The sap and sentiment of Valentine’s Day reminds me how antiquated chivalry is. When I think about the underlying philosophy of “Ladies First,” I imagine the Titanic disaster. All those poor men faced certain demise, yet they had to let anyone with a petticoat board the lifeboats ahead of them. “Ladies First” dates back to a time when people believed we still needed to populate this earth; realistically, a person with a womb trumped a man in disaster scenarios. Sorry, Charles—Charlotte’s got the last life jacket.
Today, the practice doesn’t hold. Babies are made in test tubes, inside surrogates, and in the classic backseat of a car. Gay marriage is becoming a norm. When we fly, attendants remind us to place the mask over our own faces before helping our children. And the world is doing pretty well with the population count.
But I want my son to grow up to be a gentleman, you say. He’ll never get a girlfriend if he’s not chivalrous.
I, for one, am uncomfortable telling my son he has to defer to girls “just because.” A medieval system, chivalry brings to mind the classic tale of “knight in shining armor woos delicate maiden.” Lore has it that “Sir Ironpants” slays a dragon and saves the poor, defenseless woman from certain death. Hooray for the knight. Personally, I sympathize for the girl. She probably watched the battle with eyes rolled, flexing muscles choked by a corset and wishing her future husband wasn’t such a poser.
We live in an age of icy girl power princesses, a “girl on fire” archer who saves her world, and a woman with a legitimate shot at the United States presidency. “Ladies First” has taken on a whole new meaning. Girls can do anything, we say. Boys, get out of our way. Only this doesn’t sit well either. We have the power. But doesn’t He-Man deserve it too?
The lowdown is this: We should not be raising our sons to open doors for girls simply because they lack a Y chromosome. It’s time to impress upon them that everyone deserves our care—black or white, Donald or Tom, Elsa or Katniss. For a generation that our elders frequently describe as “self absorbed,” isn’t it a better lesson to teach overall selflessness?
Let’s end chivalry in its classic sense. Women are equal to men, we say. We are different, but equal in worth. Let’s teach our children that equality means just that: We are all deserving of love, devotion and consideration. To put the needs of others ahead of our own is a solid mantra for this ever-changing world.
It’s one I think the fair maiden would have loved.