahead or behind me.

These are all things that help put another person at ease, especially when you're new to interacting with them, but also in a long-term relationship. They're things I would do for a guy, too, if I were the one to be first to the door/driving the car/pouring the drinks/inviting him in after a date/etc. They show that you're paying attention, and that you want the other person to be comfortable. Rushing ahead to get a door or pull out a chair is the exact opposite, because it's likely to make the other person feel uncomfortable and awkward.
posted by vytae at 11:26 AM on October 8, 2008

No, it's not dead. We've been together for four years, just got married, and he still opens doors and pulls out my chair and carries my bags. I would think it odd if he didn't, but if I were dating someone else I wouldn't really think about it. OTOH, I suppose I would notice it now, because I've been spoiled for four years. Before him, I wasn't offended, but didn't really care either way.
posted by desjardins at 11:33 AM on October 8, 2008

I think the chair thing could make sense on rare occasions if someone has a large gown of some sort that makes yanking the chair awkward, or if it's a hugely heavy chair, as in some circumstances. I think it goes down to being caring and paying attention, and sometimes that includes backing off with a smile if there's the least resistance to assistance. Though female, I help people often, especially if they seem much smaller, older or weaker than me or just burdened with something awkward, and they generally appreciate it. I imagine it's the same with this aspect of "chivalry."

But, yeah, if you only do it for 20-something ladies you're so darn attracted to, it's going to be creepy.
posted by Listener at 11:37 AM on October 8, 2008

What you've mentioned are good manners, not strictly chivalry. Good manners are "social lubricant" [Heinlein?] -- and they work best when both parties expect them. That way you and a lady will (unconsciously?) adjust your pace to arrive at the door at the same time so you don't have to lunge for the handle, or she'll wait for you to introduce her to your parents/boss/college roommate.

The friction comes when one party doesn't expect the things that the chivalrous one takes for granted. If you make these gestures part of your normal routine (c.f. the advice not to make eye contact) then it won't bug you so much when other people drop their end.

If it makes you feel any better, I'm the same way. But the boors have almost beat it out of me.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:04 PM on October 8, 2008

Big thing to remember - don't open the door and stand in the doorway so I have to squeeze past. Then I can't get through. (This generally happens when the other person is mostly through the door when they let you in.) I'd rather open the door myself than squeeze past you. The other day I had to repeatedly ask a young boy to stop holding the door and move because it was either that or walk through and hit him on the head with my baby in her carrier. "Thank you, that's okay, I've got it, go on in, I can't get through, go on in, thank you, I've got it, okay, I CAN'T GET THROUGH LIKE THIS!, okay, thank you...")
posted by artychoke at 12:11 PM on October 8, 2008

How do other women handle being on the chair when it's being pushed back in and the floor is sticky or the carpet is thick? I've had this done for me when I then basically had to sort of hover weightlessly over the chair as it was pushed back in or, when my leg and abdominal muscles gave out, give little hops in my chair hoping for the best that the chair-pusher-inner would guess that that was a signal to push in the chair. Chair hopping != elegant. I appreciate the gesture, but occasionally it is a little awkward, especially now that I'm pregnant and feel a little bit like a truck.

I hold doors open for others, both men and women, all the time and appreciate it when it's done for me. I like it when my beloved opens my car door for me especially if I have packages or something to get settled. Yet there are other more chivalric gestures that are sweeter and make my heart meltier because they are specifically targeted at me, and not all of womankind. So, do that. But in general I do not think that chivalry is dead. (Also, it's just resting.)
posted by onlyconnect at 1:24 PM on October 8, 2008

Speaking as a semi-Southern woman, Stynxno has it right. It's all about courtesy, not chivalry. Around here, the first person to the door gets it, and holds it if there's anyone coming after who looks like they'll have trouble. Gender is immaterial. Offer your seat on a bus or similar to anyone who looks like they need it more (whether they're elderly, pregnant, carrying a cranky 10 month old, handicapped, whatever).

