I saw a couple walking on the narrow sidewalk of a bridge. It wasn’t wide enough for them to walk side by side, so the man walked on the road as he held his girlfriend’s hand. When the cars started coming towards him he positioned himself behind her, but still using his arm so that she would be protected.
“How strange it is to observe these things after years in Europe”, I thought. But it was endearing. European women tend to feel uncomfortable with this kind of treatment, “I can take care of myself, thank-you-very-much[not]”, they will say.
It is interpreted as an assertion of weakness or powerlessness from the man towards the woman. But it is not this, it is simply a dance that you learn when you begin dating. Early on your girlfriends will gently guide you towards walking on the correct side of the sidewalk, they will stand in front of a door waiting you to open it, they will expect you to order for them when the waiter comes to ask what you want for lunch.
It becomes a habit which does not translate well to more egalitarian cultures. But, to confuse chivalrous with chauvinist is a mistake. It is possible to be chivalrous and egalitarian at the same time when you realize that safety and comfort is something everyone appreciates, so our deference in treatment should be extended towards everybody, not only towards the opposite sex.
And deeper down there’s a deep cultural loss when chivalry is banished. To be egalitarian is not to banish these gestures, but to allow the opposite sex to preform them too, and to be graceful about it. What a wonderful culture would it be where women and men can open doors for each other without feeling offended.