Chivalry: Taking It Back

Templar

“You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

Along with some support for the ideas I put forth in yesterday’s post, there are some that spoke up saying I’m just pushing my male ideas onto women, that chivalry is dead and it should stay that way because it’s a very bad thing that’s denigrating to women.

Cue me looking very confused.

Before I get into why this topic of conversation turned me into a seething ball of hatred, let’s look at why chivalry has become, for some, an epithet that means “the code misogynistic entitled male tossers use to impose their imagined superiority on women.”

In Days Of Old

Knights went to war back in the Middle Ages. To differentiate themselves from common folk, since most knights owned land and had other privileges due to their status, they chose to adhere to a code of behavior called ‘chivalry’. The code actually has Islamic roots, with Moorish knights expected to demonstrate “Piety, courtesy, prowess in war, the gift of eloquence, the art of poetry, skill on horseback, dexterity with sword, lance, and bow.” (Source) Christianity imposed more definition upon the code, instructing knights to use their might and influence to protect “weaker members of society.”

Back in those days, this mostly meant women.

For years, women were seen as inferior to men. Men took on the difficult or dangerous tasks of protecting the homestead from rampaging barbarians or going off to slay heathens in a holy war in the the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Women were expected to maintain said homestead, doing the things men couldn’t do because they either weren’t home or hadn’t be raised to know how to cook. This societal structure was maintained for quite some time, and it’s still a thorn in a lot of female sides to this day.

The Modern Interpretation

“Forget about honor, charity and self-sacrifice, the crux of the chivalric code was men imposing themselves upon women. The gentleness and graciousness with which a knight was to conduct themselves towards women was clearly a facade behind which lurked the desire all men have to put women under their thumb. If a man with wealth, title and strength of arms were to act this way, a woman was all but obligated to bow down before him.”

That’s the impression I get from most arguments made against the old chivalric code. And on a certain level, I am incapable of mounting a defense. Women’s rights have been a struggle for years, and many women still fight to prove that they are just as entitled and capable as men. Indeed, in some behavior of men, both then and now, there’s an undercurrent of condescension. “Oh, let me do that for you, my dear. It’s not your fault you’re incapable of rational thought or gross physical labor.”

I don’t think I need to clarify why I agree with the women who get angry at that sort of attitude. Hell, I’m male (at least, I think I am, let me check… *looks down pants* Yep, male) and this sort of thinking pisses me off. Women, from my experience, are tougher, smarter, more cunning, more quick-witted and far more cutthroat than a lot of men out there. Cross a guy, he’ll punch you in the face. Cross a woman, she will not only kick you in the crotch, but drag you into the street and repeatedly stomp on your balls while declaring to everybody within earshot what a fucking douchebag you are. And this won’t happen right away. It’ll happen when you least expect it, and trust me, somewhere in the haze of pain and humiliation, you might realize why you deserve it.

I’m talking mostly in metaphor, here, but I catch you get my drift. Women don’t need special treatment. A lot of women don’t want it. They’d much rather go through their daily lives without anybody taking notice of the fact that they’re put together differently from men.

It’s not going to stop me holding the door open for them, though. Let me tell you why.

I Call Bullshit

It’s not because I’m afraid of getting my nuts flattened, although there’s something to that. No, it’s because I was taught from a very young age through both instruction and experience that women deserve respect and courtesy, just as much as anybody else if not moreso. My mother busted her ass to take care of me and my two sisters, my grandmother taught us everything she could, and my sisters made damn sure I respected them through various means. I observed the way my dad treated my mom, from the good-natured jibes to the way he listened to her concerns, offered advice and worked towards compromise. I was told, and still believe, that holding a door open for a woman, speaking to her with courtesy and considering a woman more attractive if she’s smart, funny and clever rather than based on looks alone isn’t just common courtesy but common sense.

That, to me, is chivalry. It has nothing to do with oppressing women or considering myself superior to them or any of that misogynistic bullshit. Chivalry in my vernacular is and has always been shorthand for “treating people kindly regardless of who they are, where they’re from or what the color of their skin is, especially giving women the respect they deserve because for every kind act I do, at least a thousand other jerkoffs are treating a woman like shit and I want to make a difference, dammit.” I don’t give a damn what the world at large or the mass media or crusaders of womyn’s lib call chivalry, that is what chivalry is to me and I happen to think it’s an attitude that still has merit.