With that car door thing: in my experience, around here, the driver always unlocks the passenger's side first, but doesn't actually open the door. Again, this does not depend on gender. However, I have known exactly two men who ran around to unlock their car doors, held them open for me, waited for me to get in the car, then closed them for me. I found it intensely disturbing. One was a date situation, and he caught on that I didn't like it (and then visibly stopped himself from it a few times). The other was a good work friend, and it still really bothered me. Made me feel about 2 years old, or obviously incompetent.

And the coat thing? Almost never happens. Has happened to me once, and I would have predicted that the reaction would be the same. What, do I look like this is too complicated for me? Do I have my pants on backwards? But it was my doctor, and he's about 60 and did it quite naturally, so it was almost charming. Age matters.
posted by dilettante at 1:38 PM on October 8, 2008

From reading over the answers in this thread, I would say that chivalry as we normally think of it has been by and large replaced by simple civility. To me, this is progress.
posted by adamdschneider at 1:39 PM on October 8, 2008

Chivalry is dead because it's sexist. It always was. Hold doors for people because it's polite.
posted by borkingchikapa at 1:46 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

7) if it is raining, give her the umbrella. this isn't debatable.

Huh? Am I missing something here? Are women more hygroscopic or something?

I'm not saying you shouldn't, but I'd love to hear the rationale in light of all your other points.
posted by ghost of a past number at 2:01 PM on October 8, 2008

I answer as a no-longer-20-something woman. If a man who is older than I am holds a door for me, I smile graciously and go through, figuring that he was brought up to be extra-polite to women. His mama would have thrashed him for not being courteous and it has become habit with him.

A man around my own age? Done politely, holding a door is fine and I appreciate the thought that he wants to make my life a little easier.

A man younger than I am who holds the door...has probably been brought up in a family that values tradition (including the patriarchal tradition). It makes me feel old but not insulted and besides, chances are that I'm trying to shepherd two kids at that particular moment. That's common courtesy on his part.

But the door is a public space. He opens the door, I go through and our chance meeting is over. A chair is more intimate and presumes a pre-existing level of closeness; I'd be offended if a stranger tried to help me sit down, much less so if I had agreed to see this man in a potentially romantic context. If it were accompanied by ordering for me, as mentioned upthread, it would set off alarm bells about controlling behavior.

If chivalry matters to you, then maybe you should tell your date that your mother brought you up to be courteous to women--but that you'll happily honor your date's wishes about holding doors and chairs. When in doubt, remember: Manners are intended to make everyone more at ease. If what you do makes someone uncomfortable, it's not mannerly.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:04 PM on October 8, 2008

The door holding thing is totally acceptable if the woman is pushing a stroller or has a child or otherwise has her hands full. But that's not chivalry, that's just being a decent human being, and you should do it for men as well.

Seconded (and, uh, hi Erin!).

I enjoy holding doors for people and helping housemates carry groceries and just generally being considerate, and I'm female. More than anything else, I dislike when these gestures get turned down because I'm female--and really only men stand there and insist that no, I have to walk through the door first. Not accepting someone's simple gesture of courtesy (like holding the door open) is rude, as long as it's clear it's not really inconveniencing them. Then again, it's also rude to really push the issue and insist after being turned down once--or more. Really, any situation where you force either party to stand their awkwardly and debate is no good. Be both natural and gender neutral with your civility. It's the only way to go.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:35 PM on October 8, 2008

The idea of chivalry comes from an age when men were clearly superior in mind and body, and the best among them therefore had a code that insisted they use these superior abilities to help those less fortunate, like women.

So, in that sense, chivalry is dead (at least I hope it is). What isn't dead, and what you should try to do (for everyone, not just women you're keen on) is simple, polite, courteous behaviour. Doors open if you're ahead of someone. Helping out if someone's dropped something. Offering them the last slice of cake. Electing to be the one who stays outside and waits for the late friend while everyone else goes in to the show. Giving up the comfortable sheet/fluffier towel/bigger steak to your partner or friend. Picking up trash you find on the ground.

If you do these things for everyone, then you'll be a lovely, chivalrous person.

