Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Let's Have a Wake; Chivalry is Dead!

Apparently, I miss all the fun stuff when I go off the grid on weekends (and every other Monday). The target, this time, was an article from the Daily Trojan- Feminism to blame for the death of chivalry, by Josh Bass.

Oh, hooray! It's yet another article that takes opportunity to blame feminists for the downfall of something or other. In this case, it's the often reported death of chivalry. To which I say "Ding dong, the witch is dead!"

Bass, though? He's not so sure that this is a good thing. See, one of his friends had a bad date and spat out "Chivalry is dead" and it made him realize just how terrible the loss of chivalry has been for women. See, it's the evils of women's liberation and feminism that have led to the cesspool of immorality that makes it so hard for women to get respect in the world today. If only women hadn't fought for equality almost two hundred years ago, they'd be better off today.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

I'm forced to wonder what, exactly, Bass thinks he's talking about when he goes on and on about chivalry. Chivalry is one of those concepts that you hear people talk about, but nobody seems to want to elaborate on. There's this notion that times were so much better when men were Men and women were Women, and there was chivalry all around us. I think that most of us think of chivalry as being a product of the times of knights and kings and men riding around on horseback doing all sorts of Good Deeds. Given the inclusion of a knight's helmet as an illustration to the article, I think we can assume that Bass subscribes to this idea.

Which, of course, makes me wonder how he's coming to some of his conclusions. He suggests that marriages arranged for wealth rather than love is a product of the death of Chivalry. Because marriage in the Middle Ages was a product of love, clearly. Certainly, nobody arranged marriages for the benefit of families. Right?

Sure, if you ignore the rather unpleasant realities and look to Disney as your source of information, you might think that marriage used to be all about love, although I'm not sure how you'd come to the conclusion that now we marry for money, but, whatever. In reality, marriages in the Middle Ages were arranged by men for the benefit of the families involved. Women were married young to men they barely knew who were frequently a decade (or more) older than them. Weddings were arranged by fathers, and were largely treated like a transfer of property. If you were part of the noble class- the class most associated with chivalry- your marriage would likely have been arranged before you were even 10 years old, and you wouldn't meet your future husband until the day of your wedding. At which you'd be expected to perform your "wifely duties." Contrary to what Bass might wish to believe, it wasn't all flowers and hearts and loving embraces between couples who loved each other deeply. It was about uniting families and acquiring wealth. It was about property.

When people like Bass talk about chivalry, what they think they're talking about is "treating women with respect." They think that chivalry is about holding doors and carrying books and walking on the outside of the street. They think that it's about treating women like they belong on a pedestal, and that they're the "fairer sex."

And, of course, if chivalry of that sort is dead, it's because women killed it. And I say, why the hell wouldn't they? That kind of chivalry isn't a good thing. That kind of faux concern for the well being of other people isn't helpful. Concern based out of the feeling that women are inferior to men and in need of protection doesn't actually help women. And the sense of entitlement that so often accompanies that kind of chivalry is patently dangerous. Men who harbor that kind of chivalry don't think of women as people, they think of them as props in some grand play that they've created, starring themselves as the knight in shining armor.

And Bass almost certainly thinks of himself as a modern Lancelot. Look at Bass' article, and you'll see it steeped with the kind of cynicism and patronizing sarcasm that is so common in anti-feminist tirades. From his affected concern for the well-being of women, to the cracks about "warrior princesses affectionately referred to as Feminazis", to the labeling of women as "harlots"- Bass pulls out all the stops. He thinks he's got the answers to save women from themselves. I'd be surprised if he doesn't wonder why you're not already lining up to thank him for his helpful hints.

So, let's talk about real chivalry, shall we? Chivalry is the code of honor that knights were sworn to uphold. Chivalry, as a concept, you may be surprised to learn, isn't gendered. Nor does it involve treating women in some way differently than men. Chivalry is a sort of moral code that knights swore to uphold. It's a code of conduct.

There are a number of different Principles of Chivalry, but most of them bear a number of things in common. Essentially, chivalry is about five things:
1. It's about accomplishing the duties of your station- doing your job and doing it well and fully.
2. It's about being honest- not lying or cheating, or helping others lie or cheat.
3. It's about upholding that which is right- acting in a moral fashion.
4. It's about helping those in need and protecting those who cannot protect themselves- lending a helping hand, offering charity, and fighting against oppression.
5. It's about fulfilling your obligations- doing what you say you will do.

