Thinking About Chivalry

Tomorrow is the 94th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, which went down on April 15, 1912, after striking an iceberg in the deadly frigid North Atlantic ocean.  One of the most remarkable facts about the Titanic disaster is that 74 percent of the female passengers survived, while 80 percent of the male passengers perished.  There is but one explanation for this outcome:  chivalry was not dead in 1912, certainly not among the crew and passengers of that ill—fated ship.

Today on National Review Online , commentator Carrie Lukas writes about this event, and bemoans the lack of chivalry among today's men.  The example she gives —— a strikingly trivial one, compared to the Titanic —— is the unwillingness of male subway commuters to give up their seats to women.  She quotes one British man, who petulantly objected when chided by a woman for not giving up his seat:  "You're joking, aren't you?  What?  You want my seat and the right to vote?  Forget it."

Lukas then tries to explain why the kind of chivalry that prompted the men on the Titanic to sacrifice their lives so that women and children might live, is still relevant and important to today's world.  Lukas argues that "gentlemanly conduct isn't about women at all.  It's about men and their sense of themselves. . . .  It's a simple show of respect.  Respect not just for women, but also for [the man].  It shows that this man believes himself to be a gentleman and holds himself to high standards."  In my opinion, Lukas' argument fails.

I sympathize with Lukas' position, and I agree with her that "resurrecting chivalry begins by remembering why it's important."  Unfortunately, she has not done this.  The chivalric code, as exemplified by the men on the Titanic, is not about men's "sense of themselves" or about "a simple show of respect."  Lukas' analysis here is clearly wrong.  Rather, chivalry is fundamentally and inescapably about protecting the weaker elements of one's society (women and children), who are vital to the continued propagation of one's people and civilization.

Once those two notions are dispelled —— that women are weaker and have unique responsibility for bearing and raising children —— the chivalric code is dead.  Lukas does not want to admit this, perhaps because she does not want to admit that feminism —— which also benefits conservative professional women like her —— is incompatible with the continued belief in Titanic—style chivalry among (most) men.  The British man she quotes may seem boorish, but he understands the psychological dynamic much better than Lukas does.

Interestingly, Lukas makes a point in her article to emphasize that women are "equally capable of standing" during their morning commute.  This is the feminist in her speaking.  Thus, she denies the existence of physical differences between the sexes that make the burden of standing easier for men than for women (including pregnancy, which is not always obvious to an observer).  But what, then, is the justification for giving women special treatment in the allocation of subway seats?  Lukas' answer —— essentially, that men will feel better about themselves if they do —— is unpersuasive.

I am quite certain that the men on the Titanic did not think it was their duty to sacrifice their lives for the women and children on board because it made them "feel better" about themselves.  They did it because they believed, consciously or unconsciously, that saving the women and children was vital to ensuring the survival of their society.  In today's western world of very low birthrates, abortion on demand, and complete legal and philosophical equality between the sexes, it is hardly surprising that chivalry is dead.  On balance, this probably is a good thing.  But I agree with the British man, unfairly ridiculed by Lukas, who thinks there is something hypocritical about feminists who bemoan this fact.

Steven M. Warshawsky     4 14 06

Tomorrow is the 94th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, which went down on April 15, 1912, after striking an iceberg in the deadly frigid North Atlantic ocean.  One of the most remarkable facts about the Titanic disaster is that 74 percent of the female passengers survived, while 80 percent of the male passengers perished.  There is but one explanation for this outcome:  chivalry was not dead in 1912, certainly not among the crew and passengers of that ill—fated ship.

Today on National Review Online , commentator Carrie Lukas writes about this event, and bemoans the lack of chivalry among today's men.  The example she gives —— a strikingly trivial one, compared to the Titanic —— is the unwillingness of male subway commuters to give up their seats to women.  She quotes one British man, who petulantly objected when chided by a woman for not giving up his seat:  "You're joking, aren't you?  What?  You want my seat and the right to vote?  Forget it."

Lukas then tries to explain why the kind of chivalry that prompted the men on the Titanic to sacrifice their lives so that women and children might live, is still relevant and important to today's world.  Lukas argues that "gentlemanly conduct isn't about women at all.  It's about men and their sense of themselves. . . .  It's a simple show of respect.  Respect not just for women, but also for [the man].  It shows that this man believes himself to be a gentleman and holds himself to high standards."  In my opinion, Lukas' argument fails.

I sympathize with Lukas' position, and I agree with her that "resurrecting chivalry begins by remembering why it's important."  Unfortunately, she has not done this.  The chivalric code, as exemplified by the men on the Titanic, is not about men's "sense of themselves" or about "a simple show of respect."  Lukas' analysis here is clearly wrong.  Rather, chivalry is fundamentally and inescapably about protecting the weaker elements of one's society (women and children), who are vital to the continued propagation of one's people and civilization.

Once those two notions are dispelled —— that women are weaker and have unique responsibility for bearing and raising children —— the chivalric code is dead.  Lukas does not want to admit this, perhaps because she does not want to admit that feminism —— which also benefits conservative professional women like her —— is incompatible with the continued belief in Titanic—style chivalry among (most) men.  The British man she quotes may seem boorish, but he understands the psychological dynamic much better than Lukas does.

Interestingly, Lukas makes a point in her article to emphasize that women are "equally capable of standing" during their morning commute.  This is the feminist in her speaking.  Thus, she denies the existence of physical differences between the sexes that make the burden of standing easier for men than for women (including pregnancy, which is not always obvious to an observer).  But what, then, is the justification for giving women special treatment in the allocation of subway seats?  Lukas' answer —— essentially, that men will feel better about themselves if they do —— is unpersuasive.

I am quite certain that the men on the Titanic did not think it was their duty to sacrifice their lives for the women and children on board because it made them "feel better" about themselves.  They did it because they believed, consciously or unconsciously, that saving the women and children was vital to ensuring the survival of their society.  In today's western world of very low birthrates, abortion on demand, and complete legal and philosophical equality between the sexes, it is hardly surprising that chivalry is dead.  On balance, this probably is a good thing.  But I agree with the British man, unfairly ridiculed by Lukas, who thinks there is something hypocritical about feminists who bemoan this fact.

Steven M. Warshawsky     4 14 06