Is chivalry sexist?

Every so often, the age-old “Is chivalry dead?” question gets wheeled out in the media. This results in an outpouring of responses both in the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps, ranging from

“Oh that kicked the bucket years ago”


“Most certainly not. My husband is the perfect gent”.

Recently though, the question has evolved from merely enquiring on it’s health like you would an old aunt to something quite unpleasant in undertone – “is chivalry sexist?”

Rather than leave you dangling like a fish on the end of my hook, I’ll confirm straight away that I feel it’s complete poppycock to think that an act of kindness could be in any way construed as sexist behaviour.

The latest storm in a teacup occurred following the results of a recent study conducted by an American university (in Boston, to be precise). From what I have read, the research looked at the different kinds of sexism in men and concluded that chivalry was ‘benevolent sexism’.

Now, when one thinks of the term ‘chivalry’, the medieval times spring to mind. Perhaps noble and completely fictitious chaps like King Arthur and Sir Lancelot. Now, if you’re like me and you’re a fan of the works of Monty Python, the Holy Grail film may now also be featuring quite largely in your thoughts.

Konrad von Limpurg as a knight being armed by his lady in the ‘Codex Manesse’
Konrad von Limpurg as a knight being armed by his lady in the ‘Codex Manesse’

The actual definition of chivalry is thus:

‘The medieval knightly system with its religious, moral, and social code’


‘The combination of qualities expected of an ideal knight, namely courage, honour, courtesy, justice, and a readiness to help the weak’

As jousting, embarking on a crusade or two and a fondness for round tables has slowly fallen by the wayside (perhaps one of those examples still rings true – I do enjoy a good crusade), the term ‘chivalry’ has evolved. Now we tend to think of holding a door open, giving up your seat on public transport for somebody who needs it more or offering your coat if your companion is cold.

All noble acts.

Apparently though, the aforementioned study feels that these acts of kindness is a way for men to degrade women, as if to say that ladies are too physically weak to open a door for themselves or to stand up for an extended length of time.

I’m sorry, what utter tripe!

Chivalry is not sexist, chivalry does not relegate a lady to the position of subordinate. If anything, chivalry is a man’s way of acknowledging a woman with the greatest respect and care. I don’t hold open doors because women are weak, I hold open doors because it’s a courteous and polite thing to do. And of course, I open doors for men too, although my chivalrous behaviour towards men would probably only extend to doing this. For instance, it is doubtful that I would offer to carry the box he’s pretending not to struggle with or dash around to the other side of the car to let him out (unless the child locks are on).

So there you have it – a full and frank confession that I treat women differently to men. But even in today’s over-sensitive world, I really don’t see anything wrong in taking a moment to show a lady that she is special, even in a medieval sort of way. Providing I stay away from chastity belts, I should be on safe ground.

A lady prepares for a knight to go to war in ‘Stitching the Standard’ by Edmund Blair Leighton (1911).
A lady prepares for a knight to go to war in ‘Stitching the Standard’ by Edmund Blair Leighton (1911).
Depiction of a damsel in distress in ‘Chivalry’ by Frank Bernard Dicksee (1885).
Depiction of a damsel in distress in ‘Chivalry’ by Frank Bernard Dicksee (1885).

Like many things, chivalry adapts to the modern view and age. I was raised to be a chivalrous gentleman. Does this mean I was brought up to think women are weak and require my protection? Of course not. It simply means that I was taught to respect women and to not demean, hurt, or abuse them.

A chivalrous gentleman treats all he meets with respect and courtesy regardless of gender or status. The very word ‘gentleman’ implies a man who is not harsh, not cruel or callous with his actions. It is a man who is kind, giving and honourable.

The modern world lacks decency, kindness and respect for others at the best of times. Let’s not allow a silly study to drive a stake through the heart of chivalry, romance and men trying to act in a gentlemanly way.

If we did, the world would be a very sad place indeed. And that door in front of you would be closed.


G.M. Norton is on a quest to lead a gentlemanly existence. Residing in the North West of England, he aspires to better himself in the ways of old while showing the world that old-fashioned doesn’t mean outdated.