not in Primary anymore

gentlemen, don’t push chivalry too far

guest post by Sarah K.


Sometimes, men can take the role of “gentleman” very seriously. They hearken back to the medieval word “chivalry,” which only sort of made its way to the 21st century.  In 2014, it’s less about Knights and honor and more about “how to treat a lady.” (I’m thinking “like a human” should be good enough for most men, but that’s just a personal opinion.)

Oftentimes, I find that pushing gentlemanly actions too far demonstrates more disrespect for women than consideration. (Translation into medieval terms: you tried to act like a Knight, but you came across as a dictating Lord instead…One with a stupid hat.)

A true story to demonstrate my point:

My roommate and I drove to the institute building to participate in an afternoon potluck in between conference sessions.  When we arrived, there was a 15 minute wait for the food, so we sat down near the back of the room. By the time the blessing on the food was made, we had started a friendly conversation with a new friend. The friend happened to be male, but that wouldn’t have been an important enough detail to mention had the following scenario not occurred:

Everyone stood up and formed a long line, which would slowly make its way to a round table full of various dishes.  Let me describe this line to you in terms of gender:  Mixed.  Mixed from front to back. If you walked into the room and observed this line, you wouldn’t think there was anything unusual about it.

My roommate and I were with our new acquaintance somewhere in the middle of the line.  As we laughed and shared stories about different kinds of dogs we grew up with, I couldn’t help but notice a young man just in front of us staring intently at my roommate as if he was bothered by something. I checked her hair and outfit. Nothing offended me! I looked back to the man, who was now looking at me. As soon as we established eye contact, he stepped forward and addressed the two of us, actually cutting my roommate off mid-sentence.

“Ladies, please go ahead,” he said, with a smile that seemed more dutiful than sincere.  My roommate and I were both taken aback at the sudden interruption of our conversation.  We both smiled and one of us politely said something along the lines of “No thank you, we’re okay.”  He then stepped even more forward, widened his eyes, and insisted.

“Please!” he said, his smile actually fading into frustration.  A woman in front of him, who had accepted his offer before us, lightly offered, “It’s okay, they’re independent women!”  I was glad that she attempted to make the situation less awkward, but I’m not sure anyone was equipped to do that.

I remember feeling like a lot of attention was being drawn to us, and I didn’t understand what was being accomplished by moving ahead in line – besides saving this man’s hurt ego. My roommate and I ultimately obliged and then continued to the food in uncomfortable silence.

We ended up eating by ourselves and leaving early. I can’t speak for my roommate, who tends to take things in stride while I take things more personally, but my feeling welcome at that event expired the second that young man disregarded my desire to stay where I was in line.

Those men further up the line? The ones participating in civil conversations with women both in front and behind them? How were they not being gentlemen? This effort to define what it means to be a gentleman is almost as old fashioned as all the garbage about “how to be a lady” women had to endure for so long.

Before I continue, let me emphasize that I know this is not the kind of scenario you’ll see very often.  It’s a unique situation, but not one that is, in my opinion, unrelated to similar stories that happen on a smaller scale.

For example, we’ve all heard people gripe and complain about the “door” situation (a man opens a door for a woman). I know some women consider that gesture alone to be demeaning. I won’t judge them, nor will I go into that school of thought. Instead, I’m going to talk about THIS scenario:

Let’s treat it like a test item:

1.) A man opens a door for a woman. She thanks him, walks through, and then opens the next door for him.  What should he do?

1. Refuse to walk through

2. Thank the woman and walk through.

Why? WHY do some men think that the first answer is more considerate of women? It’s disregarding their efforts. To grab the already opened door and usher the woman inside – you are not saving her any energy or trouble. So what’s the point?

I know most people who would choose answer A are doing so because they truly believe it is the gentlemanly thing to do, but this is 2014. People change. I truly believe most young women would feel much more comfortable with the second answer.  At the very least, I can’t think of a single young woman who would be offended by it.

There are other acceptable answers you could come up with besides the one I provided. For example, you could race past the girl to the next door! If you win, by all means, hold it open. That’s romantic. That’s cute. But if she races with you and wins, let her open the darn door!  It’s still cute.  It could be cuter if you make a silly remark about losing (as long as it isn’t “I can’t believe I lost to a girl”).

The world is changing! I say, what’s the use in fretting about our modern interpretation of an ancient code that mandates how one gender is to treat another? Why not evolve the idea further and apply it to everyone?  Just don’t take it too far, or you won’t ever get to the food.


Sarah is a feminist, musician, writer, Mormon, die-hard Doctor Who fan, and graduate of Utah State University (Go Aggies!)

