An article in London’s Daily Mail this week suggests that today’s young men are no longer given to acts of chivalry and basic manners. I suppose that’s bad news for the world in general, but as the father of two teenage girls, I see the silver lining.
According to the survey published in the British paper, a great majority of women said they would reject gestures once considered basic acts of a well-raised male. Almost 82 percent of the women said they preferred to pay for their dinner on a first date and 52 per cent claimed they would happily pay the entire bill. A full 89 percent said they would turn down an offer of help carrying heavy packages or shopping bags. And 78 percent said that if a man went to lend her his coat on a chilly night – a staple of the chivalric set – they would say no.
The paper asked folks they unflinchingly refer to as “style gurus” to comment on the survey results. Chivalry being dead and all, I suppose it was tough to find someone with the appropriate expertise to comment on the trend, but I’m not sure I’d consider those snippy effetes who disparage celebrities over which gauchos they wear with their pantsuits authorities on good manners.
Then again, that last sentence fairly clearly defines my level of expertise on fashion, so maybe there are subtleties to the guru craft I’m missing.
In any case, the style gurus claim the survey results reflect a broader truth (don’t they always), which is that women are wary of men behaving grandly largely because it is such a rarity.
“Men’s standards have slipped so far over recent years, any offer of chivalry from a gentleman knocks a woman off their guard and is viewed with outright suspicion,” said one guru with the decidedly unstylish name of Mark Hall (I just assumed a guy who’s hit the guru level on the style front would have a name like Latrice or Tinsel).
The irony here is that the young women surveyed said they distrusted polite men because they suspected they were “players,” and were using acts of chivalry as a way to impress them. The article seems to suggest that this would be a new concept. It is, of course, not.
Chivalry may have been more common in generations past, but the motivation was no purer. In past centuries, men escorted women on their left side so their sword hand would be free in case she needed protecting. Later, the tradition changed to women walking on the side closest to buildings, under the auspices that they would be safer from out-of-control carriages or the contents of chamber pots tossed from upper-story windows. Whatever the reason, men did this not because they enjoyed the heroics of being runs down by horses or covered in chamber pot pee, but to impress women. The worst-kept secret in the world is that everything a man does in a woman’s presence is done with the hope it will impress her. We often fail miserably, but we are always trying.
Which is where we come to the part of the story that spells good things for me. You see, I have two daughters of dating age, both bright and beautiful and incredibly hard to impress. They are that way on purpose, raised by a father who told them repeatedly that the only man worth having is one who is willing to drop the world on her whim. They had a mother who drove the point home by expecting just that of me. Add to that a predilection for sappy romances and Lifetime movies and you have two girls with all-but-unreachable standards.
As a father not entirely thrilled with the idea of boys stealing my girls’ attentions, I look at the death of chivalry as a wonderful tool for weeding out the slackers and tools who aren’t willing to bring their A game. A kid who’s unwilling to open a car door or lend a coat on a chilly night doesn’t stand a chance with the Mills girls. If that means a few well-meaning but poorly raised boys fall through the cracks, so be it. It also means we’ve shaved off the future slackers and users and abusers. I consider that a pretty good trade.
Will their standards make it harder to find a man? Absolutely. But the other things we’re worked hard to teach our daughters is, romance isn’t about finding a man, it’s about finding a worthy man. If every young woman was raised to have the same impossible standards, young men would eventually have to up their game. We could bring about the rebirth of chivalry.
I’ll be waiting to hear what the style gurus say about that.