If you want a chick flick to make your wife swoon, Kate & Leopold will deliver. Leopold is an English duke from the 1800s who is inadvertently transported in time to modern day. He holds chairs for women. He stands up when they leave the table or enter a room. He rescues maidens in distress. He is chivalry personified.

My husband has always held the door for me, but after watching that movie, I suggested that perhaps he could start standing when I left the table, too. He said he certainly would, as soon as I stopped talking about politics in public and started speaking only when spoken to. So we let that one go.

Chivalry, though, is largely a forgotten virtue. While we may not want to return to the days of males popping up and down at the dinner table, aiding and protecting women is actually quite sweet. I travel frequently for speaking, and figuring out how I will transfer my carry-on suitcase from the floor into the crowded overhead compartment always causes stress. The suitcase does not seem to want to levitate on its own, and my biceps certainly aren’t sufficient to stuff it up there. Despite a multitude of males among the plane’s passengers, though, rarely does one proffer a hand. I am stuck fighting with this decidedly overweight bag on my own.

A few decades ago no self-respecting male would stand by while a female struggled with suitcases. We believed that one of men’s God-given roles was to protect women—an injunction only slightly ahead of “men should have to kill the bugs.” So 18th century men protected women from the filth that flew out of second story windows every morning when the chamber pots emptied. They protected women from splashes from passing carriages. Nineteenth century men protected them from the seedier side of life, smoking and swearing only in the presence of other males.

Then that came to a screeching halt. I don’t think it was the fault of the male gender, though; I think my own gender is mostly to blame. We wanted to be treated like equals, and thus we labelled all attempts at emulating Leopold’s kindness to be sexism. Men who held out a chair or who took a woman’s coat were glared at, shot down and insulted. And so chivalry died.

Speaking as one with a graduate degree in sociology, I, too, used to be insulted when men did small things for me. Did they think I couldn’t manage life on my own? Then, one day, it occurred to me: why would I want to? God gave me my husband so I didn’t have to handle all this by myself. Maybe I should let him take some of the burden.

Whatever feminists may say, chivalry was not meant to denigrate women; it was meant to elevate them. It was an acknowledgement that men, though they are stronger, have a responsibility to protect the fairer sex. A man is stronger. He has the ability to push women around and to treat them with contempt simply because of his size (and, in days gone by, his economic dominance). For him to care for a woman instead means something. It was saying: you’re different from me. You’re worth pursuing. You’re worth taking care of.

What woman doesn’t want to feel that?

Perhaps you’re thinking: What if she doesn’t deserve it? But that’s missing the point. Chivalry’s creed was that God designed men to protect women, and honour demanded it. Women don’t earn chivalry; it is freely bestowed not because of what women do, but because of who men are. To me, it’s actually a lot like grace.

If men are to treat their wives like Christ and the Church, then perhaps a return to the days of door-holding males is called for. Besides, not to get too crass, but I think it’s in your best interests. To me, there’s something sexy about watching an elderly man shuffling to get the door for his wife, repeating a ritual they’ve been doing more than 60 years. In return, she looks up at him and beams. She’s proud to be with him after all these years. Chivalry, you see, isn’t something that you only adopt to impress the woman you want to win; it’s something you do to keep honouring the woman you’ve already won.

We live in days of gender confusion. We’re supposed to all be the same, but as much as the media and government may try to hoist that on us, we are not. Women have different emotions, different bodies and different needs. Acknowledge those differences, and we feel feminine. Treat us the same, and we become mere buddies. And if you’re interested in doing stuff with your wife you wouldn’t do with your best friend, then maybe you had better start treating her as if she is more special than just a friend.

Treat us with gentleness and respect, even if you don’t have to. In fact, treat us that way because you don’t have to. And then watch us melt for you.

Sheila Wray Gregoire is a syndicated columnist, popular blogger and speaker, and award-winning author. Sheila blogs primarily about sex and marriage at ToLoveHonorandVacuum.com.


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