If you only do these things for young, attractive women, you'll be fake.
posted by twirlypen at 2:57 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

20something lady here. And yes, lady is a fine word, I think. Then again I call us chicks too, so I'm flexible.

My wife prefers to hold doors. But she likes to open my car door and she likes me to order for her. The ins and outs of each person definitely has to be learned. Holding a door is polite but as mentioned, unless we're at Chez Expensive, don't even try the chair thing, it really is more of a pain than a help.
posted by CwgrlUp at 4:04 PM on October 8, 2008

Don't think of it as chivalry — therein lies the path to creepiness.

But politeness, or civility, is great, and if you are being genuinely polite and respectful, it's pretty much impossible to be creepy.

I spend a lot of time on a university campus, and whomever gets to a door first holds it for the person coming after. And if you see someone carrying three boxes heading towards a door, scurrying ahead to open it is just basic politeness. But the key here is that you aren't doing it because they are a woman (what, like women aren't smart enough to operate those new-fangled rotary door handles?), but because they are a person and you are being polite. So you hold the door for the cute girl and the teenaged guy and the middle-aged couple, because they are all people and your hands are free and you got to the door first.

But if you tack on a not-so-subtle request for approval or gratitude (and trust me, it's really visible when someone does this), you have in that moment crossed the line from polite to creepy. Don't do that.

I just asked my wife about this, and she says that she likes it when people (men or women) do things like open doors and so on, out of politeness, but that she hates it when a guy does it to be all smooth and "hey baby." There is a subtext of "keeping the little lady in her place" that (like using the term "lady" in the way you did in the question) sets her teeth on edge. So don't do this, either.
posted by Forktine at 4:15 PM on October 8, 2008

From a twenty-something: I actually expect guys to open doors for me (if it makes sense), and take bags, so on and so forth. Even if I don't need help, I expect an offer. That's what all of my male relatives do, including my brothers, and they do it without making a big fuss. I love it when guys are polite on an automatic level--gives me the impression they were brought up properly, and that they're paying attention to me.

However, while I don't think the chair thing is creepy, persay, I do think it's really inconvenient. There's no easy way to push in a chair once somebody is sitting in it (especially on carpeted floors) and so the woman has to resort to hovering above the seat, inching forward with half-bent knees, until the chair is in the right place. I don't know where that tradition came from, but it's not the most pleasant.

(For the record, I was brought up in Nebraska.)
posted by timoni at 4:27 PM on October 8, 2008

I'm chiming in with a lot of people...

I try to be courteous, polite, and 'chivalrous' to all the people around me.

I open doors and hold them open for people when able to, assist with anything that it would be more convenient for me to do so (passing objects, carrying things, making way etc), and well, I'm always the person who packed the big jacket and warm clothing, so it's invariably me who lends their jacket to their cold, 6'4", male friends (and all my other friends too ;) ), and help women with prams into buses, carry the other end of the fridge when we're moving house (oh wait, that one wasn't chivalry, that's just me being next strongest + non-uncoordinated out of 4 male and 1 other female housemates)... er, you get the idea.

The thing is... the very stilted rules of 'formal' chivalry, are often more inconvenient than not.
When I'm standing at the back of the elevator, I don't expect the 3-4 unknown males in there with me to awkwardly squish themselves to the sides when the door opens, leading me to realise they expect me to go first, so I have to awkwardly sidle round them, including ubiquitous apologies - all a ridiculous little song and dance that takes far more time and INconvenience than if they'd just exited first.
Sometimes I do the little hand waggle, that means, no really, you go first', sometimes I just give up and sidle round, trying not to step on anyone's toes.

It's very simple - if you can be chivalrous and convenient, go for it.

If your 'chilvalrousness' is more inconvenient - yes it's weird, presumptuous, and unneeded so please, please don't bother.

If you really want to be old-style chivalrous, date a girl who wears corsets, high-heels, and long skirts (not that hard if you're into goth girls), and drive a low car. She'll need all the help you can give her getting into, and out of cars, and you're pretty assured of getting to doors first, and pulling her chair out without it turning into a farce.

