Definition (s) of chivalry shamelessly filched from dictionary.com:
1. the sum of the ideal qualifications of a knight, including courtesy, generosity, valor, and dexterity in arms.
2. the rules and customs of medieval knighthood.
3. the medieval system or institution of knighthood.
4. a group of knights.
5. gallant warriors or gentlemen: fair ladies and noble chivalry.
6. Archaic. a chivalrous act; gallant deed.
The above definitions bring about some bizarre grandiloquent imagery where a Galahad type character comes thundering about on his snow white steed and swoops down and rescues the fragile-as-glass damsel in distress from a fire breathing dragon or something equally hackneyed. In all seriousness though, chivalry (as the classifications above clearly illustrate) basically stands to represent the ‘ideal’ qualities that a knight should have like courtesy, generosity, bravery, honor and all that claptrap. But, that applied to the knights. During, let’s see, around the 13th century. When feudalism had it’s stranglehold upon the masses and the status of women was appalling, at best. Also, knights don’t exist anymore (please don’t use ‘Sir Paul McCartney is a knight’ as a dazzling example of a counter argument. You’ll only end up doing Sir Paul McCartney disservice).
So I would think that I am right in wanting chivalry to die a painful death as it doesn’t really apply to the 21st century and it’s basically a lite version of chauvinism. But I do realize that my stance on chivalry is a tad unpopular. It also earns me the magnificent ‘cantankerous’ feminist tag, for which I am eternally grateful.
Every time I start a conversation on chivalry, I get the ‘chivalry is dead’ moaning, and then the discussion veers off into how the world would be a better place if only men followed a chivalrous gentlemanly code and learnt how to behave in front of a lady (eyeroll). And god forbid if I try to get a word in and say that chivalry really isn’t dead, a bastardized version still exists today, and that’s not a good thing. I get piled on for not supporting good manners and I also have to put up with feminism and feminists like me being blamed for our self-centeredness and promoting ‘meanness’.
As I have stated before, this blog helps me resolve my anger management issues. Instead of blowing up at chivalry-apologist’s (CA) face, I will painstakingly expound on my reasons to kill chivalry once and for all (using CA’s accusations) over here, and send the said chivalry-apologist the link to this post. See? I’m nice like that. And in all fairness, CA is a nice person too. I’m pretty sure CA will see the sagacity (ahem) in my decision to post this on my blog instead of having a shouting match over good coffee.
First accusation: You are against good manners.
This is utterly specious. I personally think that there is some sort of disconnect happening here, where a person confuses or equates chivalry with good manners. Nobody’s saying that being respectful of other people, or opening doors for them or pulling a chair for another person or putting your hand out and protecting someone from passing cars or whatever on the sidewalk is bad or unnecessary. I am all for good manners and courtesy. But helping people and being respectful of others should be universal and practiced by everyone for everyone irrespective of gender and gender expression, age and/or other differences. Chivalry is not just about common courtesies, it is common courtesies with a set of gendered built in stipulations like a) as a man, I’ll open doors for you and be generally courteous because you are a woman and I’m supposed to be nice to women, and b) I will follow this code which tells me what to do because I’ve been taught that women need to be treated a certain way.
See the difference? While I have nothing against politeness and everyone practicing common courtesy and being nice and respectful all around; I do have a problem with a heavily gendered set of rules which makes me out to be some sort of delicate creature, and which singles me out for ‘special treatment’ because of belonging to my gender.
Second accusation: Chivalry is romantic. What is wrong with sitting back and being pampered by your partner? Don’t you like to be pampered?
As I clearly illustrated above, I have nothing against being nice, respectful and courteous. But being nice, respectful, and courteous should be practiced universally, by, and for everyone. If my partner opens doors for me or rushes to pull out chairs or walks on the outer side of the sidewalk, I should be able to do the same things for him without question.
But if your idea of romance is to be treated like a fragile, diaphanous blossom, and you don’t consider it insulting to be treated as such without question, then well, you’re on your own.
Third accusation: It’s about being helpful. Don’t you think you are being a tad inconsiderate?
I may be overstating, but I see a deliberate omission here. If it’s not deliberate, if it’s just an innocuous brain fart, then well I’m willing to accept that as well. But that doesn’t take away the fact that there happens to be a pretty glaring faux pas in this accusation. If chivalry is just about being ‘helpful’ then why does it involve ‘helping’ only one particular gender? Will the ‘chivalrous’ guy who pounces to the door to open it for you and insist on you going through the door first, do the same for another man? When his ‘chivalry’ dictates to him to pull a chair for you, does it tell him to do so for other men as well? Not bloody likely, especially with the chair pulling or insisting on walking on the outer edge of the sidewalk to ‘protect’ you from passing ‘dangers’. I’d like to see a guy try that with another guy and not be derided or scorned for it.
Last evening, I tried to hold the door open for a guy entering my apartment building. He refused to walk through. I insisted on holding it open, and he insisted on letting me go through first. After a few moments of this wearisome charade, I finally gave in and went through the door (I would have been late for work, otherwise).
And it is not the first time that this has happened to me. A fair share of men I know, who are ‘chivalrous’ simply refuse to accept my help when I try to reciprocate and it’s irksome, to say the least.
So why have I earned the ‘inconsiderate’ tag, when I get offended with ‘chivalry’? Why am I called ‘unreasonable’? Why are women like me, and not these men who refuse female help, asked to suck it up and just be appreciative of fine manners?
The way I see it, chivalry as it is practiced today still reinforces the archaic but pervasive and insidious gender roles which holds women to be virtuous, fragile and naïve, in need of ‘special treatment’, whether the women at the receiving end of the treatment really want it or not. It puts us on a pedestal and we all know what I think of pedestals. Pedestals are woefully crippling and restrictive. Being pushed on a pedestal somehow renders us incapable of taking care of ourselves, in need of protection from the ‘big bad world’ out there, oh noes! And cue the ‘chivalrous’ guy swooping in to save the day with his masculine sensibilities.
Clichéd imagery to illustrate larger point aside, I will still maintain that I am all for,
a) Being respectful.
b) Being helpful.
c) Being all around courteous and polite.
d) Being a decent human being.
This though, should be practiced by and for everyone, irrespective of what gender you or they, belong to. Supporting a ridiculous, antiquated system which tells you to be courteous to a person based on their gender or needing a system rooted in chauvinism (why yes, that’s exactly what I said) to remind you to be nice to women, is where I put my foot down.