19 Responses to “gentlemen, don’t push chivalry too far”

  1. anonymous

    Sometimes guys are just trying to be nice. Why do we have to over evaluate everything?

    Once my husband saw a woman who was pushing a stroller and struggling to open a door (if you’ve done this, you know it can be difficult) he went over to open the door for her so she could get through. She got upset, called him a jerk, and said, she didn’t need a man to open a door for her.Though I wonder how she would have reacted if a woman would have done the same thing for her.

    As I raise my children, I’m teaching them to treat each gender with respect. But I’m afraid in women’s search for independence my son’s are going to be called jerks for simply offering to pay for a date, opening a door, or even saying “You look nice today”

    Let’s not let a nice gesture from anyone ruin our day.

    • Sarah K.

      I agree that people should treat both genders with respect. That’s why I didn’t ever say a man shouldn’t open a door for a girl. (Seriously, where in my article did I say I supported that thought?) I said he shouldn’t refuse to walk through a door a girl held open for HIM.

      I once read that a group of girls tried an experiment opening doors for their male dates. The men almost always responded the exact way people complain independent women do (“I got it, thanks.” “I can get my own door.” How about men who struggle to carry a heavy load through a door, but have too big of egos to allow a woman to hold it for them. That’s considered polite, though it’s the exact same situation you described with the woman and the stroller. What do I say? If ANYONE opens a door for you, thank them and walk through it. It should be normal (and even expected) for everyone to be generous to everyone.

      I never accused anyone of being a jerk in my article – nor have I ever thought about this topic enough to be angry at a man for trying to be nice. I wasn’t condemning chivalry, but suggesting it be taught the way you just said you teach your kids (exactly that). I don’t have a problem with chivalry in general, I just wanted to point out that it can be taken too far. The fact is, that man who insisted I go ahead in line WAS rude and made me very uncomfortable. I should not have to pretend that I was okay with it, or feel guilty for the fact that it did “ruin my day.” The first time he asked was a nice gesture. Becoming angry and insisting after we graciously declined the offer was going too far. It was disrespectful and very inconsiderate of both myself and the young man who was treating us very well. In short: nice is nice; rude is rude (even if well-intended).

      I had a feeling I would be criticized and grouped in with all the “independent girls who don’t let men be nice.” I’m just curious if you did read the entire article before you responded?

      As for the “over evaluating everything”… Isn’t that what writing and blogging and thinking is for? Just because you don’t agree with something doesn’t mean it should never be thought of or discussed. Analyzing brings about change. Not just feminist stuff, but simple stuff too. Like, “Why are we spending so much money on cereal these days? What sorts of behaviors have we been noticing lately? Our teenaged son has a pile of bowls under his bed. Could our son be sneaking cereal into his bedroom at night? If we want to spend less money on cereal, maybe we should tell him we don’t appreciate it.”

    • Sarah K.

      Also, I didn’t at all mean to come across as angry or derogatory in my comment. I get wordy really fast and so it can come across differently than I intend. I just wanted to make it clear that I don’t agree that what you said about me and my article was accurate.

  2. anonymous

    Yes , I read you article a couple of times and never accused you of calling people jerks.

    Sorry, about the door example I was sharing an example of how a guy was simply trying to be helpful but was called jerk simply because a girl wanted to be independent. I should have pointed that.

    It sounded like at the ending of your article that the gesture ruined your day and you were upset.

    About over evaluating everything, you are right this is a blog so the point is to write about stuff. But I speaking mostly about it in general (sorry should have made that more clear). For example, I just read a face book status that a friend of mine was having a conversation with a brand new sister in her ward that went like like this.

    Started out with Typical Names, Where you from, etc
    New Sister: How many Children Do you have children?
    Friend: I have 4 boys.
    New Sister: Wow, that’s nice. You have your hands full.
    Friend. Thanks. Bye

    On facebook, my friend posted that she was furious that somebody would state in a conversation that she has her hands full because she has hands full and didn’t want to be this woman’s because she was inconsiderate. Many people commented that the sister was branded and was just probably trying get to know people, make friends, and didn’t mean anything by her comment. Yet, my friend totally took it the wrong.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that sometimes we’ve became a generation that gets upset when people are just trying to be nice – like in my friends the situation. I’m sure the lady just wanted to make a friend.

    Sorry, to go on and this has become a tangent. Also, one of the problems of internet blogging things come across as rude but I’m not trying to be. Just sharing my point of view.

    • Sarah K.

      I really appreciate you sharing your point of view! (And I understand the blogging-comes-across-as-rude thing completely). I do need to work on not taking things personally – especially when the people don’t mean any harm. But I also feel bad for the guy who was behind us in line and talking to us. I really think, if I hadn’t been a pushover and moved ahead in line after the man insisted for the second time, he might have become violent or stormed off. He looked that upset.

