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 failed to protect women -- even at the cost of their lives. Was that just "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, Colo. 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, 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."
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