So if I talk about chivalry, or proceed to act in a chivalrous manner, that’s my thinking behind it. Maybe it’s wrong, maybe I’m flawed, maybe I’m still going to get my balls stomped on by a woman who thinks I’m being a condescending dickface. If I am, though, you go right ahead & pour my intentions into the paving machine and point the damn thing at Hell, because I’d rather be damned for seeking a better code of behavior than sit in the darkness cast by the shadow of others, waiting to be saved.

That’s what the word ‘chivalry’ means to me, and by God, I’m taking it back from people who use it the same way tea-partiers use ‘fascist.’

28 Comments

  1. Your use of chivalry is pretty much what I call “courtesy” these days, and I will hold the door for anyone, no matter the sex, if I get to it first. I expect the same in return. If I have a cart full of groceries and someone has two items I let them ahead of me. It’s how I was raised. The problem with society is that common courtesy is dead. Women can wank all they want about being treated in a condescending manner, but I think they’re a bunch of stupid twats if they feel that way. When I used public transportation I would stand and give older people my seat, and they always looked grateful. I saw a man stand to give a woman his seat one time and she flipped on him.

    What a maroon.

    I don’t know what happened, but my mother was a teenager in the 40s when people still treated each other kindly (I won’t get into the racial differences in that treatment). Hats on a man’s head indoors was verboten, and every man who wore a hat removed or tipped it when greeting a woman. The first time an elderly gentleman tipped his hat at me I swooned. Swear to God.

    Taking the long way around to this point, my opinion is that 40% of the population now has sticks up their asses for some reason, 40% were raised by the sticks up the ass people to not have manners, and the other 20% feel the brunt of it.

    I could be wrong.

    I’ll hold the door anytime for you if you help me with my coat.

  2. @Julie – See, that right there? That’s what I’m talking about. Heck, I’m a 31-year-old living in the future, and I get miffed when I see a young whipper-snapper wearing a baseball cap indoors.

    Kids on my lawn, etc etc.

  3. I think your idea of chivalry is quite good. I hold the door for my wife. I get her car door every time. She seems to appreciate it. It’s not because I think she’s weak and incapable of opening the door; I simply think it shows respect, and besides, she seems to like it. So, why not do it if she likes it?

    But, old ideas of chivalry also put the onus on the male because he has power over the woman — it suggests he needs to take care of her, and when the time is right, she must, well, serve him in some capacity.

    So, I’m sure you’re fine.

    Other people, maybe not.

    Any lady gives you guff for holding a door or something, man, that lady is an asshole. Just the same as any dude who would give you guff for opening a door.

    — c.

  4. Yeah, just don’t order my meal for me without asking what I want first. THAT will get a foot up your ass.

  5. @Julie – Two marriages have taught me the value of the words, “Take your time.” I’ve gotten good at shooing wait staff when necessary.

  6. I never order for my wife.

    What we do, though, is never order the same thing.

    Then, whatever we get, we share.

    It’s quite nice, actually. It must be said that I love life with my wife.

    I don’t know that she feels the same, of course. 🙂

    — c.

  7. I saw the massacre in that thread yesterday, and I had to stop myself from posting too much just in case I decided to e-slaughter some girls and get myself banned from the Escapist. -_-

    I’m proud of my gender. I enjoy being a woman, I take pride in beauty, and I take pride in my strength. But at the heart of it I’m still one of those tender-hearted girls who wants a happy ending and kids and all that jazz and I cannot tell you how many times this has made me a target in the same kinds of discussions. They tear out your ovaries for wanting to use them, in some arguments. >.<

    The women who like to shout "white knight syndrome" are just as likely to tear into their own gender for being too much of the "traditional" woman. Hell, I've been called a stereotype more times than I can imagine by women who don't even know me.

