Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Thoughts On... Chivalry

When I think of Chivalry, I think of the actual definition of the word: the system, spirit, or customs of medieval knighthood. It's an ideology and set of behaviors that was created in the 14th century. And like most of the thinking that existed in the 1300s, it not something that works in modern day society. In fact, the core theories of chivalry don't really exist anymore. It mutated over the course of time from the definition of knighthood to the definition of gentlemanly behavior.

One of the most cherished examples of chivalry these days is the movie Gone With The Wind. Personally, I didn't like the movie. But as a movie buff, I understand it's importance. Still when talking about chivalry, women hold up that movie and say that chivalry is dead. I'm a guy, so take this with the appropriate grain of salt. Personally, I don't think chivalry is dead. However, it has changed.

Remember, the basic concept behind chivalry is the idea that it is the job of any honorable man to protect the women around him since they weren't capable of protecting themselves. They couldn't pull out the heavy oak chairs. They couldn't open the heavy wooden (or metal) doors. Now, it's been 72 years since GWTW was made. It's been even longer since the Civil War era during which the events of the movie takes place. And a great deal of things have happened in that time.

Things like women's rights, women's liberation due to the lack of labor because of that small blip called WWII, the sexual revolution, and the establishment of sexual harassment laws (including precedents for class action suits). These things have fundamentally altered how men & women relate to each other. Those alterations led to the blurring of gender roles. This forced chivalry to be less overt and "go underground" for lack of a better term.

As a guy, I do find it interesting that a lot of the women I know (and several I read about) pine for that lost era when men were expected to do everything, and women just took care of the home and the kids with no other responsibilities being socially acceptable. In a society where they have the right and duty to take care of themselves, women want to go back to when they didn't. The sentiment is so prevalent that there was even a movie based on the concept: Kate & Leopold.

Now, I grant you that men (for justifiable reasons or not) have become less overt in their romantic gestures. That is a given. But I ask this question of you ladies: Would you really trade in all the freedoms you have in modern day for chivalry of the type seen in GWTW or K&L? Really?

1 comment:

  1. I hate chivalry. Which, in my mind, is just a cipher for male chauvinism and condescension. I never liked the concept due to it having arisen from a medieval supposition that women are weak, dumb creatures in constant need of saving from themselves as well as other men.It was a code really set in place to keep women as chaste property, beholden to the familial men folk in their lives.

    Now, pulling the chair out for your date at dinner, or holding the door open for her, is not chivalrous in my mind. That's common courtesy. It has nothing to do with thinking that your female companion is weak or in need of saving. It's just a polite thing to do, and shows that you are a thoughtful male. And you know, women like to see that sort of thing in their prospective romantic selections. Go figure, right?

    But chivalry is an ugly beast. It demands, among other things, that women stay home while men work; and that their single most important contribution in life be in the producing of viable heirs.

    So in this aspect at least I'm not convinced that what you say is true. I don't believe women secretly yearn to stay at home and raise kids and never work. Do they want men to go back to being real men who have manners, a sense of decency, and common courtesy? Of course! Hell, I want that too!

    But some women *do* want to raise a family, which is completely reasonable and the right of both men and women alike to want. There is nothing chivalrous or old fashioned about this. It's called the survival of the human race. And some of these women, rightfully so, may feel that the best way to accomplish a family is for at least one parent to stay home and raise the children.

    The difference is that, unlike in the old days, women have a choice now. They can stay at home and raise the kids, or send them to childcare and continue working. I, myself, admire more the latter scenario as I was raised by such women. But I would never discount the former, as I feel that it is a very personal choice and one not predicated on sheer laziness or romanticism. That's just a knee-jerk reaction; an oversimplification, if you will.

    It's a touchy subject. As a married man, I know the dilemma and the pros/cons of both sides of this argument all too well. But if women fantasize about a bygone era, it is just that: a fantasy. No one actually wants those times to return. I mean, you fantasize about magic powers and dragons and stuff, right? And all that nonsense is usually set in a quasi-medieval background, correct? But I doubt very much you would want to return to a time where dysentery, malnutrition, and "the pox" also reigned supreme, and were one or all together likely to rob you of life before the age of 25.

    At least, I hope you wouldn't want that.

    Long story short: I don't think women want a return to those times. It's one thing to fantasize about a previous era, because fantasies allow us to focus on only the positive aspects of a long ago society. But it's another thing to actually, truly, want to return to those times. Because roses have thorns, and real life is full or warts. Most sensible people realize that the times we live in are always preferable to the times we've outlived.

    It's called progress.

    (Great topic for discussion, as always, btw!)