Henry Cavill has proven chivalry isn’t dead – but should it be?

The Superman actor apparently ‘stands up every time a lady walks into a room’ – a kind gesture, but also a bit of a weird one, writes Oliver Keens. Isn’t all of this a tad outdated?

Thursday 18 April 2024 06:00 BST
Henry Cavill at an event in April – potentially being extra chivalrous
Henry Cavill at an event in April – potentially being extra chivalrous (Getty Images)

Sometimes I worry I’m becoming old-fashioned, only for someone with the views of a 600-year-old to come along and make me feel like a spry teenager by comparison.

During a recent interview for The Hollywood Reporter to promote his forthcoming film The Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare, director Guy Ritchie was asked what was the most gentlemanly thing about his lead actor, Henry Cavill. Ritchie stated, with the energy of a man making a very important point of order: “Henry Cavill stands up every time a lady walks into a room. And he’s been consistent with that all the way through two movies I’ve made with him”. Addressing the former Man of Steel, who was sitting in a deep leather armchair next to him: “You’ve never failed to stand up when a lady walks into a room”.

Worryingly, none of the other men around the table, including actors Henry Golding, Alex Pettyfer and the fantastically named Hero Fiennes Tiffin interjected to exclaim what 99.99 per cent of their fellow humans were thinking: Henry Cavill, what on earth are you doing?

Those who’ve followed Cavill over the years may not be surprised by this latest development – his dynamic with the opposite sex has always been a bit of a time warp. Remember his comments in 2018? In which he said that he still believes women should be “wooed and chased” but that, post-#MeToo, it had become trickier? “It’s very difficult to do that if there are certain rules in place,” he said. “Because then it’s like: ‘Well, I don’t want to go up and talk to her, because I’m going to be called a rapist or something’.” Hmm.

But perhaps it’s just down to Cavill’s upbringing – that he’s simply too “well-bred” or posh to know different. Born on the tax haven island of Jersey to a stockbroker dad and educated at the extremely expensive Stowe School, his interesting habit of religiously getting vertical in the presence of a “lady” might just be a nod to his background. After all, it’s an action very much preserved in the vanishing world of etiquette and upper-class manners.

Going back further though, it’s also rooted in the even more outdated concept of chivalry: a code of conduct for men based on the medieval values of fight-lovin’, blood-splattering knights. Today, “chivalry” as a word tends to exist as part of the wounded, three-word battle cry: “Chivalry is dead!”

Take football icon Chris Kamara, who detailed on X/Twitter a few months ago an incident where he offered his seat on the London Underground to – in his words – a “mature lady”, only to be sorely rebuffed. Presumably sad that his no doubt well-intentioned kindness went so cruelly unthanked, he tweeted: “Chivalry is dead.” But maybe that’s a good thing.

As well as being an incoherent series of codes that modern historians enjoy poking holes in for their counterproductive complexity, it was clearly an inherently chauvinistic concept to start with. A token courtesy that did nothing to stop women being treated as second-class citizens, chivalry was also entwined with a set of rules for how a knight should be courtly, seductive and amorous. Thus there’s an inherently sexual aspect to chivalry that makes the seemingly benign act of standing for a woman a prelude to something… more. I think we can see this in other actions – such as opening doors, paying for meals, carrying heavy objects, and additional habits that might have historic overtones as the beginnings of a sexual manoeuvre of some kind.

‘Chivalry was clearly an inherently chauvinistic concept to start with’
‘Chivalry was clearly an inherently chauvinistic concept to start with’ (iStock)

I should be really clear that – in the same way that none of us have ever encountered a knight – I personally have never been on the receiving end of patronising male behaviour or the victim of sexism. And yet, allow me to get on bended knee a moment as I beseech you to let me get stroppy about this regardless. Because as much in a brotherly way as anything else, I really want to go for a pint with Henry Cavill and say: “Henry, bro, I love you but you really don’t need to do that s**t anymore.”

More broadly, as someone who is attracted to men and is a man, I frankly know all too well what a nightmare men can be. Having to second-guess a myriad of male micro-actions – be they odd, icky, eyebrow-raising, performatively quirky, or just objectively weird – is psychologically exhausting, to say the least. And, speaking bluntly, standing up when a woman enters a room is straight-up odd, in this day and age. In reply to the question “Do you expect a man to stand up when you enter a room?”, all of the women in my life answered: “Are you joking?”

There’s seldom right or wrong in the habits of humans, but it’s hard to deny that the act of a man standing for a woman is so incredibly rare and unusual in most people’s lives today that it feels like there’s more to it – something almost akin to virtue signalling. A sign of a desire to turn back the clock to simpler times. It may sound churlish for me to boast that I don’t “do a Cavill” every time the opposite gender walks into a room. I’m not rude, and I don’t revel in being bullish, I can assure you. But, as depressingly stark as the choice may be, in a tussle between coming across as either rude or a benevolent, paternalistic sexist, I’d take rude every last time.

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