When does chivalry cross the line?


FREDERICTON (CUP) — During an interview with Jay-Z for the New York Times Magazine, writer Zadie Smith didn’t have to pick her meal.

“He likes to order for people. Apparently I look like the fish-sandwich type,” Smith wrote in her profile of the acclaimed rapper and producer.

Smith’s comment sparked an interest on the Internet from a few writers who questioned whether or not Jay-Z’s choice to order for his interviewer was acceptable. Pop culture aficionados are asking if there is a place for chivalry in today’s world, now long past medieval days and knighthood. And, if there is a place for it, can a gentleman take it too far?

The dictionary.com definition for chivalry reads “the sum of the ideal qualifications of a knight, including courtesy, generosity, valor and dexterity in arms.”

From that definition alone, chivalry sounds outdated, especially considering the lack of knights and duelling on the streets.

Andrew Titus, an English professor at St. Thomas University (STU), offers a more modern definition.

“If you take the essence of chivalry out, then chivalry and common courtesy are the same thing. But I’d like to leave that part of romanticism on top of it. I’d like to leave that part in without it being insulting.”

Titus says he has practised his own version of chivalry with his wife of 16 years. He says they share chores as a way to show respect toward one another.

However, the courtesy doesn’t end outside his marriage.

“If you’ve ever seen me open a door on campus, the first thing I do is look over my shoulder to see if anyone is behind me. It doesn’t make a difference if that person is a man or a woman.”

His opinion of the concept depends on the context in which it’s used. He uses examples of placing a handkerchief over a mud puddle or making a point of opening a door for a woman as outdated.

“When you take all that stuff out and replace it with the central idea behind chivalry, which is that men should respect women in a loving and caring kind of way that supports our physicality or whatever, then I think it does have a place.”

Titus suggests an upgrade to the concept could be for it to go both ways.

“I think there’s something to be said about women being chivalrous. Like I said, I like flowers. I certainly never turn it down when a woman opens the door for me. I think a lot can be said for that kind of thing if relationships become more equal and awesome as a result.”

Leah St. John, a fourth-year female STU student, has a similar view.

“I feel like you show it back as well — just be polite.”

St. John has been dating since she was about 15 years old. In this time, she’s established what kind of behaviour she expects from a partner.

“I know in respect to myself, I like to be dated. If they show up, they open the car door, at least in the beginning — if I don’t see that, then I’m not sure if I’m wasting my time or not. It’s just a respect thing.”

St. John says her values come from her family, her father in particular.

“I’m definitely a daddy’s girl. He just did so much for my mom, and so much for us.”

For St. John, chivalry has a lot to do with how a date treats her family.

“If you can’t respect my dad, you’re gone.”

She says it’s too far once it becomes controlling, but believes it depends on the woman’s preferences. She says communication is necessary to establish this.

St. John says chivalry reveals aspects of a man’s personality.

“I like that it shows they have manners and they’re courteous. It also shows that they were brought up well because they know to do such things. And I like that they put in the extra effort because it makes you feel cared for.”

St. John says some aspects of chivalry, such as giving flowers, don’t always need to be there, but when a man takes that extra step, she appreciates it — just like her male counterparts do.