Is chivalry dead?

My summer reading this year has been dominated by the westerns of Louis L'Amour.

Stories where men are men and their female love interests are manly too, leading wagon trains, skinning buffalo and speaking their mind, goshdarnit. Pure escapism, of course.

I'd not last long if I rode into Painted Rock, since I'm scared of walking around the back of horses and looking over the edge of crumbly canyons.

Just shaking another man's hand requires a great deal of concentration. Even then, things can end badly.

Like last summer,when I was introduced to a friend's father. He was seated in his car and held out his hand through the open window.

I took his hand purposefully,manfully, and shook it firmly just the once, though this was enough to jar his funny bone on the sill of the window.

''Where the [expletive] didyou find this queer[unrepeatable]?'' he asked his daughter.

I was instantly cowed and not a little in awe of this man, a former mayor of New Plymouth who smoked and drank and swore in great quantities - a kind of Taranaki Hemingway.

A few days later our party stopped for a beer at the Whangamomona Hotel on thethe Forgotten Highway. The owner stood behind the bar, drying pint glasses and checking his resplendent Ewen Chatfield moustache in their reflections.

''Welcome tothe Republic,'' he said in the stentorian voice of a Boys'High rector. ''What can I get you?''

The four of us all surveyed the taps, several of whichsported local Whangamomona brews. I decided on the lager,turned to the other three who were still deciding, so I said to the proprietor, ''I'll have the lager, thanks.''

''An excellent choice, sir,'' he said, ''but what will the ladies be having?'' Ouch.

I stood there, rightly chastised and reminded of a basic piece of chivalry just as my old rector might have if there'd been any girls at mys chool and we were allowed to buy them alcohol.

I wondered how many times in the city I'd made this same faux pas? But no-one inWellington had ever pulled me up for being unchivalrous.

Reading L'Amour's Big Country and High Lonesome this past month, I started wondering, again, if - apart from in those pockets of the country where it's still 1986 - chivalry was dead. And if so, is that such a bad thing?

If you had asked me this six weeks ago I would have mumbled something about the dangers of benevolent sexism,which rewards women who conform to traditional gender roles but can be as limiting and damaging as more hostile sexism.

Rather than placing your coat over a puddle, I'd have said, perhaps it's better suggesting you both walkaround it?

But now that I have a daughter and must consider that far-off day when she brings a suitor home, I find myself lurching back to the old ways.

The least a boy can do is open doors for my daughter and possess a firm (but not debilitating) handshake.

Call me sexist. Call me backwards. Just call me sir and bring her home before curfew.

Craig Cliff is a writer who is jumping the gun a little bit. He writes a fortnightly column.

The Dominion Post