    It's a wonder you haven't given up on us entirely. Stupid biological imperative. :-p

  8. @Emily – Call me old-fashioned, too, and deck me out in heavy armor that smells faintly of sweat, blood and yesterday’s cheese, but along with the above, I believe in my heart that women are, have always been and will always be worth fighting for.

  9. I agree that what you described sounds like ‘common’ courtesy. Which is a shame because you see so little of it these days. I think one of the reasons people get so worked up about the term ‘chivalry’ is because that, in and of itself, it was a myth. The way the stories of knights back in the middle ages looked after a lady? Fairy tales. Lovely stories, yes, but they don’t carry much truth to them. If a knight was being a decent fellow, it was because he was just that and nothing more. People have a tendency to get really worked up over the ‘realness’ of a concept, sometimes to the point of overlooking the good things about it just so they can point and scream about the bad things.

    It’s unbelievable how many times I’ve seen someone get jumped on for being a nice guy and no other reason. Always confuses me, because I’ve had my fair share of douchebags and then some, and I always prefer the nice guys. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been the one caught holding the door for a passing group of five or more perfectly capable 20-something men. Do I get thanked for it? Three times out of ten.

    I’m a girl, and I live in the south. Go figure.

    Unfortunately, bitches are going to bitch, even when it makes no sense (especially when it makes no sense). They’ll run out of hot air eventually.

  10. Well thank you for that. It gives me a little hope that we haven’t driven you all off yet. <3

    Maybe it's just the southern girl in me, but I get warm fuzzies whenever a guy opens the door for me. It's just the way I was raised, I guess. :-p

  11. Good post, man. Good post. About encapsulates my views on this subject. I’ve had women go rather ballistic over doing things that I was raised to consider common courtesy.

    I can understand some of it, as said before, I can’t say I’ve ever ordered for my Girlfriend. Much less Awitelin, even if I know her tastes or not. I’d personally find that about as insulting as someone tugging my plate aside before I ate, and cutting things up into small bits so I don’t choke on it or something.

    I just never will get why some women breathe fire when you do something. Yes, I opened the door for you, no I do not think your door opening prowess is less than mine. I just wanted to open the door for you. Jesus.

    I can understand a woman, especially a younger one, being upset at being called ‘ma’am’ (Something that has long been drilled into my head as a courteous response), but some reactions are just.. mind boggling.

  12. Okay….

    I don’t care that you want to be a gentleman. That’s good, I support that and you’re doing it fine. Be a gentleman, own it. Rock it out if you want to.

    Please understand the language you are using. Chivalry was not a code based on good manners and good behavior. It was a line drawn between those in power and those without it to enable blood thirsty mercenaries and the addled rich to rape and kill who ever they want. When you think about this code, you’re looking at a Victorian rewrite of history to make it more romantic and chaste. It just wasn’t like that.

    Please see Terry Jones talk about it. Watch the whole episode. Understand the word you want to ‘take back.’

  13. Just as an aside on the “male superiority” attitude perceived in chivalry. The “Code of Chivalry” is something ALL Knights and Nobles were instructed in. To provide shelter and protection for the weak… meaning the peasants. Those who owed you their fealty. Women were knights as well, there were a few notable orders of female knights in both England and France. Defending the weaker persons was typically the churches way of saying take care of your serfs and peasants so the church did not have to.

  14. @Emily- I went from being an independent, live alone, bringing-home-my-own-paycheck chick to being what they call, these days, a Stay at Home Mom.

    I’m a housewife. Please, world, quit it with the PC Language that makes speaking take longer. If situations were reversed Rich would be tickled to call himself a househusband. So jeez. Quit it. I like being traditional. I like that my kids have me all day, and that I miss none of the important bits. I also like that we’re smart enough to realize that my working SIMPLY to be able to put the kids in daycare would be a retarded idea. By retarded I mean “stunted.”

    @Kona_Kona67- Down around here every adult female gets the word “Miss” affixed to their name by children. If you don’t know the name, they’re Ma’am. Men are Sir. I’m perfectly happy to be raising my kids that way, too.

    I never minded being called Ma’am by anyone. Especially after I moved down here, and it got drawled at me in a sugary, Southern accent.

    It’s much nicer than up home when folks would just holler, “YO!”

