I just read a great article called "I Don't Want My Preschooler to Be a Gentleman". The author's point is not that she doesn't want her son to have manners, but rather that she wants him to be courteous to everyone, not just to perform empty gestures for girls simply because they are girls. The article prompted a post by a blogger entitled "Is chivalry sexist?" in which that author argues that" respect for women simply be called respect". Both the original article and the related blog post spawned hundreds of comments, many of which are well-thought-out responses to the authors' angst, and others that are ridiculous (but worth reading for the comedic value).
When people use the words chivalry* and gentleman**, I think they really mean courteous***, polite behavior. And if you act in a courteous and polite manner, you need to act that way toward everyone. Furthermore, you should not assume that the person you are acting courteous toward is incapable of handling things herself--or himself.
While I appreciate it when a man is a "gentleman" and holds a door open for me, I have noticed that both men and women appreciate it when I am courteous and hold a door open them. Now, if the door is abnormally large and heavy and the nearest gentleman is built like a football player, I might accept a bit of help.
*According the the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (Eleventh Edition), chivalry is defined as "a gallant or
distinguished gentlemen; the system, spirit, or customs of medieval
knighthood; the qualities of the ideal knight". Um, while men are still knighted in England, the concept of a medieval knight is hardly an ideal in the 21st century. After all, they were warriors who killed in the name of religion.
**M-W also says that a gentleman is "a man whose conduct conforms to a high standard of propriety or correct behavior", or "a man of any social class or condition--often used as a courteous reference".
***Finally, the dictionary defines courteous as "marked by respect for and consideration of others".