Chivalry is in the air

On this blissful evening, members and non-members of the Philodemic Society who had nothing better to do on Valentine’s Day gathered to debate, Resolved: Chivalry is dead. Chivalry was defined as “courtesy shown from a man to a woman based on gender,” and the resolution was framed as a normative debate. Thus, the question was whether chivalry should remain as a social guide or whether it should be disregarded due to its anachronism.

Mr. Warren Wilson (SFS ’15) of Florida opened for the affirmation by arguing that the “benevolent sexism” of chivalry is just as debilitating for women as forms of explicitly denigrating “malicious sexism.” Chivalry as an institution assumes women are the fairer, weaker sex who need protection. It was developed during a time period when women were unequal members of society and widely regarded as inferior to men, so they required such special treatment. “Women do not want to be considered as anything less than equals!” he stated with conviction.

On the negation, Ms. Mary Beth Brosnihan (SFS ’13) of Nebraska re-characterized chivalry as a form of respect and aggrandizement towards women. Acts of chivalry are not about harming or denigrating women, but rather about treating them well. Thus, chivalry is beneficial to both genders: it helps men differentiate themselves from other men by demonstrating commitment, and it helps women feel good about receiving a token of kindness. Ms. Brosnihan told a story of a particularly unchivalrous individual who invited her to drinks and then left her with the bill — how rude! Clearly many men would be at a loss of how to behave without the guiding code of chivalry.

Ms. Melendez (COL ’13) contended that chivalry goes beyond normal courtesy to occasionally unnecessarily inconveniencing everyone involved — such as when she holds a door open for a nearby man who instead of graciously accepting the gesture, insists on holding the door for her to enter first. She said, “The code of medieval knights for chivalry was put in place because violence was rampant on the streets and women needed to be protected on a regular basis. Chivalry allowed men to take care of women and to take them seriously. It accomplishes neither in today’s world. Ms. Grace (SFS ’16) countered that the little gestures prescribed by chivalry are what matters — such as when her doting boyfriend fills up her water bottle each night before she sleeps. These are the acts of love that form her precious memories of their relationship. Said boyfriend Mr. DiMisa (COL ’15) retorted that he does those things not because he subscribes to a code of chivalry, but rather because he recognizes that they are the right thing to do. He treats Ms. Grace well because she’s a person he cares about, not because of her gender. Mr. Diasti (NHS ’14) is proud that his mother raised him to be a chivalrous man who knows how to demonstrate respect, common courtesy, and affection. He does not think women are more vulnerable or less intelligent when he’s performing a chivalrous act, and in fact, he would show that form of respect regardless of whether the recipient were “Andrew or Andrea.” Mr. Quinn (SFS ’15) pointed out that if it were true Mr. Diasti would show such kindness for people of either gender, then by the defined framing of this resolution, it would not be chivalry because his action was not based on gender. Mr. Quinn went on to argue that chivalry discourages women from doing the same respectful things to men that they care about, producing a social harm beyond disenfranchising women.

Mr. Spagnuolo (SFS ’14) claimed that chivalry was necessary so men would know how to do nice because “men are stupid.” He went on: “Women are crazy. Women are crazy because men are stupid! Without a code of chivalry, there is no courtesy.” Mr. Donovan (COL ’13) protested the narrow heterosexual mindset of the previous speeches and the entire framing of the resolution. Men can be nice to men and women can be nice to women too! Further, he underscored the need for people to break free of the “stereotypes of binary sex,” as “social equality is measured by how people perceive one another.” Mr. Dulik (SFS ’13) disputed that chivalry was the equivalent of gender-based affirmative action, arguing that instead it’s about “doing good” — a lesson he was only able to learn after dating a University of Alabama sorority girl over a summer. Instead of southern belles, chivalry reminds Mr. Monod (COL ’14) of John McCain — old and out-of-touch with modern society. Preserving the relic of chivalry for tradition’s sake is meaningless and this imposition of subservience on women must fall by the wayside.

