Chivalry and Gynarchy

People seem to have the idea that chivalry (the opening-doors kind, not the slaying-dragons kind) was killed off by the equal rights movement. For some reason, the two are seen as incompatible. This is a strange idea.

Yes, there was an undercurrent of condescension in chivalry, because it could be taken to imply that Women needed looking after. But it did not have to be seen that way. You could as well interpret it as suggesting that Women deserved to be looked after.

A century ago, a man with my instincts would surely have felt that the act of standing when a Woman entered the room was a completely natural gesture of respect. On the other hand, the mysogynist Colonel sitting next to me could have consoled himself that standing up for Miss Emily was a display of civility to an inferior.

Perhaps that is why chivalric codes had such a good run; individual men and Women could internally process the symbolism in whatever way best suited their own world-view.

This has been brought home to me recently reading a little manual from the 1920s (The Diners Out Vade Mecum, reprinted Old House Books, 2012) which sets out for young bachelors the social codes to be observed in various situations. Personally, i found the precedence that was given to Women in many of these rituals rather touching, and certainly not incompatible with Female Supremicist beliefs. Even better is the relection that young men were taught these codes at an early age – and Girls were taught to expect it as Their due. One did not thank a man for opening the door; one simply walked through.

Some passages are quoted below. A future Gynarchy could learn something from this, though not necessarily copy it.

The bachelor, as a rule, is not a carriage man, and if the evening be fine, and the distance short, he may with all propriety walk to the house of his host. Should he do so, he must take care, if he turns up the legs of his trousers before starting, to turn them down again before entering the reception-room. If he has worn heavy gloves out of doors, he will also take the first opportunity of substituting the light ones suitable for the reception. He should not offer his hostess a glove which has been handling a cane or an umbrella, twirling a moustache, or manipulating a cigar…

The guest will immediately approach and shake hands with his hostess, and then his host. If he is accompanied by a lady, she will precede him at the reception. In no case should they either approach the room, or enter it, arm-in-arm.

The guests assemble in the drawing-room and proceed informally to the breakfast-room at a signal from the hostess, who, in company with the lady of highest rank, leads the way. Ladies first, and gentlemen after, is the order observed, the host following with the gentlemen…

Gentlemen leave their outdoor garments and appurtenances in the hall, and ladies remove their coats and furs, but not their hats, which they continue to wear at the luncheon table. Elbow gloves are also retained at table, but short gloves are removed…

…in walking, the pedestrian keeps to the right. If accompanied by a lady, he must give her the inside place, whether that be on his right or left hand… It is his place to see that she is not unduly inconvenienced by other pedestrians, to walk near her side, and only to vacate that position for a moment by stepping behind her when it is necessary to allow other ladies to pass.

It is for the lady to determine the measure of intimacy that she is willing to permit, and for the gentleman to loyally observe the limits she may impose. The measure of recognition permissible in public will of course depend upon the level of intimacy observed in private. If the lady makes no sign of recognition, the gentleman should make none, and the degree of familiarity shown by the lady may be taken as the measure of that which may be shown in response. In recognising a lady’s salute, the hat should be raised, and a slight bow made. In recognising a gentleman, a nod is commonly sufficient between equals of age or standing…

On meeting a gentleman one knows who is accompanied by a lady one does not know, the hat must be raised, and the bow made. When walking with a lady, a gentleman should always raise his hat, and bow when passing every one, lady or gentleman, whom his companion may salute. This is not so much a personal compliment to the third party as an act of acquiescence in the compliment of one’s companion, and as such is better performed without any attempt to catch the eye of the unknown…

A gentleman should always remember that “his sisters, his cousins and his aunts,” not to mention his mother and his wife, are none the less ladies because they are relatives, and that as such they are entitled to at least equal consideration with that shown to others of their sex.

Here is more of the same sort of advice, from America this time, and sixty years earlier:

The Gentlemen’s Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness

(Cecil B Hartley, 1860 – available for free download at

In case of a sudden fall of rain, you may, with perfect propriety, offer your umbrella to a lady who is unprovided with one. If she accepts it, and asks your address to return it, leave it with her; if she hesitates, and does not wish to deprive you of the use of it, you may offer to accompany her to her destination, and then, do not open a conversation; let your manner be respectful, and when you leave her, let her thank you, assure her of the pleasure it has given you to be of service, bow, and leave her.

In meeting a lady friend, wait for her to bow to you, and in returning her salutation, remove your hat. To a gentleman you may bow, merely touching your hat, if he is alone or with another gentleman; but if he has a lady with him, raise your hat in bowing to him. If you stop to speak to a lady, hold your hat in your hand, until she leaves you, unless she requests you to replace it. With a gentleman you may replace it immediately.

Never join a lady whom you may meet, without first asking her permission to do so.

A true gentleman never stops to consider what may be the position of any woman whom it is in his power to aid in the street… The true spirit of chivalry makes the courtesy due to the sex, not to the position of the individual.

If you call upon a lady, who invites you to be seated, place a chair for her, and wait until she takes it before you sit down yourself. Never sit beside a lady upon a sofa, or on a chair very near her own, unless she invites you to do so. If a lady enters the room where you are making a call, rise, and remain standing until she is seated. Even if she is a perfect stranger, offer her a chair, if there is none near her. You must rise if a lady leaves the room, and remain standing until she has passed out.

The young lady who has refused one gentleman, has no right to accept another for that dance; and young ladies who do not wish to be annoyed, must take care not to accept two gentlemen for the same dance. In Germany such innocent blunders often cause fatal results. Two partners arrive at the same moment to claim the fair one’s hand; she vows she has not made a mistake; ‘was sure she was engaged to Herr A—, and not to Herr B—;’ Herr B—is equally certain that she was engaged to him. The awkwardness is, that if he at once gives her up, he appears to be indifferent about it; while, if he presses his suit, he must quarrel with Herr A—, unless the damsel is clever enough to satisfy both of them; and particularly if there is an especial interest in Herr B—, he yields at last, but when the dance is over, sends a friend to Herr A—. Absurd as all this is, it is common, and I have often seen one Herr or the other walking about with a huge gash on his cheek, or his arm in a sling, a few days after a ball.

When you meet a lady at the foot of a flight of stairs, do not wait for her to ascend, but bow, and go up before her. In meeting a lady at the head of a flight of stairs, wait for her to precede you in the descent.

Have you a sister? Then love and cherish her with all that pure and holy friendship which renders a brother so worthy and noble… The man who would treat a sister with harshness, rudeness, or disrespect, is unworthy of the name of gentleman, for he thus proves that the courtesies he extends to other ladies, are not the promptings of the heart, but the mere external signs of etiquette; the husk without the sweet fruit within.





One thought on “Chivalry and Gynarchy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s