  15. Great article, and some of your points speak to what I was trying to get across in your last entry. The Feminist movement has made things overly difficult by making mountains out of mole hills. If a guy holds the door open for me (even if it is because I am a woman) I see it as a gentlemanly gesture.

    But the “Feminazis” have felt the need to explode these acts of courtesy into some kind of insult. So they create a rage over it. Which then causes many men to stop doing it because they don’t if they’re going to get raked over the coals for being polite. Then, the women start raging because men aren’t showing them enough courtesy. It’s a downward spiral.

    Another thing that hit me in your post (and this is something that has had me boggled for a while) is the word “womyn”.

    I spell it “women”. Oh no! it has 3 certain letters in a row! I am being oppressed! I am shaming women everywhere by using proper spelling!

    When these feminist movements can’t decide how they want to be treated, and do silly things like change the spellings of words because of some perceived insult, it makes them look comical, and it’s difficult to take them seriously.

  16. @Filamena – As I said, my thinking may be wrong and I might myself be flawed. I’m not ignorant of the roots of knightly behavior, what it was really like back then and how stories have romanticized some of the deplorable behavior that took place. Do I want to perpetuate that behavior? No. Do I think there’s still something to the core ideal of gentlemanly or, dare I say it, “courtly” behavior? Definitely.

    Just because a car that was used for dealing drugs gets sold to someone like me at a police auction does not mean it’ll still be used for dealing drugs. To me, my use of chivalry is similar. More often than not, it’s not a word I should have to say out loud. But it’s there, in my behavior, just like I hope my faith is. “LOOK HOW CHIVALROUS I’M BEING” rings just as false to me as “LOOK HOW CHRISTIAN I’M BEING” and, outside of the post, I really, really hope I don’t have to make a point of pointing it out. If that makes any sense at all. I mean, both words could point to me riding around lopping the heads off of innocent people, but do you see me doing that?

    As my favorite pastor put it, “The fact that people don’t live up to an ideal doesn’t negate the ideal.”

  17. > As my favorite pastor put it, “The fact that people don’t live up to an ideal doesn’t negate the ideal.”

    *offers brofist*

    Wise words. Bro-fist worthy by a mile.

    @Julie:

    Oh good God, yes. Southern born and raised, if you refer to someone who is your superior in age, or just someone who you do not know personally by anything nor using an honorific, you’re being a rude little bastard.

    I’ve gotten odd looks and had one woman in Boston ask me why in the world I was responding to all of her queries with “Yes, Ma’am.” and “No, Ma’am.”.

    I merely replied “It’s common courtesy”. She told me to quit it, and I sat there trying to figure out another courteous way to refer to a woman that you do not know the way of. Still stumped on that. So “ma’am” it is. Maybe “Miss”…But.. eh, always comes off like I’m some salesmen when I do that.

    Heck, I still get whacked if I don’t reply to my parents with “Sir” or “Ma’am”.

  18. Without delving too much into the nuance of the term, I will say that I find it kind of silly to use a word for a very specific meaning, when it means something far broader or even different.

    I’ll use an analogy, let’s see if it makes sense of my point.

    “I’m so glad it’s Friday. I’m going to go be a soldier.” What does that mean to you? I would assume it means that I’m going to go do militaristic things, right?

    Nope. What I meant to say was, “I’m so glad it’s Friday, I’m going to go collect a paycheck.” Soldiers do, at least traditionally, collect paychecks. However, that’s not what I’ve communicated. So when most people hear the phrase, “I’m going to go be a soldier,” they’re thinking something completely contrary to what I meant.

    Chivalry had a lot of definitions. The etymology of the word leads back to horse-riding warriors. Most of its use, historically, relates to military service. There are some historical references to behavior towards women. Most was very, very bad. Things that, if you did today, you’d realistically be imprisoned for. So while you might mean one thing when you say that you embody chivalry, it’s easy to assume you mean, “I’m going to go be a soldier.”

  19. OOoo, oo. And let me take it full circle and reference video games, because stuff and junk.

    Gamer guys are known for using language similarly. For example, they’ve decided that on Xbox Live, to ‘rape’ someone is actually just to best them in a video game.

