Participants in my harassment prevention training often ask about what they view as the death of chivalry — and whether men can even hold a door open for a woman since the #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment swept across the country.
Training participants lament that their mothers taught them to treat women a certain way and that now they cannot express the type of kindness and respect they feel they should be providing.
The answer lies in the middle and it depends on your definition of chivalry.
By one definition, chivalry means, “the combination of qualities expected of an ideal knight, especially courage, honor, courtesy, justice and a readiness to help the weak.”
To the extent that men view their female colleagues as weak and they are ready to rush in and show their courage and honor, then yes that type of chivalry needs to die in the workplace.
By another definition, however, chivalry means “courteous behavior, especially that of a man toward women.”
You can never go wrong being polite and courteous. Men and women can equally be chivalrous in that regard.
Too often men engage in disturbing conduct that crosses boundaries in the name of chivalry.
Women will only achieve true equality when they are viewed as a professional equal to their peers. This means they are not viewed as weak in the emotional or physical sense or needing protection.
For example, you check into a hotel with a female colleague. You offer to take her bags to her room. This conduct crosses the line. You might be trying to be polite, but your actions are too familiar and unnecessarily protective.
You later see her at the hotel bar. She seems intoxicated. You are feeling protective and offer to walk her to her room. Again, this crosses the line. She is an adult.
Compare that scenario to one where you are on the plane and you can see that your female colleague is struggling to put her bag into the overhead.
You offer to help. She can accept or reject your offer of assistance, but here you have simply observed a need of a colleague and sought to fill it. This is being polite and showing common courtesy.
Men can bemoan the changes in the workplace surrounding the #MeToo discussion, but there is no doubt that changes needed to be made.
Perhaps the pendulum has swung too far for some.
For others, mostly women, they are frustrated with what appears to be men trying to protect and take care of them in the workplace, instead of viewing them as a true equal in every respect at work.
In considering if you have crossed the line, ask yourself if the genders were reversed, would a woman be offering to do the same for you.
For example, women hold doors for men all the time. In an elevator, women don’t need to be the first ones off. I frequently wave men out of the elevator first.
Tweaking how we view our colleagues and peers to be equals — not the weaker gender in need of protection — will make the workplace a place of mutual respect and common courtesy.
It will elevate women to the equality status that they have earned and deserve.