Courtesy can't, and shouldn't, be learned by rote, because how you can be helpful in different circumstances will change.
posted by Elysum at 4:46 PM on October 8, 2008

One thing to think about - I was brought up with these kinds of manners and never thought about them much one way or the other until I started working with what we might call "rich" people and very earnest people from other countries.

Really really handy in those situations to know about forks and hankies and the butt-hover when someone holds my chair.

Having the guy open a door is like having a dog heel on the left side - it's just one less thing to think about.

But most of this stuff doesn't necessarily come into play in public situations, it's only required in social situations.

The tricky tricky for the females sneakily opening the door for yourself while a frail old man makes the gesture. It's what you have to do to pay back their sex for all those seats on the bus.

And as a parting thought, I have NO IDEA why this is so, but some of the most naturally well-mannered and gracious folks I've know were hard core squatter punk types. Maybe the just take that why can't we call get along thing seriously, maybe they got all their ya yas out.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:58 PM on October 8, 2008

There's a million billion answers here, so mine isn't strictly necessary. That said, I'm rather with Clyde Mnestra re:

For my money, you want to display two things -- (1) that you were raised correctly and understand social protocol, and (2) that you are treating the particular individual specially.

I particularly enjoy very polite, well mannered people. A guy who knows how to behave, particularly in more formal type situations, is very pleasing to me. A big part of that is being polite to everyone. Opening doors when you can, being pleasant to waiters and tipping them well, offering to give up bus seats to older people or people with lots of stuff or kids with them, actions like that show me you're a courteous, respectful guy who cares about how he treats other people. It also means that if you open a door for me or whatever, it's way less likely to creep me out as a forced chivalrous gesture.

On the second point, that kind of well mannered behavior also opens the door to specific gestures toward me that show you're paying particular attention to me without it seeming weird. For example, my dear boy has gotten in the habit of offering me his arm when I step out of cars or climb stairs, particularly if I'm dressed up and in a skirt or heels. I guess that's technically a "chivalrous" gesture, but it just reads as a very courteous gesture that shows he's aware of me and my needs.
posted by mostlymartha at 8:03 PM on October 8, 2008

I'm a woman, and I appreciate having those things done for me. Chair is a bit much, but I wouldn't think less of a guy for doing it.

However, I don't appreciate it because of chivalry, but because it's a nice thing to do for anyone, regardless of gender. Half the time I open the door for my husband, the other half he opens it for me. When I'm with female friends, though, I tend to open the door for them.
posted by Nattie at 8:07 PM on October 8, 2008

Where I live in Texas, it seems that in general if you are going in to a public place like the mall and you happen to get there at nearly the same time as someone else, stranger or friend, you open the door and hold it open for the other person, who then thanks you. It would be a very rare thing for someone of either gender not to hold the door for you. It stands out so much when this does happen that you will comment, "Well, I guess that was rude."

If you are on formal date type activity, the girl might be more likely to allow the man to open the door to the restaurant. My SO always walks on the outside on the sidewalk and takes my elbow when we cross the street. It took me awhile to realize that he was even doing this and bugged me a little at first, until I realized that was the way he was raised and his way of symbolically "protecting" me from danger, I guess.

The one I don't understand though is that here, we ALL wait for the people exiting the elevator to get off first and then we get on. But when I've traveled, especially to New York, it seems like the minute the doors open, everyone rushes to get on and then there's this weird shuffle between those getting on and those getting off. OK, I digress...
posted by tamitang at 8:33 PM on October 8, 2008

7) if it is raining, give her the umbrella. this isn't debatable.

Huh? Am I missing something here? Are women more hygroscopic or something?

makeup and hair. It is much easier (unless you are Zac Efron) for a man to recover his look from being soaked than a woman (assuming she is wearing makeup and styled her hair). If she doesn't wear makeup or does nothing special with her hair, if her hair is long, it will remain wet longer than a typical male hairdo. Also, the chance that her outfit will be made out of material that shouldn't get soaked is higher.
posted by Stynxno at 8:47 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

makeup and hair. It is much easier (unless you are Zac Efron) for a man to recover his look from being soaked than a woman (assuming she is wearing makeup and styled her hair).