    So, when you’re playing Xbox Live, and you lose, your opponent might say, “Dude, I raped you!” You might get offended. He might respond, “But that’s not what I mean! It’s just a term for winning at video games.” It’s not. It’s a term for a violent sex act. Sure, gamer guys have tried to ‘reclaim’ the word, but it still denotes a violent sex act.

    Ironically, if you’re trying to be gentlemanly, using a term that is associated with very ungentlemanly behavior to describe yourself serves the exact opposite purpose.

  20. @David – Would that make me a militant anti-male chauvinist?

  21. @David Off topic, but your name just clicked with me. Does the name “Davazoid” mean anything to you?

  22. @David —

    Only problem there is, you’re using the antiquated historical definition of chivalrous in a modern context, but the example (“soldier”) uses the modern definition of the word in a modern context. Same problem with “rape” — both are modern context. Dude tells me, “I raped you!” — he still knows what the term means, and that’s what he’s essentially saying, but for funny or dramatic effect. When someone says, “I believe in chivalry,” they do not believe they mean, “And I really want to oppress women with my militaristic knight’s code.”

    I’m not saying the word doesn’t have baggage, and people should probably be instructed as to its historical relevance. Further, it’s not even a very good word for what it means, and would perhaps be best stricken from the record. But when someone like Josh uses “chivalry,” he’s not doing damage to modern feminism.

    IMHO.

    — c.

  23. I have nothing to add to this conversation other than when I saw the picture of the Templar I had the urge to toss throwing knives at him and then engage him in defensive sword play.

    But that’s the Assassin’s Creed talking. 😉

  24. @John
    I had the same urge 😉

  25. Davazoid?

    Nope. Nothing. Although, I kind of wish it resonated with me now.

    Chuck: I don’t disagree. I was just sort of tossing out a point of view there. If you’re using a word, you can’t assume that everyone’s on the same page as you about it. You have to assume that if it’s commonly accepted that a word means something that, unless you clarify within the context used, people will assume it for the definition they’re most familiar with.

  26. Not to be pedantic or anything, but originally, “Chivalry” had nothing to do with anything except the proper way to treat your horse. (note “Chivalry” and the French for horse; “cheval”).

    Going with what others had said, “courtesy” seems to be the real buzzword. In which case, yes one should be courteous to all. No brainer I guess.

  27. My husband opens the door for me a lot of the time because his legs are longer than mine, which means he usually reaches destinations faster than I do. If I get to the door first, I do it for him, instead.

    If my hands are full, he offers to lighten the load. If his hands are full, I make the same offer to him.

    If he’s had a rough day, I’ll handle cooking dinner. If it’s been a day of suck and fail for me, he’ll make dinner and shuffle me in front of a game console instead of the stove.

    He does none of these things because he thinks I am inferior to him in any way. He does these things for the same reason he pulls my glasses off my face if I fall asleep reading, or helps me pull my shoes off because I’m too tired or sore to reach down and do it myself. He does these things because he is a man of action, not words, and this is his way of showing affection.

    On the flip side of that, I take on the “male” (ha) role a lot when I’m around women who are smaller than me. (Given that I’m 5’8″ and 300 pounds, this happens a lot.) If I get to the door first, I open it. If something is too high for a friend to reach, I fetch it. Something too heavy for my neighbor to lift? I’ve got it!

    Again, I don’t do these things for them because I think them feeble; I do these things because I /like/ these people.

    If we all were a little kinder to one another, treated each other with a lot more respect (and perhaps a smidge of affection), things would better all around, I think.

    Just my two bits. Move along.

  28. Thank you for an interesting dissertation on Chivalry, however I don’t think you go far enough. Chivalry is not just about the relationship between the sexes, it’s much, much more. Chivalry is about personal honor, about not being a barbarian in your thinking and actions. It’s about personal responsibility, which brings to mind the West Point Code of Conduct as an example. It’s about not shooting a man in the back, it’s about fighting an enemy not slaughtering him. Chivalry is a cornerstone of right wing thinking and the left is going to try – and has – to paint a different picture. When a leading left wing feminist said that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle she immediately did herself and her cause a disservice.

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