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Chivalry? What's That?

When did mothers stop raising their sons to be gentlemen?

A friend of mine is seven months pregnant. Visibly pregnant. Not pregnant in the “is she pregnant or just fat?” kind of pregnant. Pregnant in "there is no mistaking she is pregnant," pregnant. Everyday she commutes from a suburb in New Jersey to New York City for her job. As part of this commute, she must take the Path Train.

Imagine a hot summer day, and a packed train. As my friend gets on the train, how many men do you think offered her their seat? ZERO. That’s right, not one man on that train offered up their seat to my friend.

Forty years ago, as a woman, regardless of whether she was pregnant, she would have been offered a seat. Now, here we are in 2012, and as a pregnant woman she wasn’t even offered a seat. What happened to chivalry? Why aren’t young boys being taught to hold doors, pay for dinner, offer their jackets to a chilly date, and give up their seat to a woman? Why aren’t their mothers teaching them these things? Because really I can’t blame the men, I blame their parents.  If a boy is not taught to be chivalrous, or it isn’t an example set forth by his own father, then how will he learn it? Where along the way did parents stop raising their sons to become gentlemen?

I know there are many women reading this right now appalled. The women who fought so hard for equality. And to them I would say, yes, I am fully capable of opening my own car door, or paying for a meal, or remembering to wear a sweater if its chilly, but why should I have to? I certainly don’t believe I am the weaker sex, but I do believe I am the fairer, and I do believe I should be treated as such.

I have to ask myself, is it the women who are appalled reading this, the women who fought so hard for women’s rights, who burned their bras and broke through glass ceilings that aren’t teaching their sons to be chivalrous? Maybe for those women they don’t want doors held open, or seats given up, so they don’t feel a need to teach their sons to do these things. But I am not one of them. I believe we can be strong, independent women and still let a man take care of us. Even if it’s just in these small ways.

My son is 9 years old. Recently, we were at the mall together and he held open the door for a woman as she was walking into a store. He offers to help me when I am carrying in groceries, offers to carry something if it looks like I am struggling, and offers his younger sister his jacket if she is chilly. That’s what a gentleman would do, and that is the kind of son I am trying to raise. One who will support his wife if she wants to be CEO, but will hold the door open for her as she walks out of their house every morning.

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Linda Sadlouskos (Editor) July 10, 2012 at 02:30 AM
Who says it's just a mother's responsibility to raise sons to be considerate of other people? I would hope my sons would hold the door for anyone who seems to be in need of assistance!
patricia anderson July 10, 2012 at 11:20 AM
Here is Basking Ridge I find most young and old hold doors open for each other but my daughter just recently mentioned that she see on trains that no one offers a seat to anyone anymore. Sad
Melissa Sarsten July 10, 2012 at 12:38 PM
Linda, If your sons hold doors open for others, then someone along the way must have taught them that. Whether it was you, or their father, or a role model. Children do not grow up innately knowing which fork to use at dinner, how to butter their bread, when to hold a door open, when to offer their seat, etc. Manners and chivalry must be taught.
Melissa Sarsten July 10, 2012 at 12:43 PM
Isn't it our responsibility as parents to raise kind, considerate individuals? I certainly think it's part of my job as a parent. But you bring up a good point, if there are other mothers out there that feel the way you do, then no wonder the art of being considerate no longer exists in most people these days.
Eva Deffenbaugh July 10, 2012 at 01:05 PM
Why must only the men be obliged to give up their seats? Having been very pregnant twice, I would say that many people of both genders extended courtesies to me, others did not. Not only should your son hold the door open for someone, so should your daughter. Is not one of the aims of the women's movement to have both men and women able to perform the same tasks? Should we not also give up our seats for the father escorting small children in public situations, too? Civility and courtesy should not be gender bound. I found the writer's perspective a bit sexist.
Daniels July 10, 2012 at 03:19 PM
Ordinarily I don’t comment on posts on this site but seeing that it comes from the editor herself, I couldn’t hold back. Do you think that manners are in our DNA? It is a duty of parenthood to teach children to be respectful of others. I question the credibility of the ‘steward’ of this site if she believes it is anyone else’s job (i.e., teachers, schools, etc.). Yes, I would hope your sons would hold the door for anyone who seems to be in need of assistance, but if not taught to by their parents, then whom?
Linda Sadlouskos (Editor) July 10, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Dear Dan, I DO think parents should teach children to be helpful of others -- and I encourage mine to be so, advising them to assist others when they see they could use a hand, or it would be good manners to do so. However, I said I would hope that not ONLY mothers would be given the task of teaching manners to their children. If you do your best to instill your children or other young people to take the initiative to lend a hand to others, my hat's off to you. BTW, when my then 13--year-old son & I went to South Carolina to see my older son at college a few years ago, we were laden with his belongings like pack animals when we took the train from Lyons, had to switch in Summit and then took Amtrak from NYC to N. Carolina. Although one of my older son's friends from Basking Ridge very courteously drove us to Lyons and assisted in getting on board, NOT ONE person in Summit helped us pick up a suitcase or box to get on board, even if it meant basically pushing us out of the way. Things were even better in New York...and by the time we got down south, people were helping us even when we didn't need it...can this be somewhat regional?
HG July 12, 2012 at 04:38 PM
I spent much of the 80s being sneered at by people like Eva when I held open doors for people. (That is, I held the door open for men and women, but when I held the door open for a women [who don't see you hold it open for men at other times], she'd often refuse to go through the door or make a snide comment.) I now restrict my door-holding (or seat relinquishing) to people that I know won't give me the business. That certainly means that I do nothing "chivalrous" for young women in the Northeast, pregnant or not. Chivalry was killed by the feminist movement and the whole "age before beauty" nonsense.
colleen Bondy July 13, 2012 at 02:37 PM
I agree with Eva, this should be more a discussion of teaching manners to our children, not just our sons. BTW this is not a recent problem. While pregnant I commuted from Morris Plains to Brooklyn ( NJ train to hoboken, ferry to WTC, subway to metro tech) rarely did anyone give me their seat. HG- I've heard your excuse from men too often. Sounds more like an excuse than reality. There was a very small percentage of women who took the movement too far and chastised chivalry. Certainly not enough to force you to abandon your beliefs! My husband and I have taught both my son and daughter to be polite and respectful to others and to help those in need. Has nothing to do with male vs female or north vs south.
KH July 14, 2012 at 11:52 AM
I live in Basking Ridge but grew up and went to college in the deep south. I must say that I was pretty shocked at the lack of common courtesy when I moved up north. I have lived here for four years and still have to laugh when I perform one simple act of what I consider to be common sense, polite behavior and it catches people completely off guard. I’ve also found that almost every time a door is held for me or a seat given up the man who did so is only going to then start flirting with me as if he were owed that right for being so “kind”. Never, in a million years, did I believe that boys would need to be taught to be gentleman but I do find myself paying extra attention to my son’s manners now. That being said I have met some very nice, polite men up here… I did marry one after all.
Laura Madsen July 15, 2012 at 04:03 PM
Melissa, your post reminded me of one I wrote last year, although mine was more location-centric about the lack of manners. http://hillsborough.patch.com/blog_posts/its-cold-here You make some very good points.

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