Logic and reason triumph again - though it appears we are dating different kinds of women.

not to mention the wet t-shirt effect.

posted by ghost of a past number at 10:12 PM on October 8, 2008

I'll hold the door open if someone (male or female) is less than a couple of seconds away. Sometimes a look at the and smile, sometimes i just go on. I'll say thanks if someone does it for me or if there is eye contact, i'll smile. I am at university and i see most people - men or women do that. I'll walk ahead and hold the door if someone has some things in their hands or is pushing a cart etc/

In the elevator or when getting into one, i normally give the hand wiggle - you first. to women or older men. (but i sometimes do get the thought whether i should do it or not).

I'll give up my seat, or atleast offer to, to older people, pregnant women or someone with a baby in their arms or anyone who i think is having a problem standing or looks ill. I wont give it to young college going girls just cos they are standing. Im a guy in my early 20s/

i dont pull chairs but sometimes i do touch the back of the girl/lady with me with my palm indicating her to move but i'l do tht lightly and wont let my arm linger there for than a second or two..

i dont think its chivalry. its politeness and ive been brought up that way.
posted by bbyboi at 2:35 AM on October 9, 2008

From some dictionary:

EtymologyMiddle English <>
An ethical code that was prevalent in Medieval Europe. It was the honor code of the knight
Its primary virtues were: Mercy, humility, honor, sacrifice, fear of God, faithfulness, courage, utmost graciousness and courtesy to ladies.

Oh! Snap! Right there at the end! Eat it, chevalerie haters! Some people are polite, and others are chevalerie.

What's my code, you ask? Sticking the dictionary to the haters. Its there too, right after courtesy to the ladies.
posted by ewkpates at 6:52 AM on October 9, 2008

i think opening the door for the lady is awesome. my boyfriend did this for me almost every time we went anywhere, and if I insisted on opening the door for some weird reason or was just in a better position to do so, he would casually refuse to go in first. not in a creepy or annoying way. just kind of cute and respectful. aw i hadn't thought about that in awhile . i don't think the chair thing would work for me though. it always makes me uncomfortable when hosts at restaurants do that for me, and i'd probably be more uncomfortable if it was like a new potential bf gf material person that did it for me lol.
posted by Soulbee at 7:20 AM on October 9, 2008

I like dictionaries too. What's really cool about them is that they can provide context. Like this entry from the American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.


NOUN: Inflected forms: pl. chiv·al·ries
1. The medieval system, principles, and customs of knighthood. 2a. The qualities idealized by knighthood, such as bravery, courtesy, honor, and gallantry toward women. b. A manifestation of any of these qualities. 3. A group of knights or gallant gentlemen.

ETYMOLOGY: Middle English chivalrie, from Old French chevalerie, from chevalier, knight. See chevalier.

WORD HISTORY: The Age of Chivalry was also the age of the horse. Bedecked in elaborate armor and other trappings, horses were certainly well dressed, although they might have wished for lighter loads. That the horse should be featured so prominently during the Age of Chivalry is etymologically appropriate, because chivalry goes back to the Latin word caballus, “horse, especially a riding horse or packhorse.” Borrowed from French, as were so many other important words having to do with medieval English culture, the English word chivalry is first recorded in works composed around the beginning of the 14th century and is found in several senses, including “a body of armored mounted warriors serving a lord” and “knighthood as a ceremonially conferred rank in the social system.” Our modern sense, “the medieval system of knighthood,” could not exist until the passage of several centuries had allowed the perspective for such a conceptualization, with this sense being recorded first in 1765.
posted by desuetude at 9:17 AM on October 9, 2008

Codes get updated. Men can chose knighthood. Different political system, different legal system, same spirit. Don't need a horse. Principles and customs are all that is required.

Men will always treat men differently than they treat women. Therefore, there will also be a group of men that value women as group more than men, and therefore will incorporate this valuation into a "code". Don't like it? What's your bench?

Don't hate on the horse. Viva la Chevalerie. Qualities Manifested.
posted by ewkpates at 9:54 AM on October 9, 2008

Men will always treat men differently than they treat women. Therefore, there will also be a group of men that value women as group more than men, and therefore will incorporate this valuation into a "code". Don't like it? What's your bench?

