Let's fix chivalry. This classically desirable quality is in crisis. In a world were ladies can vote, own land, and almost be president with the best of them, many women resent the implication that they can't open a door. However, dudes have no way of gauging what gesture will be appreciated and what will be seen as overkill. Girls bemoan the disappearance of courtship rituals in the face of an increasingly normalized hook-up culture and in the same breath deride a date for patronizingly pulling out the chair.
Chivalry is no longer a monolithic requirement. However, it sure is nice. So how can we preserve general politeness without returning to blackout inducing corsets? How do we distinguish which gestures are courteous and which condescending?
In 2012, chivalry shouldn't be restricted to men helping women. It shouldn't be completely done away with either. The anatomy of a well-executed chivalrous gesture is subtle. At its core, a gesture should intend to solve some inconvenience for another person. However, any gesture that causes the doer significantly more trouble than it saves the recipient approaches comical. I definitely don't mind sidestepping a puddle if it saves you having to dry clean your cape. I find opening my own car door less awkward than waiting for a guy to jog around to the passenger side. And I definitely don't need to be walked to the bathroom.
Receiving a chivalrous gesture is also an art. Irene six months ago did not allow men to buy her drinks. She refused unsolicited offers for directions, even when very lost, and pointedly hauled her own luggage in and out of cabs while strapping taxi drivers looked on, bewildered. Then, a recent solo jaunt around Greece changed everything. When you travel alone, if you get lost, you get completely lost. If your luggage is too heavy, and my luggage was way too heavy, you might miss a train. And as a perennially unemployed semi-professional blogger, all those drinks add up.
So I started saying yes to minor acts of gallantry. Men and women walked me to my train when I was confused, dragged my suitcase up a flight of stairs when they were less luggage-laden, and bought me drinks without expecting anything in return (I think). Trust me, I hate letting people do things for me and at first, each compliance felt like lying down on the floor of my train terminal impotently with feet and arms pointed aloft. But I got used to the feeling. Then I started to enjoy it. Helping a stranger feels good and by allowing these chivalrous gestures to be enacted, you are doing both yourself and your knight in shining armor a small favor.
The point of chivalry is to share some small advantage with another human, or at least gesture at sharing. We could all stand to practice our chivalry. But each act needs a recipient. Don't think of it as submission to condescension. Think of it as collaboration on increasing net global generosity.