  3. Juliette

    And the terminally-offended liberal mentality continues…. not even gonna argue with you. If you’re offended by men trying to make the effort to be respectful of women in the way they think is respectful, you have issues. Funny that liberals will cry that everyone should be accepted and we should see the other person’s point of view, yet when a guy tries to treat women nicely in the way he believes is respectful, that’s somehow offensive and needs correcting by the pansy liberal populus. Maybe you should surround yourself with real misogynists and see if you still think old-fashioned chivalry is too far beneath you to appreciate as a… what did you call yourself again? An “independent woman” or something like that?
    Like I said, not interested in arguing and I’m not going to respond to your comments. Your whole argument is ridiculous. Talk about first-world “problems”. I wonder if “He for She” offends you, too…. those damn chivalrous men……

    • Dollie

      Just because something is chivalrous to you or to anyone doesn’t mean everyone else has to accept it, especially if they don’t see it as polite. Cultures are different everywhere, as well as points of views and ways of thinking. Don’t be so hardheaded, no one was insulting chivalry. She was saying that over-doing it, especially in the insincere way that the young man did, more like he had to and not because he wanted to was uncalled for. Just because someone is polite to you doesn’t mean you have to oblige. It made everyone uncomfortable; he disrupted a conversation, interrupted someone who was in the middle of saying something, and made a scene just so he could feel like a gentleman. If that’s what you view as chivalry, I’ll gladly say I don’t want anyone to be chivalrous to me.

    • Sarah K.

      Work on your reading and deducting skills. I didn’t make any of the claims you accused me of. I am not offended by “men.” I never once said anything to make you believe I was liberal. I didn’t call myself and “independent woman,” but if you’d actually read the article, you’d notice that another girl in line made a light-hearted joke about us being “independent woman” to cut the tension being caused by angry-line-man.

      There were plenty of men in this story, all kind and generous – and even chivalrous. There was ONE who went too far.

      I welcome disagreements and discussion, but you’re arguments against my article are all based on some kind of emotional response to the word “chivalry” that makes you jump to conclusions and generalize. ALSO: You keep accusing me (and others) of not wanting men to be considerate and polite, yet you are the only person in the comments who is NOT being considerate or polite. You see, my only real conclusion about chivalry, which you clearly didn’t read, was that people should treat both genders with respect all the time – and not just out of duty. You are proving to be very bad at this online when no one knows who you are. I sure hope you are a nicer person in real life – and understand that, even online, insults affect people (even if they are based on nothing).

      Respond with all the negativity you want, but I invite you to be professional and at least a little open-minded. Oh – and unless you can answer the questions I listed in my comment at the bottom – your arguments likely won’t stand. (It’s usually best if your criticism is based off of the text you intend to criticize and not left up to the imagination.)

  4. Elizabeth

    Wow…name-calling…When did this become political? I know plenty of very independent women that consider themselves conservative — most of which are also very aware of different forms of sexism. Here’s some sexism 101 for you:
    I think the author’s intention wasn’t for chivalry to be completely erased, but rather recognized as potentially dangerous if pushed too far. The golden rule isn’t gendered — every person can be chivalrous and respectful. However, in cases of benevolent sexism, it can be a problem if a man is constantly treating a woman like a child that can’t make her own decisions. It’s not about hating men that are trying to show respect for women, it’s about adult men treating adult women as equals.

  5. silverhawkwarrior

    The line thing is weird. On my mission, the culture was pretty die-hard about the sister missionaries eating first (when we were having lunch buffet-style at zone conferences and things). A little awkward, but whatever. However, on several occasions I’d be settled in with my sister-missionary friends, catchin’ up like you do, we’d pause for a blessing on the food and then pick up our conversation . . . all of us much more interested in talking to one another than eating right this second. And then, of course, we’d all be startled out of our skins by the impatient roar of “Sisters, come ON!”

    And I couldn’t tell them “Look, I don’t want to eat first; I want to talk to Sister Pak right now, so get your food and I’ll wait until the line dies down.” Couldn’t do that. It was unacceptable. All it would do would make the elders angrier, because now I was wasting their precious eating time arguing with them.

    I never liked being at the front of the line. It made me feel like a pretty pretty princess instead of a missionary . . . just as dedicated, as footsore, as worthy of being taken seriously as the rest of the people in the room.

