Little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her, in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor, and of cavaliers. I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult.
But the age of chivalry is gone. . .
The growing resistance to the choice facing all airline passengers in America between a highly revealing body scan and an aggressive pat-down is another sign that Americans are rediscovering their natural, inalienable rights, for whose protection governments were instituted among men in the first place. But there may be another issue at stake that is as essential to our humanity and our civilization. Will today’s men allow women to be either photographed in the form of a nude negative (for now, until the technology adds color to the negative) or touched indecently by strangers? More simply, will men allow women to be violated?
Let us consider the various scenarios. A man takes his wife and three daughters ages ten, fourteen, and eighteen on vacation. To get on their plane—any plane—he must allow them all to be scanned or fondled. In either case, the TSA employees get to see or feel the stages of emerging and full womanhood. The father’s only choice is not to go on vacation or to throw away his manhood, his role as protector, in the security line along with the bottle of water he could not finish.
Another man is going with his lovely bride on their honeymoon. Before the wedding night a bevy of TSA security personnel (who would never take an unchaste glance at the outline of a shapely twenty-something) have become far more intimate with her figure than her husband. He has a choice: not go anywhere exotic for their honeymoon or get in a fight and be thrown in jail for creating a disturbance at an airport. A third man, a little younger than the first and a little older than the second, is traveling with his wife the last time they can before the baby comes. She has just begun her second trimester and is definitely starting to show. This couple’s choice is between another ultrasound on the one hand or a probing of her lower abdomen on the other. We will all feel safer knowing that the “bump” is not a weapons stash.
Finally, a fourth man, a veteran of World War II who landed at Iwo Jima, must watch his wife of sixty years be prodded by people who were not alive during that war, who have no idea how many men have fought and died to preserve freedom in this country, and who handle this old couple almost as roughly as slave traders used to grope their cargo when coming off those foul ships. But this couple does have a choice! They’re retired. They could take a train if they wanted to get some place quickly.
There used to be a much simpler answer to questions of this sort. Men did not allow women to be treated in a way that compromised their modesty. Men used to fight duels over a woman’s honor. Before the world was safe for inalienable rights, way back when people were emerging from the Dark Ages, the world had to be made safe for women to live, to be protected from rough handling, to have a safe place to bring up their children. There is a very good reason to think (historians and anthropologists confirm this) that men’s protecting the women they love—the generous impulse known as chivalry—is the beginning of civilization, the beginning of some modicum of decency, the beginning of any chance at security in the world.
There is also good reason to believe that nations begin to fall when their men no longer think it worth the effort to protect the women they supposedly love and “would die for.” Do men still live in America?
What am I suggesting? Should husbands and fathers start dueling with TSA agents? There is actually a much easier solution, other than requiring the new Congress to act on the principles for which they were elected. When I first went through the indignity of a body scan, I resolved that my wife, as retrograde as it may sound, would never get on a plane until the scanners came down. I wonder whether the airlines could last very long if a full half of their passengers stopped flying. What pressure might those airlines exert on Washington to restore some decency, perhaps even some chivalry, to our all too public transportation?