There was a time back in the day, as they say, when treating women with respect by opening doors for them or “women and children first” was de rigueur. There was no confusion about social custom when it came to how men treated women. The feminist movement that became popularized in the 1960s changed all that. By the 1980s a man didn’t know if he should open a door for a woman, carry her groceries, offer to pay for a meal, or help her in any number of ways without giving offense.

Though not as strident as in the past, modern feminists are still not big fans of chivalry. In the olden days any not strictly equal treatment of women was derided with the epithet “sexism.” Now they’ve come up with a variation called “benevolent sexism,” a kinder, gentler feminism I suppose. A recent piece in The Atlantic explains it this way:

After the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s, which insisted on the equal treatment of women in all domains of life, feminists dismissed chivalry as sexist. They still do. A new study, published in the feminist journal Psychology of Women Quarterly, questions the entire enterprise of male chivalry, which, in an Orwellian flourish, it calls “benevolent sexism.”

Chivalrous behavior is benevolent because it flatters women and leads to their preferential treatment. But it is sexist because it relies on the “gendered premise” that women are weak and in need of protection while men are strong. “Benevolent sexism,” Kathleen Connelly and Martin Heesacker of the University of Florida write in the study, “is an ideology that perpetuates gender inequality.” They advocate interventions to reduce its prevalence, even though, they found, chivalry is associated with greater life satisfaction and the sense that the world is fair, well-ordered, and a good place.

God forbid, forgive the phrase, we should find “satisfaction” actually satisfying, but when it gets in the way of feminist ideology, satisfaction be damned! I guess feminists still have a problem with any suggestion that men and women are different; they call it “gender inequality,” and God knows, sorry, that inequality of any type is unacceptable.

To the modern feminist ideologue, inequality assumes inferiority and superiority, not simple complimentary differences. That men and women have different natures and should possibly be treated differently gives too much away. For them the sexes, what they call gender, is only a social construct and not something imbedded in human nature, because to them there is no such thing. Like all along the continuum of the left, human beings are ultimately malleable and determined by their social situation. They are all about nurture not nature, unless it comes to homosexuality, but that’s another story.

For many the issue of chivalry came to the fore last year when a cruise ship capsized off the coast of Italy. To the disgrace of most men everywhere, men on the ship literally pushed women and children out of the way to save themselves. Contrast this with the Titanic where three quarters of the women survived and three quarters of the men died, because the social compact in Western culture at the time was “women and children first.” Those not blinded by ideology or overly educated in what passes for higher education today, know which of these two scenarios is right, and which makes for a better society.

We have to ask ourselves why the world of 1912 was so different from the world of 2011. This brings us to culture and the fundamental values, assumptions and worldviews of a people and where they come from. Unlike the political leaders of our day, America’s founders understood the importance of religion to a well ordered society. As the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 inconveniently puts it for many in our day, “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” Our cultural elites are all for knowledge, but religion and morality, not so much, at least that morality derived from our Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman heritage.

But all is not lost. Not only does human nature very much like we find it described in the Bible still exist, the best of the Western tradition still exists in the hearts and minds of many Americans. Witness the tragic shooting at the Dark Knight showing at a movie theater in Colorado last summer. When the shooting started, three men instinctively jumped in front of their girlfriends and gave their lives that those women should live. I’m not sure what feminists could say against such manly and heroic examples, but I’m sure they’d find something.