Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Other Side of Chivalry


She stomps her foot and crosses her arms and scowls. Seventh-graders haven't yet mastered the art of the death glare, but they're getting close. Especially this one.

He looks at her with a crooked smile and doesn't say anything (he's smart). With an exaggerated sigh, she flings her arms to her sides petulantly and stomps . . . through the door.

He grins and waits for me to go through and closes it behind us.

"He's trying to be a gentleman, M," I smile; "let him do it."

And they say chivalry is dead. Girls say chivalry's dead. Are we the ones who've killed it?

I find this definition when I look up "chivalry": "the combination of qualities expected of an ideal knight, especially courage, honor, courtesy, justice, and a readiness to help the weak."

I don't think girls really mind courage or justice, or even honor--look at the popular movies and books and you know we like those things. But it's that "courtesy" thing, especially because courtesy ties precisely to the last item in that list: "a readiness to help the weak," that gets us.

God made people to be strong. He made guys to be strong. He made girls to be strong too. Look at the women in the Bible and you see strength all over the place. Eve, Deborah, Esther, Jael . . . these women are no pushovers. And we, as their daughters, want to be strong. We want to be the warrior princess of the story. And our culture pushes that even harder. Women must be "empowered"; we must be tough and strong and not give in to anything. Especially men.

We say this--we do this--partly because strength is built into us, and partly because we are afraid. The strength part is good. The fear part is not. Because fear always makes a fake hardness, a brittle china sort of toughness that isn't at all tough. Instead, it breaks and cuts.

What are we afraid of? It probably depends to a degree on the individual girl, but I'd say there's one thing that carries through us all: We are afraid of being hurt.

"But I'm not hurting you!" the poor guy protests. "I'm being nice to you!"

Yeah, you are. But you are also, even in one small way, making me dependent on another person. You. I'm depending on you to hold that door for 30 seconds and not let it smash back in my face. I'm depending on you to hand those fallen books back and not toss them away just to spite me. I'm depending on you to not cut in front of me in line. Little things, yeah, but I'm depending on you. And that is a terrifying place to be. Most girls have been let down enough little or big times (even by seventh grade) that we're gun-shy of any kind of dependence.

Maybe it's a scary place for you too, gentleman at the door. Maybe it's not. I don't know. But if you want to make it better, what do you do?

Keep doing what you're doing. Try to be patient. Try to be a little bit nicely stubborn--sometimes that's what it takes. But don't just be a gentleman when it comes to holding doors or picking up books or letting me go first in the potluck line. Be dependable other places too. Build my trust. I don't care if I'm not and never will be your girlfriend. We all need to build trust--you, and me, and my seventh- and eighth-graders, and all of us.

Girls? That's a whole different post. But try to see the true strength behind accepting courtesy. It takes a lot more strength to graciously accept an offer that makes you momentarily dependent on another, than it does to bull your way through alone. Remember that. And act on it.

If we want chivalry, we can't refuse it. If we want kindness, we can't put it down. If we want to be open and true with each other, we must move past that fear that cuts.

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