Mac Dinneen (COL ’14) candidly acknowledged that he would hold the door open for any woman a few feet away, but probably not a man, but pushed the affirmation to argue why this “sexism” is necessarily an evil. Georgian native Anna Hernick (SFS ’16) argued that based on the framing, it’s sufficient for the negation to prove that chivalry doesn’t exist, not necessarily that it causes any “evil.” She continued by arguing that chivalry reduces relationships to men doing things for women and notes that she appreciates it when women hold the door open for her too. George Caram (SCS ’15) took a more philosophical stance by portraying chivalry as a virtuous characteristic of the gentleman. “For a man to want to stand out among others, that is chivalrous,” he concluded. William Greco (COL ’15) took on Mr. Dinneen’s earlier challenge: the evil of chivalry is that it’s motivated by attraction but often produces disappointment. “The man might think that chivalry will form a bond between him and a girl, but in reality he just has no chance,” he lamented. Ms. Muldavin (COL ’15) repudiates the argument that chivalry implies inferiority or indebtedness — if men want to get women, including the amazing women of the Philodemic, they better step it up! Mr. Desnick (COL ’13) proclaimed that any woman whose standards were low enough to accept him was a woman he did not want to be with.

Mr. Petallides (COL ’13) argued for the need for chivalry to stand as “the antithesis of the bro code.” Mr. RisCassi (COL ’13) challenged men and women to look beyond any set codes of conduct and to truly understand the person one is with instead — that’s true respect. Mr. Snow (COL ’13) characterized chivalry as setting lines that cannot be crossed, which must remain intact within a society. For example: “If you hit a woman, you are not a man,” he boomed. Mr. Berryman (COL ’13) affirmed the resolution by arguing that if chivalry is motivated because it is the right thing to do, then its justification is derived from moral precepts, not gender. The negation lacks a strong argument for why chivalry must be preserved on gender grounds. President Prindiville (SFS ’14) saw chivalry as more of a mindset than a set of actions. He framed chivalry as a form of atonement: “It’s the epitome of equality because it’s me showing I’ve recognized the faults of my gender in the past,” he stated with humility. Ms. Wood (SFS ’14) argued that killing chivalry would only make it harder to achieve equality for women. Additionally, she contended that it is inappropriate for us to project justifications for others’ acts of kindness onto them — perhaps a man was being chivalrous because he was attracted to someone, or perhaps because he was just raised that way. Everyone is different, so it’s not for us to say. Mr. Wooten (MSB ’13) refuted Ms. Wood’s idea that chivalry could bring about gender equality because its basis relies on the assumption that one gender is weaker than the other.

To close, Ms. Brosnihan protested the idea that chivalry implies gender imbalance with the example of her parents: even though her mother’s income is higher than her father’s, he consistently treats his wife with chivalry. “A chivalrous man does not what he wants to do, but what he should do,” she stated firmly. Mr. Wilson reminded the audience that chivalry stems from a dark age of gender relations, when women were consistently subjugated and enjoyed few rights. Women were the property of their fathers or husbands. A vote for the affirmation is not a vote to do away with acts of kindness that mark chivalry, but rather to erase its forced gender binary. “Courtesy and respect should not be based on gender. Instead, let’s have courtesy based on humanity,” he professed.

The Society voted 23-2-26 to negate. Chivalry lives another day!

Merrick Points:

Mr. Wilson: 5
Mr. Berryman: 4
Mr. Spagnuolo: 3
Mr. Snow: 2
Mr. Quinn: 1
Mr. Dinneen: 1

Merrick Totals:

Mr. Spagnuolo: 13
Mr. Dulik: 10
Mr. Snow: 7
Mr. Berryman: 6
Ms. Wood: 5
Mr. Wilson: 5
Mr. Petallides: 3
Mr. Donovan: 3
Ms. Wynter: 3
Ms. Ringwald: 3
Mr. Askonas: 3
Mr. Dinneen: 1
Mr. Quinn: 1


Chloe J. Krawczyk

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