"Rally 'Round Raleigh"           

Dave Gustafson, 1998

 

      Itís somewhere in those few lazy, yet hectic days between Christmas and New Yearís, and shopping malls all around the country are displaying a truly fascinating phenomenon. For it is now that the malls are hopelessly clogged not with shoppers, but with returners. You know what I mean - everyone has found fault with their Christmas gifts, and they are now trying to one-up jolly old Saint Nick. You are among this never-settle-for-second-best crowd, laden with two heavy bags of gifts which, despite the fact that you are a medium-sized man, are all in either extra-large or extra-small. You are approaching the entrance to the mall and are barely able to wedge the door open with your foot, when you see an elderly lady approaching the entrance as well. You courteously (yet clumsily) hold the door as she passes. "Oh, thank you, sir," she says in a heart-warming, Angela-Lansbury-like voice, "the world needs more gentlemen like you." "Oh, itís nothing," you reply, your cheeks turning roughly the shade of a poinsettia. But what a fantastic feeling, you think to yourself, to have done a favor like that just out of the kindness of you heart. Why, you feel almost like Sir Walter Ra-SMACK!!! Your thoughts and good feelings are rudely interrupted by the next woman to pass through the door, and the poinsettia shade is now much brighter and in the shape of a handprint. When you look up, the young woman is squared off in front of you, her accusing finger pointing squarely at your stinging visage. "Chauvinist pig!" she proclaims. Now you might just be hallucinating because of the slap, but youíre pretty sure you can see steam coming out of her ears. "Itís men like you that make the world the cesspool of sexism that it is today!" As she storms away, you stand there dumbfounded - or perhaps, dumbstruck is more fitting - and let the door swing shut. You obviously have a little to learn about your modern manners before you can face whatís on the other side of that door.

     Well, thatís what Iím here for today - to help you find the chivalry of the 1990ís. You know, it seems that one must be a little more prepared to face everyday life these days; you may find yourself unprotected from the accusations of the world if you so much as venture out your front door in anything less than a full-body suit of PC armor. Itís true - you must be careful about the words you say, the clothes you wear, the food you eat, the car you drive, the paper you write on, the clubs you join, and how many gallons of water you use every time you flush your toilet! All in the interest of not offending anyone - which is a perfectly worthy endeavor. But, in all the hustle and bustle of trying to keep everyone happy at the same time, itís been said that chivalry has died. Is chivalry really dead, or is it just hibernating for the winter of political correctness? Today weíll put our fingers on its pulse and find out.

     First of all, it used to be proper for gentlemen to hold doors open for ladies to pass by - but as my lengthy and gratuitously violent introduction showed, now it seems that that can be interpreted as a condescending insult. Fortunately, modern technology has come to our rescue once again - the solution, of course, is the automatic door! It opens for both men and women, every time. It closes on the heels of both men and women, every time. Why, the automatic door is the very model of indiscriminate - or should I say, indiscriminately poor - service. But this really isnít a peace treaty in our gender war, now is it - itís just another shaky ceasefire. Letís try again.

     It used to be that when Sir Walter Raleigh, gentleman and ladies man extraordinaire, was courting his lady of the hour, occasionally he would find her dainty feet endangered by a great, wet, and potentially staining puddle of mud lurking in her path. He would not hesitate to dash to her rescue and cast his coat over the offending puddle, thus saving the dayÖ and her shoesÖ and of course, his reputation. Now, that reaction isnít quite as common. For example, conside the following scenario - a man and his well-dressed wife must cross a considerably large puddle in order to reach their car from the sidewalk. The moment he notices the crisis he begins strategizing. He looks at the car. He looks at the puddle. He looks at his wife, who is by now tapping her foot with impatience. And finally, he looks at his brand new Armani cashmere topcoat. And eventually, in his mind, the puddle seems to become a little bit smaller and his wife seems to become much more athletic. He finds himself coaching her, "Come on, Honey! You can make it! Itís just a little hop, and if you donít make it, there are paper towels to clean up with in the car!?!" It never occurs to him that he should have just taken off his coat and muttered the six simple words of the true gentleman - "The Dry Cleaning Bill Be Damned!!!" 

