Oct. 13 2010 10:05 AM

Chivalry is for horses, not for people


Last night, my wife and I were returning from a romantic night of wine and dining. It was quiet on the ride back to Ocean Beach, but we each knew what the other was thinking: As soon as we get home, I’m making a mad dash for the bathroom.

This little Mad-Dash-for-the-Bathroom-After-a-Night-on-the-Town thing has become a recurring marital joke between us. It’s actually not so much of a dash as it is a professional wrestling bout, with both of us desperately trying to reach the commode and pretty much willing to do anything to get there first.

And so it went last night, with me unlocking the front door, and her making a run for it. She didn’t get far, though, because I horsecollared her backwards and took several large strides toward the hallway, at which point she employed a flying clothesline, which I rejected, juked left and arrived at the closed bathroom door only to receive a claviclecrushing Mongolian chop from behind. Then we traded haymakers outside the bathroom door until, amid the tumult, I managed to pry it open, leap inside and lock it in haste.

Ten minutes later, when I exited the bathroom, she was still fuming. “You really aren’t very chivalrous, are you?” she said as she ducked her head and marched into the olfactory holocaust I had left as a consolation prize.

She’s right. I don’t have a chivalrous bone in my body. Not in the contemporary sense, anyway. To me, in order for a man to have a truly chivalrous mindset (meaning that he’s chivalrous at his core and not because it’s expected), he has to believe, either consciously or subconsciously, one of the following three statements:

1. Women are inferior beings. 2. Women are superior beings. 3. Women are homicidal alien zombie maniacs who will suck the life-force out of you if you don’t cater to their every whim so you should play it safe and open all doors for them.

Seriously, don’t you have to believe, somewhere deep inside that lizard brain of yours, that a woman is not your equal in order not to question the act of getting out of your car, walking all the way around to the passenger side and opening her door while she waits with her hands folded across her lap like one of those perfect little Pleasantville prigs?

You have to roll that imagery around in your head for a bit to appreciate how asinine it is. And the girls who like that sort of thing? Well, let’s just say I prefer riot grrrls, the type of grrrl who would laugh in your face if you pulled that crap on her—a grrrl like my wife, who, truth be told, kicks my ass about 70 percent of the time during the Bathroom Dash and hardly needs my help with her chairs and doors.

The word “chivalry” comes from the French chevaliers, meaning “horse.” In the medieval era, only knights rode horses, so the word “horse” became synonymous with “knight” and chivalry came to refer to the knight’s code of conduct, which, above all, required a fierce and undying allegiance to his feudal lord. It had nothing to do with gender relations.

Ditto chauvinism, which was coined for a legendary soldier named Nicolas Chauvin because of his fierce allegiance to Napoleon and France.

Chauvinism and chivalry—while not etymologically related—are derived from the same concept of loyalty and patriotism, just as their modern meanings come from the same concept of inequality. It’s a concept that is alien to me. I’m not saying it to boast or to act all hip and now and with it. I have felt, for as long as I can remember, equal to women. Yes, I know we have our differences, but we are still equal— different but equal—and it’s that belief, I believe, that explains why I don’t have a chivalrous—or chauvinistic—bone in my body.

I know some people find it gallant, but I find these ceremonious acts of chivalry to be either patronizing (to women) or degrading (to men). I also find it a wee bit creepy— a little Stepford Husbandish.

Now, don’t mistake this worldview for oafishness. Of course I hold the door open for my grrrl (but not because she’s female). Of course I help lighten her load if she’s carrying something heavy. Of course I’ll give her my jacket if she’s cold. But I’m not going to put it on for her. I’m not going to pull out her seat at dinner, either (unless I’m planting a fart balloon). I’m not going to stand at attention when she walks in the room (well, not in the etiquette sense). And I’m not going to walk all the way around the car to open her door while she sits there with her hands in her lap looking like a peacock in a snow globe. Christ no.

That stuff is as arcane as the old Intentional Handkerchief Drop maneuver (IHD). You know, when a woman of proper breeding drops her handkerchief to discern if her suitor is of equal pedigree and picks it up for her. Yeech. As the great feminist romance sonneteer Willie D. (of Geto Boys fame) wrote to his No. 1 ho in a love song called “I’m Not a Gentleman”:

“Drop something if you want to freak / And I won’t pick it up like a geek / In a dash or flash, goddamn, I’ll pass / I’ma let you bend over so I can see dat ass.”

Ah, but I kid the prigs. Truth is, you’re entitled to want whatever kind of man you want. Just remember, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t want him to open your door and pull out your seat, then get mad when he tries to order dinner for you, monitors e-mails and isolates you from your friends. Those things go hand in hand.

Write to ed@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sd citybeat.com. To view examples of how not to use the semicolon; visit edwindecker.com.

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