Line in the Sand: Is Chivalry Still Alive?
Author: Barry Kaufman & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: Photography by Anne
When Courtney and I exchanged our usual vitriolic hate mails in coming up with this month’s topic, I was the one who first put forth that we should discuss whether or not chivalry is dead in this age of sexting, Gamergate, and basically half the news coming out of the NFL.
Courtney’s response was that she would argue chivalry is dead since, and I quote, “I assume you want to prove your manliness.”
Courtney, you wound me. But being a chivalrous gentleman of uncommon valor and self-evident manliness, I will ignore your slight, but will, as is my lot, prove you wrong in the most gallant way possible.
You see, before we can even discuss whether or not chivalry is dead, we must discuss what chivalry is. You and I know it as a system of arcane rules developed by dark-ages men in which you basically treat women like coddled infants who, if left to their own devices, would get lost in the woods eating their own shoes for sustenance without a man around.
How else do you explain asinine habits like opening doors for women, pulling out chairs for women, and laying out jackets over puddles? It’s because the macho idiots who invented this stuff thought women weren’t capable of opening their own doors, sitting down or crossing a street without dying from puddle-related injuries. (The ninth century view of women was basically that they were a reproductive system attached to a very fragile lemming).
Look at it this way; my son straight up punched my daughter in the face last week. I was not cool with this at all and let him know in no uncertain terms (translation: I got shouty) that you do not punch girls. Repeat. You. Do. Not. Punch. Girls.
Then I got the full story.
Turns out, he only punched his sister in the face because she had him in a pretty horrifying wrestling move known as the “Figure Four Leg Lock” and was one hard squat away from splintering his knee into a thousand fragments, effectively ending his tee-ball career. And since his repeated pleas that he was in very serious pain reached deaf ears, he popped her one in the eye.
So now I had to chastise my daughter for her unauthorized Ric Flair impression (again), but it seemed odd that I didn’t conclude my lecture with the note, “You don’t hit boys.”
She’s got a good 20 pounds and six inches on him; why the different rules? Why do I have to tell him not to hit girls, but it feels weird telling her not to attempt irreversible knee damage to boys?
Because even though it’s silly and outdated, I still hold close to some form of chivalry. But here’s the real kicker. That’s not even chivalry.
Do you know what chivalry actually is? It’s a series of rules set forth in The Song of Roland nearly a thousand years ago that determined how a knight should act at all times. One of those rules deems that a knight should “respect the honour of a woman.” That’s the one we all focus on. The other 16 are full of howlingly insane entries like “give succour to widows and orphans,” “despise pecuniary reward,” and “persevere to the end in any enterprise begun.”
Folks, I hate pecuniary rewards. Let’s not let the fact that I don’t know what they are cloud the issue. The other two I could probably say I follow through on a good 60-70 percent of the time. So I got this chivalry thing on lock.
But more to the point, I think the real aspect of chivalry we should all live by is the sixteenth code laid out by The Song of Roland: “Never refuse a challenge from an equal.”
So even though I’ve been tasked with proving that chivalry is alive and well via highly ironic public argument with a woman, I will. Because I won’t refuse the challenge of an equal.
A few months ago, I walked into a meeting late, and the three young men in the room all stood upon my arrival. I laughed out loud. “What are you doing,” I asked incredulously? “You’re supposed to stand when a lady enters the room,” one mumbled. Still laughing I thought, “Kudos to your moms, but it’s not 1945.”
So based on the above, I guess I have to argue that chivalry is dead. In my mind. Maybe it is because in most meetings I attend, I am the only woman. And frankly, sometimes the glass ceiling theory makes a successful woman act like a man. And sadly, it is because we feel like if we’re not one of the guys, and viewed the same as the guys, then maybe we won’t get the respect that they get. Sometimes when a woman voices her opinion or stands up for what she believes, she is viewed as difficult or a bitch; yet if a man voiced the same opinion, he would be viewed as a good leader.
But, before I go all Gloria Steinem on you, let’s get real. Chivalry is a word with origins in the Medieval Period (the Middle Ages) and referred to the ideal qualifications—rules and customs—of a knight, including courtesy, generosity, valor, and dexterity in arms. The Middle Ages are the point in history between years 500 and 1500. I’m no mathematician, but that is a long time ago.
Let’s not confuse manner and respect for chivalry. A lot has changed in the last, oh, 515 years. In the Medieval Times for example, we would mount a horse and go jousting on a Saturday morning instead of for a run. We wouldn’t be hitting the J Crew outlet in search of some new shorts; we’d be shopping for suits of armor and having to oil our clothes so we didn’t squeak when we walked. We’d forego utensils and eat 24-ounce turkey legs with our hands. Instead of fighting this wicked flu that’s been sweeping Beaufort County, we’d be fighting off the bubonic plague.
I think it is okay that chivalry is dead. Most things that are 500 years old are dead. We move on. It’s possible to be gentlemanly and courteous, and maybe downright sweet to a woman, but please don’t do it in a way that makes us feel like less than we are. Do it because you want to, not because you think we need you to. Make us feel empowered, and strong, and worthy of sharing an opinion, not powerless, weak and silly. Smile at us. Tease us. Compliment us. Challenge us. Be proud of us.
As I wrap up my feminist rant, I realize that Barry probably wanted this to follow a Valentine’s Day theme, primarily to win romance points with his wife Meghan. Sorry my friend, for ruining your mojo. I’ll assume you’re doing all of the housework this month, and showering Meghan with gifts of flowers and chocolate hearts, and you’ve even banned farting in bed. So, I will let you bask in the glory of being chivalrous. Just this once.