    The same goes for the MTC custom of every elder at the table standing up whenever sisters sat down at, or stood up from, that table. Look, dudes, I just want to eat my food and put my tray in the dish rack without being the center of attention because I have ovaries. We begged them to stop, but they never would. The culture of MTC masculinity was more important than our clearly stated desires. And that’s not gentlemanly behavior. That’s forcing a missionary to be a princess so you can be a knight instead of her friend and her colleague.

    • Juliette

      How tragic. I can’t imagine the intensive therapy you must’ve had to undergo afterwards. Being treated like a “pretty princess”? I can only imagine the countless nights you must’ve pleaded with God, “Please, starve me, infect me with Ebola, make me lose all my family and suffer as Job. But I cannot carry on anymore. The yolk is too heavy. The elders insist I get my plate of food before them even though they are hungry and they stand when I leave the table as a symbol of their Satanic chivalry. My heart is breaking. I buckle under the soul-crushing of it all, Heavenly Father.”
      Holy shit, get a grip woman!

      • Dollie

        That’s not chivalry. If they’re hungry and the sisters have said they can wait, no one is forcing them to not get their food. And getting their food before the sisters won’t make them any less manly, we promise. The guys will still have their penises.

  6. Emily

    I’m pretty sure Juliette is the only one who needs to get a grip here. Apparently thinking “the line thing is weird” is now swear-worthy. Holy shit, indeed.

  7. Maria

    Juliette – what the hell is wrong with you? If you’re so upset about the author bringing up a topic that you feel is so insignificant, then why bother to take your precious time to comment? Are you actually doing anything to alleviate world problems that you’ve brought up in an effort to invalidate the author’s feelings/opinions? Good grief.

    I enjoyed reading this narrative. It may seem like an insignificant “first world problem,” but it illustrates how deeply embedded sexism is in our society – particularly in Mormon culture. Infantilization of women is never a good thing – whether it’s blatant misogyny or subtle forceful chivalry.

  8. Sarah K.


    I NEVER argued against men being polite. The “pushing too far” bit is for the few men who force the issue when women graciously decline. Note: I didn’t yell at the man for asking me to go ahead in line. I didn’t tell him to respect my rights as an equal. I said “no thank you” because I was in a conversation with another man, who happened to be behind me in line. When he became angry and rude, he SURPASSED being chivalrous into being a jerk.

    In short: NICE gestures are always nice. ALWAYS. I don’t care what gender you are, if you offer a place in line or open a door, you deserve to be appreciated and never insulted for it.

    Also, if you’re going to have strong opinions, learn to actually read what you critique. My entire argument about the door was based on men refusing to walk through doors women open – not that women shouldn’t walk through doors they open. Why is it rude for a woman to refuse, but a man is being nice if he does? For GOODNESS SAKES, it should be so much simpler. If a PERSON opens a door for you, WALK THROUGH THE DARN DOOR!

    If you are angrily opposed to my article, your opinion won’t stand if you can’t answer all of the following questions satisfactorily:

    1. Please, explain how the man in the line situation I described was being nice when he interrupted a woman mid-sentence and then made a scene when he didn’t get his way?

    2. Explain how my saying “no thank you” to his initial offer suggested I was a crazy liberal feminist opposed to chivalry? Furthermore, point out anywhere in this article where I actually condemned men for trying to be nice – or voiced any anger or dislike for men at all!

  9. Liz

    I’ve often wondered how chivalry fits into my feminism and how i’ll teach it to my boys (and daughters if I ever get any). This has given me even more to think about.

    Women shouldn’t feel obligated to accept chivalry for chivalry’s sake–if anything makes them feel uncomfortable, even if it’s intended to be nice, they should feel safe saying no. The reason for this is obvious. If she doesn’t feel safe (and not afraid of hurting feelings) saying no to the small things, how will she feel safe saying no to the big things? But where’s the balance of also letting people be nice?

    And for those offering chivalrous acts, how do they differentiate between the “oh no, you don’t have to do that,” that many of us say automatically to not seem too eager to let them serve us, and the “oh no, *please* don’t do that” that really means what it’s saying?

    Really, there is a lot to think about. Thanks for discussing it, Sarah.

  10. Lisa

    I think a man should ask a woman if he can hold the door open so as not to scare her off or even have her husband, boyfriend, or fiance lash out at him. Imagine holding the door open for a married woman when her husband is around? He won’t tolerate it because he thinks that you might want to steal what is his, his wife. A lot of husbands have concerns over other men doing chivalrous acts for their wives such as holding doors open, taking off their coats, giving up their seats, etc.

    For a man do do chivalrous things without asking, especially on a date, can indicate that he may be abusive and a lot of chivalrous men don’t ask but rather do these things aggressively which drives women away. It’s no wonder women tend to be cautious about men being chivalrous because it is masked as sweeping them off their feet.


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