Is chivalary dead?
I’ve always found this topic rather fascinating. As a guy who grew up with more female than guy friends, it’s interesting to hear different perspectives on behaviors that have… well, I’d call it ‘evolved’ over the decades I’ve been alive.
The topic of Chivalry has made a comeback in recent years especially on how people, particularly men, should behave. I remember reading an article not long ago that pointed out that the Chivalric Code of Knighthood actually has a very tiny portion on behavior toward women. The rest was about protocol in times of war and peace, faith, and following the teachings of the Church.
My parents, two small particles of sand in a desert world of influence, both taught me interesting things on how to behave, especially when in a lady’s company. I was taught to hold a lady’s chair for her, open the door, walk at her side but never ahead of her (it’s rude people, and not all ladies can make Mach 2 unless they are from NY trying to make the subway). Help her down the stairs by offering either a hand or preferably an arm if she is wearing a dress or high heels. If you pass a lady on a stroll, you tip your hat, nod, and politely say whatever greeting is suitable at that time (i.e. good morning, good evening, good afternoon, lovely weather isn’t it, etc.). If you are at an event and a lady, regardless of her age and situation, is all by herself with no one to talk to or socialize with, it is good manners to sit with her and/or ask her to dance. And no, you don’t have to be from Darcy’s era to do these things.
That is how I was raised. Putting it into practice is something altogether different. As a child, if I opened the door for a lady, especially an older one, she would smile at me, say “what a lovely boy,” or “what good manners,” and continue through the door. If I held a chair for my mother, some people would smile, but if I held a chair for another I received odd looks. But as my spring years changed into summer, people’s reactions changed along with it. If I held a door, I received a glare or a questioning look from all but the more seasoned of older ladies. If I, heaven forbid, held a chair for someone, at the very least she would go to a different chair and regularly I would receive a challenging look or comment. And if I assisted an elderly lady across the street, I would A) get whacked by her cane, B) an indignant huff, or C) a crying out I was trying to steal her purse. I know things are different now but as the famous author Terry Pratchett wrote in his wonderful novel The Hogfather, has it really become ‘things just happen, What the hell’?
Now being the thinking sort that I am, I immediately wondered if it was my mannerisms, or, hopefully not, if it was because I was ugly vs. attractive, that swayed the reactions of the people I tried to be polite to. So I practiced smiling in the mirror. I asked friends and occasionally the stranger on the street (one of whom handed me a card for a self-help group and stated they thought they could do wonders for my self-esteem – being the flippant sort I am, I thought of a response but kept it to myself on this rare occasion). I discovered nothing profound save for that the reactions people had to me were quite common toward men who acted as I had, to the result of which men had slowly stopped acting that way. They had all but given up and given in to baser instincts.
Why? What had changed? Surely all men couldn’t be evolving physically in a way that was changing how women reacted to them.
So I put on my steampunk creative genius finest, opened my lab and began experimenting. What was the common thread that linked the downfall of what was once known as Chivalry? Every time I ran an errand I attempted something new. I put on a ‘Grumpy Cat’ face. I smiled and waved, like a sign boy advertising the latest sale. I approached random people and asked if they had ‘heard the word of Sauron today’ (this last one had the best affects across all ages).
I even tried wearing a hat to see how people reacted to me. And oooooh the change a hat could make. More than any other behavioral modification I attempted, the hat introduced the missing element. It didn’t matter what hat (although my Aussie outback hat is by far the most popular by my count) I wore, the hats made something different. I stared at my hair and curiously wondered if something about a man’s hair could change the atmosphere. I’m a clean person and fanatically shower. I also care about my appearance and maintain a well groomed face. But what it comes down to is there is a difference between no hat vs hat for me, and astonishingly, that seems to be mirrored down the male lineup. I’ve inquired of men from different walks of life who have confirmed my suspicions – the hats on our heads are a gravity center on how a lady expects we’ll behave toward her. Wearing a hat and acting like a gentleman – she believes we’re sincere. No hat and manners – we have an ulterior motive and she becomes suspicious. Let the canes fly.
I inquired of my lady friends what they thought of this. Most denied it without hesitation. But for those who paused, and thought for a while, they admitted that a man wearing a proper hat reminded them of an era where their grandfathers were still alive and behaved toward them and other ladies a certain way. For those of us in the steampunk crowd this is good news, but for all of mankind in general (I say meaning my gender), it is the silence in the room.
