Our Story Begins:
Mad Men, Marilyn, And Making Chivalry Matter
Do you teach your son to open the door…for you, your daughter, his girlfriend?
And be honest . . . do you?
Growing up, even as a young boy of 10 or 12, my mother would stand in front of the door of the bank, in dead silence, and wait for myself or my two brothers’ brains to catch up with the lack of activity and say, “She’s waiting for you to open the door, stupid!” She didn’t slap our hands or shout at us, but it was an expectation: you respect your mother and the women around you. For that reason, we did a lot of things; at church, my father would hold my shoulder so my mother could come out of the pew before me. I opened her car door (well, most the time. Not as much after I was married. More people, more doors). I opened the door to an office or building. I even walked on the curb side of the sidewalk, both for safety, space, and to ensure I got hit first if a car hit a puddle.
I found myself asking my daughter about this after hearing a story about, of all people, Marilyn Monroe.
Monroe was set to go to an event in New York and her friend and date for the night was delayed. He asked the playwright Arthur Miller to pick up Monroe from her place. When Miller phoned her to say he was on the way, she said “It’s okay, I’ll just take the train.”
Miller would have none of it.
“I do it all the time.” was Monroe’s reaction, and Miller was aghast. It stuck with her. Eventually they were married (yeah, it didn’t last, but work with me on the symbolism here).
“I’ve done that,” I told my daughter. “I picked up a stranded friend from the freeway and drove her back to San Francisco, even though she asked me to simply drop her at the light rail station”.
“I think it’s a product of the feminist movement,” my daughter, Abbi, informed me. “In an effort to gain equality, we give up some of those ideals and actions. Women were softer, lesser, needed protection, that’s the Mad Men era though,” she told me. “If I have to lose that to get the opportunities I have, I’m okay with that.”
I, however, am not, and told her so.
“You should never accept any man who won’t do that for you,” I told my daughter. I know I slipped into familiarity and didn’t always do it for my wife. She didn’t always want it but she certainly was worth it.
“You should expect that respect,” I told her, “and you should never lower yourself just to be with someone either.”
“Bit of a double-standard, don’t you think?” Abbi asked me.
“Maybe…” I said, tentatively, “…but you’re smarter than most people I know,” I told her. “You should never give up anything or act any less than who you are just so someone likes you,” I told her.
“I wouldn’t do that,” she informed me.
“Maybe not now, but in the heat of romance,” I said remembering several past dating debacles of my own, “you do stupid things. It’s okay to do stupid things, but never act like you’re not who you are. The person you love will love you for the quirks and the intelligence and thirst for knowledge. They will open doors and give gifts . . . and the right one will do it because you’re worth it! Not because they get something out of it themselves.”
So I teach my boys to open the door, and walk on the curb-side, and treat women with respect. And, never, ever, for the love of all that is holy, should you hit a girl or woman.
It may be outdated. It may be a product of my Midwestern upbringing. It may even be a bit misogynistic, but at the end of the day, finding the man who does that for your daughter because they are worth it is priceless. As priceless as my sons finding someone worth doing it for.
So what do you do? Do you teach your sons and daughters that chivalry shouldn’t be dead? Do you tell them to open the door or do you ignore it? Are your daughters aware of these things, or do they pass by like a piece of Don Draper’s cigarette ash?
Dave Manoucheri is a writer, journalist and musician based in Sacramento, California. A father of four, two daughters and twin sons, his blog, Our Story Begins is a chronicle of their life after the loss of his wife, Andrea, in March of 2011. Follow him on Twitter @InvProducerMan.