by Amy Alkon
Q: I read your manners book and loved it. I just feel that for most men, chivalry is dead. Maybe feminism killed it, and maybe men have just gotten lazy. Well, I was staying over at a (platonic) male friend’s house, keeping him company because he’s sick with cancer. Despite that, I woke up to him serving me breakfast in bed! Is it really so much to ask for a guy I’m actually sleeping with to at least hold the door open for me? I mean, come on!—Disappointed Woman
A: Especially if you’re under 30, expecting a man to open a door for you can be a bit like expecting him to remove his cape and lay it across a puddle or challenge your neighbor to a duel for blocking your driveway with his trash cans.
What we still call “chivalry” got its formal start in medieval times. It was a knightly code entailing, among other things, courage, honor and the defense of those more physically delicate—as in, women and children (who were not exactly grabbing battle-axes, donning blue face paint and going all Mel Gibson on the fields of Scotland).
But chivalry actually traces back through millions of years of evolution. As developmental psychologist Joyce Benenson writes in Warriors and Worriers, an excellent new book on evolved sex differences, “Throughout most of human history, men and women have specialized in different behaviors necessary to ensure the survival of their children to adulthood.” Men evolved to be warriors, physically and psychologically prepared to do battle in a way women are not. Most men have far more muscle mass and physical strength than women and far more of the hormone of aggression, testosterone. Even very young boys show a love (not shared by girls) of play fighting, of having an “enemy” to battle and of weaponry—to the point where Benenson finds it common for boys in preschool who lack toy guns to shoot “bullets” out of a doll’s head.
In addition to women being physically weaker, research finds that they are more fearful than men—from infancy on—and rarely engage in physical fighting. This makes sense, Benenson points out, as physical injury would jeopardize a woman’s ability to have children or to survive to protect the ones she’s already had. So women evolved to prefer men who would protect them and their children—a preference that is still with us today. (Our genes are clueless about the women’s movement and the fact that a woman can defend herself just fine by using a pink Glock with a Hello Kitty slide cover plate).
This is why it makes sense for men today to at least symbolically show that they are protectors, like by putting their coat around a shivering woman’s shoulders. (This implies that they’d tackle the valet guy or invade Cleveland for her if necessary.) The problem is that men sometimes get hollered at for door-opening and such—largely as a result of the bro-ification of women that comes out of feminism’s biology-snubbing confusion of “equal” with “the same.” So, before the first date, a man should ask a woman where she stands on this stuff. And you should let men know the sort of woman you are—one who responds to a door being held for her by flipping her hair and saying thank you, not twirling her mustache and snarling, “Smash the patriarchy!”
Q: I have a crush on this really hot musician guy. I know he’s trouble with a capital “T.” He’s super charming, handsome and promiscuous. (He’s “slaying” on Tinder—juggling women and getting lots of sex.) My plan is to become friends with him first—as a prelude to becoming his girlfriend. I feel like that might give me some insurance against being one of the ones he just uses and tosses.—Strategic
A: What a sweet person you are, trying to show this guy that there’s more to life than Tinder-swiping his way to empty sex with a bunch of near strangers—or, as he probably refers to it, sexual Disneyland. Women, especially, have a tendency to believe in the transformative power of their fabulousness. And sure, people do change—when their life is no longer making them happy (or, in his case, thrilled, ecstatic and out of his man-hussy mind with joy). And though a man who feels emotionally attached to a woman is more likely to stick around after sex, he also has to be up for a relationship to begin with. In other words, by becoming this guy’s friend first, yes, you could become a very special person in his life—the woman he knows he can always drop in on when he can’t find his phone charger.