Given that chivalry comes from a time steeped in sexism and blatant misogyny, it's not surprising that many examples of chivalry are of a questionable nature. They involve protecting women and saving them from danger because those were the stories being told, because our cinema loves to glorify the damsel in distress. But, despite this, chivalry, as a concept, is alive and well. It's not feminists who are killing chivalry- it's people like Bass.

See, one of the important aspects of chivalry is that you do the right thing because it's the right thing to do. You're not supposed to save the princess because you think that she'll fuck you when you're done. You're supposed to save her because she's in danger and has been unable to help herself. You'd be just as obligated to save the prince if he found himself in that situation, or a bunch of children, or the king.

Modern chivalry still exists- it's the people who stop to help you if you've dropped your packages on the sidewalk. It's the people who hold a door open for the people behind them. It's the guy in New York who took a moment to ask me if I needed directions or anything because he thought I looked lost. It's the person who offers a quarter when you're 22 cents short in line at the store.

Bass doesn't want chivalry back, he wants a return to the days when men could make demands on a woman's body by virtue of having given her some service or some token bit of "respect." He wants a return to the day when not treating a woman like shit meant that you could demand a roll in the hay. What other explanation is there for the idea that women who have and enjoy sex without strings are harlots responsible for making men not respect women, but men who have sex without strings are just doing what is natural? Oddly, Bass makes no demands on his fellow men. He doesn't feel the need to label them for their behaviors. No, they're just taking one option.

At least Bass gets one thing right. Chivalry can be resuscitated. It still lives on in the hearts of a good number of men and women. I don't think it's where he thinks it is, but it's out there.

I can only hope that the new perspective his friend gained was "wow, my buddy Bass is kind of an asshole."


Kate217 said...

I find it both sad and amusing that there are men who flat-out won't let me hold a door for them if I reach it first.

Cara said...

You know, that just sounds like plain old ethics to me.

Fannie said...

Great post! I wish more people would realize that chivalry is not a gendered concept...

Jaclyn said...

I know! I had no idea myself what it really meant.

As for the faux-chivalry this asswipe is referring to, honestly, I don't mind if someone opens a door for me -- I don't even mind if they're doing it to be "romantic." Anyone I'm going to be with romantically isn't going to have any notions about me being too weak to open a damn door, so I can take it for the sweet gesture it is and not feel the need to prove anything about it.

But it gets pretty silly and out of hand. I've known men and transmen who've practically knocked me out of the way in order to open a door for me. That's not romantic or chivalrous, just macho bullshit. That, I will gladly attend a wake for.

roses said...


Djiril said...

And then you get the men who are always joking that women have it soooo much better because none of the women they know have ever gone out of their way to open a door for them.

alejna said...

I really liked this post. I like the ideas of the principles of chivalry, but without the gendered crap. We can all be courteous, respectful, honest. To people of any gender.

(Happy Delurk Day, by the way. I'm delurking.)

Anonymous said...

Fab post!!!!

Exposing Feminism said...

What Bass is referring to is courtesy that men used to extend solely to women, such as a compliment on the way a woman looks. Thanks to feminism, this kind of compliment is now seen as invasive, so men have stopped doing it.

You seem to be talking about arranged marriage instead..?

There are postive arguments in favour of arranged marriage - like the low incidence of divorce, disadvantaged single parent families and the gang culture that seems to spring directly from that?

I think maybe you have been poisoned by feminism into 'revealing' the deficienciencies of your own sex, my friend..

Roy said...

What Bass is referring to is courtesy that men used to extend solely to women, such as a compliment on the way a woman looks.

Are you Bass?
Personally, I think that Bass is looking back and imagining a time that never really existed.

Thanks to feminism, this kind of compliment is now seen as invasive, so men have stopped doing it.

That's patently ridiculous. If you can't tell the difference between "complimenting someone" and "harrassing someone" the problem is with you, not feminism.

Bass is lamenting the loss of a time that was steeped in sexism and bigotry. He's white-washing history.

People like to be treated with respect. If there's a lack of chivalry, it's not because women or feminists dislike being treated with respect. There's nothing stopping Bass- or you- from acting in a truly chivalrous manner. But, what Bass is describing is not chivalry. He's not interested in treating women with respect- if he was, he wouldn't go on and on about what harlots they are.

Lindsay said...

All I have to say is that you rock. Wow, you seriously hit it straight on the nail head. I will continue to read your blog!!!

Exposing Feminism said...

