I was born in the South and raised by conservative parents who taught me to mind my manners, say ‘Yes sir’ and ‘No ma’am’, ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’, and to always be polite to a woman. I was taught to stand until a lady sits, to offer my seat if there were not enough, to open doors and allow her to go first, to walk on the outside on the sidewalk, to lead through a crowd, and that the gentleman always pays. Fortunately for me, I still live in the South, but even here, these things have caused me trouble from time to time.
Because today, most of the above, if not all, have fallen into disrepute. Women have been taught that being treated like a lady is somehow demeaning to them, while treating them like ‘just one of the guys’ is a good thing. Today, opening a door for woman is likely to earn me a lecture on equality while belching in front of her might allow me to enjoy her favors for the evening.
Yes, I’m exaggerating, but not much. Not really. I spent a long time in high school and college trapped deep within the ‘Friend Zone.’ (And if you don’t know what the friend zone is, just think about the guy who you can tell everything to, trust implicitly, yet have absolutely no desire to go out on a date with. That poor soul is trapped in the friend zone.) In fact, I was so nice that one evening, when my friends set me up with a young woman of questionable morals, rather than pick her up, I helped her get back together with her ex boy-friend.
But you know what? I like being the nice guy. I think it is still important, and worthwhile. And while I know I’m not as nice as I think I am, I am always trying to be that guy, the one who does the right thing. It’s one of the ways I define myself.
So why am I writing about this? Well, I’m currently working through a book (review to follow next week) and one of the things said in this book is that guys like me, the White Knights, are enabling women to continue to erode away men’s rights. And while I can understand the point being made I have to disagree because there”s a huge whole in the discussion.
Why are men supposed to be polite? Why was chivalry important? Why did my mother and father hammer home these behaviors?
Let’s start from the simple truth that as a group, men are stronger and more aggressive than women. Yeah, I know, sexist pig, stereotypes, yadda yadda. Deal with it. Pick 15 random men and 15 random women, match them up one on one, and you’re going to find 12 or more men still standing. That’s just the way it is.
So, women are naturally going to feel about as nervous as a long tailed cat in room full of rocking chairs whenever she is surrounded by a group of men, even if she knows them. It will be even worse if they are strangers. She has no way of knowing whether they will take advantage of the power differential in order to take advantage of her. So what can we do, as men, to allay her very reasonable fears?
Actions always speak louder than words, so saying it isn’t enough. We have to show it. And that’s what this is all about.
When I open the car door for my wife, which I do every time, (What, you don’t?) I’m not placing her on a pedestal above me, nor am I insinuating that she is incapable of opening the car door herself. What I’m demonstrating is that I am voluntarily using my strength for her benefit. I’m signalling by my actions that I have control over my strength and my aggression, and that I will use them for her, not against her. In the same way, when I carry the groceries in, or her shopping, or perform any other function that she could do as well on her own, I’m reinforcing that basic message. When I stand when a lady enters the room, or wait for her to be seated before I sit, I’m not idolizing her; I’m showing her respect so that she can relax her natural caution.
Of course, this goes both ways. She signifies her understanding and acceptance with a gracious ‘Thank you,’ and possibly a warm smile. It has nothing to do with sexual flirtation, but acknowledges that I am a man, and that I have demonstrated that I can be trusted.
Yeah, I know, Hopelessly out of touch and old fashioned. But here’s the problem. In our rush to be all modern and trendy, we’ve tossed out social mechanisms that evolved culturally over centuries without replacing them with an equivalent means of communicating these vital messages.
Is it any wonder now that women are distrustful of men? Is it any wonder that men are no longer willing to be gentlemen?
When I was in France and Italy, one of the things I noticed was that many of the women there were perfectly comfortable meeting my eyes while walking down the street. Many even engaged in brief flirtations as we passed each other on the sidewalk. No words were exchanged, just eye contact and smiles. Why were they so comfortable connecting with an absolute stranger? A similar exchange in America would have gotten my slapped or worse. Maybe it was because the old world customs were still followed; they still used their manners. The women knew they were valued and didn’t have an instinctive distrust of men because they were constantly reassured by word and deed that the men around them were, for lack of a better word, civilized. All I know for sure is I was sad to return to America where simply meeting a girl’s eyes was considered rude at best.
So yeah, I’m a White Knight. I will always be one because I want the women in my life to understand that even though I am stronger than they are, more aggressive, and capable of more violence, they have no reason to fear because I will always use that strength for them, not against them.