Sunday, August 31, 2014

Is Chivalry Too Risky?

The word “chivalry” brings to mind heroic images of a knight in shining armor riding to the defense of a damsel in distress. We don’t usually consider the possibility that things may go badly for the would-be rescuer.

Earlier this month, a 39-year-old Texan visiting Philadelphia was out in the wee hours of the morning when he saw several men inside a car pull up next to a group of women, whom they began taunting and catcalling. A police captain later reported that the visitor “took offense to something that the guys were saying to the girls and said ‘Hey, watch what you’re saying.’”

At that point, one of the men inside the vehicle got out and punched the Good Samaritan, who fell and struck his head on the concrete, knocking him unconscious. The suspects then fled and the victim ended up in the hospital. “This is a tragic, tragic story,” the police captain said. “Here’s a guy trying to stick up for these girls and he gets victimized.”

Even more tragic is the instance one night last July when a 49-year-old man came to the rescue of a woman being sexually assaulted by two men at a Fresno gas station. This allowed the woman to escape, but he was badly beaten by the pair and left in the street, where he was struck and killed by a passing vehicle.

These are just a couple of newsworthy examples of heroic intentions gone terribly wrong. What both victims did was the very definition of chivalry, which in its purest original sense is rooted in service to others and protection of the defenseless. They were gentlemen coming to the defense of women; the other men were cads at best, violent sex offenders at worst. Unfortunately, the gentlemen got the worst of both confrontations.

I’m a fierce proponent of the social value of chivalry, the medieval code of honor which unfortunately has nearly been snuffed out over the course of the 20th century by the rise of feminism. Today it is in a coma on life support, and we are worse off for that. Our culture – any culture – sorely needs its young men to embrace chivalry’s core principles.

But many men will see the above examples as definitive evidence that chivalry is, well, stupid. Why leap to the defense of a woman you don’t even know if you might end up in the hospital – or the cemetery? Even if you get the better of the bad guy in a physical confrontation, you might still come away injured and/or facing a financially devastating lawsuit. And what if the woman doesn’t even appreciate a man coming to her defense? These days many young women resent even having doors opened for them. Just what is the upside of playing the white knight anymore?

These are very valid questions, and they are part of the reason that chivalry is dead to so many today. What are men to do?

The simple answer is that men must do their duty, as men have always been expected to do. Part of that duty means, as I wrote above, embracing the chivalric virtues of service to others and protection of the defenseless. I know that the reality is more complicated than that sounds, but there is no getting around the fact that morality and manhood require courage. The world needs – and has always needed – men willing to put themselves on the line to be gentlemen and heroes, willing to stand up to men of baser character and evil intent, even at personal risk. Without that, in a society in which able-bodied men do not selflessly step up to do the right thing, bad men will run rampant and the law of the jungle will prevail.

Without knowing more details about the incidents in the opening examples, it’s difficult to know if the situations could have been handled more safely or wisely. But the point is that the gentlemen who came to the aid of those women acted rightly on noble instincts. The alternative would have been to stand by or turn a blind eye to misogynistic hostility, and in the second instance, possibly murder. That cowardly inaction would have come at the cost of the women’s safety and the gentlemen’s manhood.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 8/25/14)