This code is between men, and largely for the benefit of impressing other men. Women are just the object.

Hence the reason that so many women have piped up to say that courteousness demonstrates strength of character, but insisting upon following rules to the letter can miss the point completely.
posted by desuetude at 10:44 AM on October 9, 2008

Given the choice, many men would much rather impress women than other men. (Maybe you are talking about boys? They often want to impress each other.) This code is not between men, but personal to each man. Women are not the object, they are the valued thing. Women are valued for themselves, not for the sake of impressing men. Ridiculous. And having a code means interpreting guidance, so while there are fundamentalists in every group, don't generalize.

I can't believe I have to explain this to you.

I mean think about it. Men don't have to impress each other. They can just fight. Where have you been?
posted by ewkpates at 10:53 AM on October 9, 2008

Treat a woman as another person, and can the chivalry (says a 20something woman.) If you would hold the door open regardless, then do. If you wouldn't, then don't.

Good manners are always nice, but what is the point if it's a special set of manners for men to show to women? The usual answer is a bunch of hooey about "appreciating" us, and that is just dumb. I am not a special being; I am a person. Special in my own way, sure, but not just due to being a woman.
posted by lacedback at 1:21 PM on October 9, 2008

It's a freakin' code. You don't do it because you are interested in popular opinion. You do it because its a freakin' code.

If a girl takes a swing at you for opening the door, let her. Maybe she just likes you.

I can't believe I have to explain this to you.

I mean think about it. Men don't have to impress each other. They can just fight. Where have you been?

it must be hard. I mean, doing all these things that cause actual females to be inconvenienced or feel uncomfortable, all because they don't understand that it's the code, and it's for us. Wow, we're so ignorant!

For serious now - I am very thankful that my social group are a polite, respectful, and genuinely courteous bunch.
I, and many others, are just trying to point out where the stilted rules mistakenly defined as 'chivalry', often fall short of genuine courtesy (respect for, and consideration of others).

5. Always stop your car to allow women to cross the street.
And again - what do you mean by this?
You'd run over anyone else? You'd interrupt traffic if there's a woman waiting beside the road?
(I'm sure it's neither, but I'm pointing out that that sentence is unclear)
You'd wouldn't stop if it was someone elderly or handicapped, but you would stop if it's an attractive female of date-able age? In which case, are you really doing it for her convenience, or just because you're flirting?
posted by Elysum at 3:54 PM on October 9, 2008

I think someone alluded to this above. But, one thing to know is that just as many young men haven't been taught the "codes" of chivalry, neither have young women. It is just as likely that the woman doesn't know how to let someone push in her chair for her -- it's sort of awkward and if you're not prepared for it then things can get really weird. Same for car doors and getting through a held door. It's just silly to expect women to be raised as self-sufficient beings and then all of a sudden know your antiquated social mores. Sorry, not too many ladies going to charm school these days.

Also, open the car door for me when I get in? Great. But really not necessary when I get out unless there's a puddle to help me leap over.

Anyway, many other great points above. Don't take things so seriously. Is chivalry dead? Oh, get over yourself.
posted by amanda at 4:52 PM on October 9, 2008

Interestingly, the only context in which I see the phrase "chivalry is dead/not dead" is in headlines on internet dating sites.

I take it to mean the guy is bitter about past failed relationships. That might not be a fair assessment; the guy might be a lovely person. But to me the phrase screams resentment for women who have spurned his "chivalrous" advances in the past. Now he imagines those women, or all women, to be ungrateful, soulless feminists.

Chivalry should die, since it is today tied to issues men have with assertive women.

It's just a wild-ass guess, but many women encounter feminist scholarship in college and due to their experiences in everyday life, give systematic thought to power embedded in "chivalry." Fewer young men do, I suspect. It does explain the abundance of confusion and eventual bitterness about chivalry among men with a college education.

I agree with the others here who say the real issue is politeness. Unlike chivalry, good manners should not be restricted to any gender or age group.