The author of this article http://elitedaily.com/dating/sex/why-chivalry-is-dead-from-a-mans-perspective/ states that he believes this kind of behavior will continue for as long as women settle. During the time of chivalry, women were expected to have certain skills from running a household, to sewing, to appearing in court, and above all else, to be silent. A woman had little to no choice in what she did during her days. When she lived in her father’s household, he had everything to say. When she was married, by her father’s choice and not her own, she was expected to obey her husband’s decrees without question. Many years have passed and the role of the lady in the household has changed. She has gone from someone expected to stay in the confines of the house, to in some instances being the sole breadwinner while her husband or wife remains at home with the children or caring for the home itself. Women have gone from silent partners to filling some of the greatest seats of leadership our world has ever seen, and all the while continuing the age old tradition of being the only ones to continue giving birth.
I do feel that the author has one point despite what I claimed earlier – this behavior will continue for as long as it is allowed. But chivalry as a concept is not what most people think.
While I was visiting a group of four friends, two of my closest female friends laughed as they discussed in front of me, how they gleefully didn’t mind smiling at a man while they are out in the town to get a free drink, or tell someone that they would only go out with the person if he or she paid for the meal. My other two female friends stared at them in horror as they related this. “You can’t do that,” they protested. “It’s rude to lead them on!” One of the first two girls shrugged and said she saw nothing wrong with it. But the other of the first two slowly lifted her eyes after hearing the other girls’ protestations and looked at me. We made eye contact and I knew what she was thinking.
I had just come from an evening out with one of her friends that I had taken to dinner. We had a lovely time, or so I thought, I paid for the meal and I inquired if she would like to do it again sometime. She smiled at me politely but stated she felt I was a bit too nice. I asked what she meant but she declined to explain. I was taught never to intrude by pushing for something not being offered and let the matter drop. She knew what her friend had done because she had done it herself on more than one occasion. But she hadn’t stopped to think about how it seemed to men. If men were being treated as less, would they not do the same to women? Worse, if men, who I admit have been guilty in the past of treating women poorly, are treated as a meal ticket, won’t they treat women even worse?
Being a gentleman is not a sometimes thing; it’s an all-time thing. The same is true of being a lady. If we don’t act like it with every breath, every action, does it have meaning? If we smile at an attractive young woman that cuts us off in traffic, but glare at the unattractive young man or woman, are we treating all fairly? Is this not the problem? We don’t have an across the board way of treating people. Not anymore at least.
My steampunk alter ego, Lord Michael Cross, has his own way of treating women and men, not unlike the way I was originally taught. He will speak up in defense of a lady, hold her chair, escort her around the ballroom floor and make polite conversation. It’s not chivalry, it’s being a gentleman. Just as women can be ladies.
I agree with the author of that aforementioned article that chivalry is dead. But that was the old code and it was largely irrelevant except on how to treat one another (unless you want to joust – I’m all up for that ).
What saddens me is how much both genders have come to expect a lack of civility. Felicia Day, a wonderful woman who has done so much to inspire creativity around the world, admitted not long ago felt she had to cross the street out of fear that the two men approaching her might lash out at her because of who she is. On that subject, as an avid gamer I have noticed the trend in MMORPGs too. Where once when we encountered a fellow player we would team up to fight a boss, now it has become a world of kill stealing and whiny ‘I’m going to report you to the GM because your character is too strong and get you nerfed’.
I personally refuse to believe that we have come to a world where it is necessary to wear hats just to be thought to be ‘civil’. And what of those who lack manners? For those rare individuals (and I do believe there are only rare, loud ones) who are, as the internet has so delicately described for lack of a better term, trolls, manners are something they never had to begin with. Why? Who knows. But what I do know is that around the world, offline and online, men and women have come to a point where unless they see some sign otherwise (i.e. a hat) they feel they must defend themselves against what they fear are actions laced with ulterior motives. At best, they brace themselves for an onslaught. At worst, they cross the street to avoid a potential confrontation.
What has happened to our world if we let a few trolls who have ventured forth from their bridges, unchallenged, into the world to spew their own pain in the form of hatred? Where are the knights who stand up and beat them down? I’ve seen a few try, and I have made my own attempts. We’re called “white knights” and ridiculed by the trolls, buried by short posts filled with hate.
Perhaps this is why people bring up the old code of Chivalry. It’s not ‘how to treat women’, it’s how to act, how to behave and create order in a world of fast-paced chaos. Hopefully others will stand up and forge a new code. Until then *dons my Aussie hat, grabs an imaginary mace and stands my ground*, come at me you ugly, foul-smelling cowards who haven’t an ounce of creativity or self-worth in you, and have dared to come into the light. Your odor en-masse may one day overwhelm me, but I’ll keep opening doors, sliding chairs, and happily wear the armor of a “white knight”. With my hat. Because as the doctor says, ‘hats are cool’.