Redefining Chivalry: Truly Selfless Acts or Perpetuation of Toxic Masculinity? 

Society has been patriarchal for over ten thousand years, but as times change, so should society. In the past, the accepted role for a man was to protect his family, and the job of a woman was to take care of the family. Now, this old-fashioned standard is fading, but there are still many societal expectations for either gender. Through the dissemination of harmful ideas about how men should act, toxic masculinity has emerged. We must develop a new definition for chivalry, one that places emphasis on acts done selflessly and with purely good intentions.

Freedom of expression has expanded, but the ideas tied to gender have yet to shift. This is largely due to the entertainment industry. For instance, in movies like Beauty and the Beast and Frozen, the male protagonists risk their lives to save their true loves, spreading the lie that women can’t protect themselves and that men need to protect them, no matter the cost. 

A study published in the journal Child Development found that 87 percent of boys have watched Disney princess media, meaning that their still-developing minds are being fed these ideas. Additionally, because the men in these movies look like the stereotypically “perfect” man, boys are more likely to want to act like them. This traps generations of men into thinking that these acts are alright, while they are actually extremely harmful.

The recent Oscar ceremony is an example of these harmful ideals. During the ceremony, Will Smith slapped Chris Rock after he made a joke about Smith’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, and her alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes hair to fall out. Smith felt that his wife’s honor was under attack, but his wife didn’t feel the same. After the Oscars, Pinkett Smith revealed that she wished Smith hadn’t slapped Rock. Smith’s action is the perfect example of toxic masculinity, as he succumbed to the societal pressure to protect his wife when she didn’t even want his protection. 

In 2016, Jamie Foxx showed what an act of chivalry truly is by saving a stranger from a burning car. Foxx saw a car wreck and quickly pulled the victim out. A few seconds later, the car burst into flames. After this, Foxx did not attempt to gain publicity or use the event to his advantage, but was just glad to save a life. 

With humanity modernizing, so should the definition of chivalry. The new definition of chivalry must be multifaceted: yes, chivalry can mean protecting someone, but it also means being kind and acting not only for selfish gain.