Chivalry and healthy relationships
Christopher Damian | Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Three years ago, I arrived at school an overeager freshman excited for new experiences and, more than anything, excited to meet new people. Freshman orientation was a blur of activity, and I quickly hit the ground running, involved in just about every club I could find. About two months into school, I remember walking into the library feeling completely overwhelmed and a little exhausted. I had finally hit a wall. Looking around for somewhere to sit, a friend I hadn’t seen since orientation called me over to sit with him. Although we hadn’t seen each other since then, we got to talking and eventually started hanging out more.
With this friend, I noticed something unique. For a reason I couldn’t quite explain, I immediately felt at home with him and found him trustworthy. We would study in the library together often, and whenever we were there late, he would insist on walking me back to my dorm even though it required going completely out of his way. It was only a few minutes every night, but during those moments when we were together outside of the context of class or studying, we really started to bond. We’d talk about just about anything and eventually became best friends.
Reflecting back on the start of that friendship today, I realize that the reason I felt so comfortable with him was because he was constantly showing me how much he respected me as a woman. Not in an obvious manner, but in the small things. He always insisted on walking me back and made sure to open the door for me. He didn’t do these things because he thought me defective or weak, and he didn’t do them because he was interested in dating me (later in the year he started dating a mutual friend). He did them because he was a gentleman. As a gentlemen, he sought to show respect to me as a woman.
Acts of chivalry have changed since chivalry’s original association with knighthood. However, the idea of chivalry should not be lost. Chivalry is about showing respect, and it is through learning how to respect all women that men become gentlemen. So hold open a door, walk a girl back (and it doesn’t have to be a girlfriend or someone you’re interested in), smile, respect her as a woman and see what happens!
Frosh-O used to consist of a lot of dancing. Men and women would run across campus, singing and dancing for each other. One Welsh Family Freshman Orientation co-coordinator wrote on her blog in 2010, “The dances always involve lots of hip-thrusting, booty-popping, body-rolling and shimmying.” The men responded with their own performances. I remember Backstreet Boys and hip-thrusting … lots of hip-thrusting.
But things have changed. One women’s dorm decided to censor these dances because, it was argued, they reinforce “heteronormativity.” That is, these dances reinforce the idea that everyone is heterosexual and discriminate against sexual minorities. Year after year, I’ve spoken with students who were offended by these orientation rituals. It didn’t take long for me to decide that I’d had enough during my Frosh-O. After the first evening of dancing and being danced at, I decided to spend the rest of the time in my room.
Neither my friends nor I, however, found such antics to be unacceptable because of a reinforcement of heteronormativity. Rather, they reinforced gender stereotypes from a culture at odds with our Christian faith. This is a culture that says we can dance on each other, make out and sleep together Saturday night and then move on Sunday morning as if nothing happened. It is a culture that says the most important body parts (and the ones that the opposite sex ought to pay most attention to) are the ones connected to hips and chests. It is a culture that insists at the heart of all interaction between men and women is the need and desire for sex.
Surely this culture is at odds with a Catholic university that prides itself on excellence. While providing an inclusive, open environment for “sexual minorities,” it is important this nation’s preeminent Catholic university teach its students to form healthy relationships between men and women consisting of self-gift.
Notre Dame’s Pastoral Plan notes that “the call to chastity represents a divine invitation to develop relationships characterized by equality, mutuality and respect, qualities of a deeply spiritual nature.”
We ought to cultivate these characteristics in freshman orientation and other introductions to the University. We ought to teach men and women to treat each other with respect, not merely out of a desire for a romantic relationship, but out of a holistic understanding of what it means to be man and woman.
Jen Gallic is a junior studying economics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Christopher Damian is a senior studying philosophy. He can be reached at email@example.com
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.