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Chivalry is dead

Our old friend Mark Hall of sock subscription company socked.co.uk is at it again.

You may remember him from last November when he published a survey noting that most men's socks were more than three years old. He branded this situation "a national disgrace" and will probably continue to do so until he's made enough money from socks to retire to a place where he can wear flip-flops all day.

Now he's back in the news and as well as featuring in The Herald Magazine again he's made Radio 4's Today programme. The reason is a new poll about men, manners and women, and what a tangle the first gets into when they try to apply the second to the third.

Chief among the survey's findings is the news that 92% of women would refuse to take a seat given up for them by a man, 89% would refuse help with a heavy bag, and 78% wouldn't take a coat from a chap on a cold day. Not even if it was made of cashmere and smelled of Ryan Gosling. Well, maybe then. But only then.

In part, Hall seems to blame us fellows for this. "Standards have slipped so far over recent years that any offer of chivalry from a gentleman knocks a woman off their guard," he says. But, he adds, as a result such offers are now viewed with "outright suspicion".

Predictably, The Daily Telegraph has waded into the debate too. "The medieval knights who bequeathed us their code saw it as their duty to display respect for women at all times," it thundered in an editorial last week. "So should modern men – even if the looks they receive are withering."

Presumably these are the same medieval knights who bathed once a year, ate soup with their fingers, believed everything the Pope said – "It's not wine, it's blood!" – and lived in houses with no glass in the windows. Or are these different knights who really did give us something worth hanging on to?

This is all great fun, of course, but there is a darker side – and, predictably enough, it's one academics are populating with terms like "benevolent sexism". That's another way of describing acts like the ones you've just been reading about. To social psychologists and their ilk, however, they're indicative of a paternalistic attitude to women which not only aims to keep them in their place but which can prove positively ruinous in a relationship.

Then again, you don't have to believe everything social psychologists tell you, either. Best, perhaps, to tread a middle way: help carry the shopping from time to time and don't hog the duvet, but make sure you always bag the best seat in the house when it's time for Borgen to start.

barry.didcock@heraldandtimes.co.uk

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