So to answer your question: yes, chivalry as you understand it is an old-fashioned concept on its way out. But practicing good manners towards all people in the ways described in this thread will make you irresistible.

If you are still in college, I encourage you to take a class on feminism or gender relations. It'll be an eye-opening experience, and you'll meet many women (lady, as someone mentioned, carries its own baggage) along the way!
posted by vincele at 5:08 AM on October 10, 2008

Really the problem is that modern feminism is dead.

Let me sum up: Women want to vote, get equal pay, and to chose their social/gender role. Historical Feminism. Then homosexuals, transgenders, cross dressers, women of color, and others join the movement and it becomes a conflicted multi-agenda disaster where no one can agree on what the priorities are. Oh, and every man

Then, a new generation of women grows up having benefited (more or less) from historical feminism. They take it for granted. They look at Modern Feminism and see little of value or coherence. Women's Truth. Women's Wisdom. Sounds like a load of crap. So, they enjoy themselves, flaunt their power, and at 16 are wearing shorts with "Juicy" on the ass.

Men: Confused as hell. Some men never made their peace with Historical Feminism. Some men think that they have to partake of the "Men's Movement" to make their peace. Some men grew up benefiting from Historical Feminism and confuse it with Modern Feminism and have no idea what's up.


Men, testosterone monkeys that we are, still need a code of behavior (like we always have) partly because we have this hormone pumping through our veins that makes us STRONGER, FASTER, ANGRIER, PAIN TOLERANT, and a little slow in the head.

The code says, in part, "be nice to girls in appropriate ways". This includes holding the door. Yielding (because we don't yield to other men) right of way in hallways and such. Holding chairs sometimes. ETC.

Now, some historical feminists appreciate it because it shows we were raised right. Some modern feminists dislike it because it reminds them of the time before historical feminism LIKE THEY WERE EVEN AROUND FOR IT. Some women, not feminists, think it means we are trying to scam them or impress our friends.


In fact, discussions of chivalry should include women in the same way that Women's Studies classes include men. That is, LISTEN FIRST and then TRY TO UNDERSTAND A PERSPECTIVE THAT YOU HAVE NEVER EXPERIENCED. Historical feminists totally get this because they had to teach it to their sons. Modern Feminists often demand things they aren't willing to reciprocate, like listening or tolerance of other antagonistic viewpoints.
posted by ewkpates at 5:58 AM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]


Historical revisionism aside, this is the most bizarre statement on "chivalry" in the modern world that I've ever read. If it isn't about making the other person comfortable (or cared for, or safe, or whatever), why would you do it?

I don't hold doors because holding doors feels good — I hold a door because I got there first and it is good manners and makes the other person's day that tiny bit nicer. Add those sorts of things up through a day, and everyone's day gets a whole lot better.

So yesterday I had to go into one of those buildings with an entryway, doors at either end about six feet apart. I grabbed the first door and held it for the guy behind me; he grabbed the next door and held it for me. We thanked each other, went on our ways, and both of our days were improved by that moment of good manners.

And this:

Yielding (because we don't yield to other men) right of way in hallways and such.

simply isn't true. Men step aside for each other all the time. Sometimes it's deferential, sometimes it's out of politeness, sometimes it's to avoid a real or imagined conflict. But hallways populated with men do not resemble a mosh pit of shoulder-checks and body-slams — on the contrary, homosocial spaces (like jails, barracks, etc) can be real models of good manners and low-conflict interactions, because the potential consequences of ill-mannered behavior are so high.

So back to the beginning question, if you keep it to good manners, applied to all people, you are golden; if you base your behavior on a weird and kind of creepy idea of gender relations like in ewkpates's post then you are probably going to make some people uncomfortable.
posted by Forktine at 6:51 AM on October 10, 2008

Mod note: further "historical context" stuff and ranting needs to go to MetaTalk or email; thread is getting fighty and off-topic, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:35 AM on October 10, 2008

Hey, you aren't chivalrous. No biggie. But don't say its dead. Not your call.
posted by ewkpates at 2:08 PM on October 10, 2008

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