Chivalry is back in the news. The always alert Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute draws our attention to an item in the Psychology of Women Quarterly. A new study on what the authors are pleased to call “benevolent sexism” (which, as Murray translates, seems to mean gentlemanly behavior) found that both women and men are happier when men behave like gentlemen.
This being a sociological publication, though, the findings are not written in English, but rather in academic argot. It’s full of sentences like this: “A structural equation model revealed that benevolent sexism was positively associated with diffuse system justification within a sample of 274 college women and 111 college men.”
If you spend more than $100,000 on an education in women’s studies, you can learn to be this impenetrable too.
The authors of the study were quick to warn readers about what they’d discovered. “Our findings reinforce the dangerous nature of benevolent sexism and emphasize the need for interventions to reduce its prevalence.” Right. Though it seems to increase the life satisfaction of both sexes, it must still be eradicated.
When feminists set out to remake the sexes back in the 1970s, they seemed to choose all the wrong traits to emulate or eliminate. Women were encouraged to match the promiscuity, aggressiveness, and irresponsibility of men. In other words, women were to model themselves on the worst men. Meanwhile, the best traits of traditional men — specifically their most chivalrous and protective impulses — were to be maligned, mocked, and resented.
Still dancing on Mitt Romney’s political grave, feminist writer Gina Barreca told the Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten that Romney would be a “terrible, terrible date.” (Leave it to a feminist who wants women to be taken seriously to evaluate a presidential candidate as a potential date.) Why? Because he’d be chivalrous. “Chivalry is the opposite of good manners. It’s infantilizing. It’s contempt masquerading as politeness. The chivalrous guy is establishing roles; he is the protector, you are Limoges. Your job is to let him be masterful. In my experience, when you are standing on a pedestal, there’s not much room to move around. That’s by design.”
Emily Esfahani Smith isn’t buying the chivalry-as-disguised-power-grab line. Writing in The Atlantic, she notes (as Rich Lowry has highlighted) the contrast between the Titanic and the Costa Concordia — two sinkings 100 years apart. Three-quarters of the women on the Titanic survived, while three-quarters of the men died. In 1912, men would have been ashamed of themselves if they had failed to protect women — even at the cost of their lives. Was that “contempt masquerading as politeness”? On the Costa Concordia, early in 2012, men shoved women aside to get into the lifeboats. Oh well, at least the women had more room to move around than on that darn pedestal.
Smith reminds us that chivalry arose in response to the violence and barbarism of the Middle Ages. “It cautioned men to temper their aggression, deploying it only in appropriate circumstances — like to protect the physically weak and defenseless members of society.” Obviously many men failed to fulfill the ideal. We’ve always had boorish behavior. But wasn’t it preferable to label boorish behavior as such, rather than celebrate it as a victory for sexual equality?
The chivalric code persists to this day, despite the best efforts of the feminists. When a shooter opened fire at an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater, no fewer than three young men protected their girlfriends from bullets with their own bodies — and died in the process.
Smith includes an anecdote that sums up the case for chivalry. Samuel Proctor, pastor of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church in the 1970s and 1980s, tipped his hat to a lady. She was offended and demanded, “What is that supposed to mean?”
He replied: “Madame, by tipping my hat I was telling you several things. That I would not harm you in any way. That if someone came into this elevator and threatened you, I would defend you. That if you fell ill, I would tend to you and if necessary carry you to safety. I was telling you that even though I am a man and physically stronger than you, I will treat you with both respect and solicitude. But frankly, Madame, it would have taken too much time to tell you all of that; so, instead, I just tipped my hat.”
— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2012 Creators Syndicate, Inc.