If you asked the American public if chivalry is still alive and well, many would likely give an answer in the negative. A 2010 Harris Poll confirmed this idea when it found that more than 80 percent of Americans agreed with the statement, “Women today are treated with less chivalry than in the past.”
But according to a more recent study, the belief that chivalry is dead may be greatly exaggerated, particularly when it comes to life and death and other morality issues.
Conducted as a joint venture between Cambridge and Columbia University, the study posed several tests in which participants were asked to determine if they would be more likely to hurt and/or save a male, female, or a gender neutral individual. Some of the questions posed to participants included:
“‘On a sinking ship, whom should you save first? Men, women, or no order’; ‘According to social norms, how morally acceptable is it to harm (men/women) for money?’; ‘According to social norms, how fair is it to harm (men/women)?’; and, ‘According to social norms, how well do (men/women) tolerate pain?’
Overall, the answers of both female and male respondents suggested that social norms account for greater harming behavior toward a male than a female target—women are less tolerant to pain, it’s unacceptable to harm females for personal gain, and society endorses chivalrous behavior.”
As co-author Dean Mobbs explains, the results of the study clearly show “a gender bias in these matters.” To those who have long preached gender parity, such a finding may be an appalling step backwards.
But should we really view the fact that chivalry appears to be alive and well as a problem?
Is its continued presence perhaps instead a sign that respect and common courtesy still exist in the world? And if so, should both men and women be more willing to give and receive the chivalrous courtesies that society lately has frowned upon?
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Annie Holmquist is the editor of Intellectual Takeout.