     Of course, there are some extremists who feel that chivalry has been feigned all along. They claim that there is simply no genuine good will between the sexes. To them, every compliment is a lie, every favor begrudged, and every dozen roses just too darn expensive. They say that modern romance has nothing to do with caring about each otherís feelings, just caring about feeling each other. British poet Anna Wickham also doubts the sincerity of the well-mannered, writing, 

"It is well within the order of things
That man should listen when his mate sings;

But the true male never yet walked
Who liked to listen when his mate talked."

     There are thousands of other examples out there, but perhaps the state of things is best summed up by Price Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, a man who should know as much as anyone about chivalry. He once told a London newspaper that, these days, "When a man opens the car door for his wife, itís either a new car or a new wife." The day thatNewspaper was published, there were also several unconfirmed reports of Sir Walter Raleigh rolling in his grave. 

     So how did we reach such a cold state of affairs between the sexes? For one thing, the roles of men and women have been changing. Men used to always be the breadwinners, while women used to always be the homemakers. But now, according to columnist Barbara Ehrenreich, the woman of the 90ís "plays with a full deck of credit cards, won't cry when she's knocked to the ground while trying to board the six o'clock shuttle, and has a schedule that doesn't allow for a sexual encounter lasting more than twelve minutes." Except for that last part, of course, most people see this mixing of roles and sexes as an advancement; Essayist Susan Sontag notes that "What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine." Does this mean that women who play football and men who paint their nails will become next yearís teenage fashion idols? Perhaps not, but itís a start.

     Another problem is that the gender equality movement has been claiming that there are no differences at all between men and women. Despite this claim, I think itís safe to say that none of you have ever seen a bunch of women arm wrestling while all the men go to the bathroom together! Philosopher and poet George Santayana notes that "When men and women agree, it is only in their conclusions; their reasons are always different." I found it to be true; most of the girls that I know liked the movie "Scream" because it was scary; the guys just liked Neve Campbell. So yes, women are still from Venus and men are still from Mars. Equality supporters try to ignore these differences; chivalry tries to respectfully accentuate them - well, somethingís got to give.

     "Men and women, women and men. It will never work." Author Erica Jong may have known what she was talking about when she expressed this sentiment in her book, Fear of Flying. For we are men and women by birth, but Ladies and Gentlemen by choice. Our gender alone does not entitle us to anything, nor does it deny us anything. The simple truth is that, when it comes to our personal conduct, we have no one and nothing to blame but ourselves. An act of kindness is an act of kindness, no matter from whom it comes. Men and women and women and men probably never will work - but with ladies and gentlemen, the possibilities are limitless.

     Is chivalry gone? A victim of the P.C. thugs that have ravaged the values of yesteryear? No; as long as "please" and "thank you" stand ready on our lips, as long as favors can be done without being asked, as long as doors are held open for anyone, by anyoneÖ Then I can assure you, Ladies and Gentlemen, that chivalry is still very much alive.

     You rub the handprint out of your cheek, look after the woman, and say with great dignity, "Iím terribly sorry, Madam, I thought I was holding the door for a Lady." You once again pick up your bags of mis-sized merchandize, smile, and begin to foot-tackle the door. "Wait, wait," a voice calls from behind you, "Iíll get that." A lady with three large bags of what appear to be childrenís toys rushes up and opens the door. "Youíve got more to carry than I do," she says. You both know it isnít true, but you smile again anyway. Boy, you think, old Walt Raleigh doesnít have a thing to worry about after all. "After you."


Works Cited*

1.) Ehrenreich, Barbara: The New York Times, 1991: "The Cult of Busyness"

2.) Santayana, George: The Life of Reason, 1905-6

3.) Sontag, Susan: Against Interpretation, 1964: "Notes on ĎCampí"

4.) Wickham, Anna: The Contemplative Quarry, 1915: "The Affinity"

5.) Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh: Today (London), March 2 1988

6.) Jong, Erica: Fear of Flying, 1973

* All quotes obtained through Microsoft Bookshelf 95ģ, from The Columbia Dictionary of Quotations, licensed from Columbia University Press, Copyright © 1993 by Columbia University Press, all rights reserved.


For those interested in performing this speech in competition, go ahead!  Info that may be required:  this speech was written and first performed in 1997, and is published in the Ohio High School Speech League's Winning Orations 1998.