@Roy -

Firstly I would like to thank you for responding to me. Although we appear to have opposing views, I am all in favour of healthy debate.

I would also like to confirm that I am not Bass :-)

It seems as if you are saying that 'chivalry' really only equates to common courtesy that both sexes should extend?

If this is the case, and supposing that a woman chose to ask a man out for a date at a restaurant, pulled the chair out for him to sit down and paid for the meal - would you advocate and recommend this behaviour for women?

Roy said...

It seems as if you are saying that 'chivalry' really only equates to common courtesy that both sexes should extend?

That's not exactly how I'd have put it, but it's not entirely incorrect. Courtesy is certainly a major part of chivalry, and it applies to both sexes, yes.

If this is the case, and supposing that a woman chose to ask a man out for a date at a restaurant, pulled the chair out for him to sit down and paid for the meal - would you advocate and recommend this behaviour for women?

Would I advocate and recommend this behavior? I don't know that I recommend and advocate those behaviors in men, but I certainly wouldn't discourage them. They go against cultural expectations, but I don't think that there's anything wrong with a woman doing them. I certainly advocate and encourage women to ask men out if they're interested, to pick up the tab or split the tab sometimes.

Exposing Feminism said...


Firstly, as an MRA, I am used to having discussion forcibly closed or my opinions dismissed as 'misogyny' when trying to discuss issues with feminists. I have to say that, initially, I assumed that I would recieve this response from you. This was unfair of me. I apologise for the tone of my first comment here. I am grateful that you continue to be honest, open and polite in your responses.

I must also tell you that I am considering writing a piece concerning 'chivalry' myself, and so I am very interested to hear what you and your readers have to say about it.

You said; 'I certainly advocate and encourage women to ask men out if they're interested, to pick up the tab or split the tab sometimes.'

Do you think women that women are open to this behaviour? What would you say to women who still expect to recieve 'chivalrous' behaviour from men without reciprocation?

The Snobographer said...

"Exposing Feminism said...

[Roy] said; 'I certainly advocate and encourage women to ask men out if they're interested, to pick up the tab or split the tab sometimes.'

Do you think women that women are open to this behaviour? What would you say to women who still expect to recieve 'chivalrous' behaviour from men without reciprocation?

* I'm a woman and I've asked out men whom I was interested in. Problem is too often (not always) men seem to think my taking initiative indicates that I'm desperate or an easy lay and the dates turn out horribly. I'm all for it in principle, but it rarely works out the way I'd like - where it's understood that I'm simply making my own dating choices and not waiting around for who's ever confident enough to ask me out to do so.

* I always offer to split the tab, no matter who asked whom for the date. There have been some men who've responded negatively to this - as if I was disparaging their masculinity - so it's always awkward, but I do it anyway.

* As far as pulling out chairs, that sort of thing just makes me feel self-conscious and I'd rather pull out my own chair. I manage to seat myself in chairs every day anyway. It's not as if men rush to pull out women's chairs at school or at work or in other settings. Obviously it's just a display they put on when they're on dates. Nothing genuine about that.

Let me ask: How would you feel if you accepted a date from a woman who asked you out and then she held all the doors and helped you on with your jacket and pulled out your chair for you?

* Women who expect to receive "chivalrous" behavior from men without reciprocation live with the same binary gender role mindset that Bass does and should date men like Bass. Or, preferably, rethink their attitudes about gender roles.

There are billions of women in this world. It's unreasonable to expect them all to hold the same opinions on every issue.

The Snobographer said...

BTW, regarding Bass' friend who came home from the bad date angrily lamenting the death of chivalry: I wonder what happened on the date that upset her so much. It seems Bass didn't bother to ask her.

Exposing Feminism said...

The snobographer said;-

'Women who expect to receive "chivalrous" behavior from men without reciprocation live with the same binary gender role mindset that Bass does and should date men like Bass.'

Would you define such women as those who do not subscribe to feminism?

Wayfarer Scientista said...

hmmm...reminds me of when I was in a VERY remote area in Russia where I and a co-worker all but got slugged in the face so that a man could move our luggage because, don't you know, carrying heavy luggage might damage your uterus. And then our fellow male researcher said "It must be so nice to be a woman in Russia with all this chivalry". Gack! (By the way - came here from Jen & her Just Posts.)

Derek said...

Great post, Roy!

I must admit, I didn't know the original meaning of chivalry until I read this post. That being said, though, meanings of words do change and when someone speaks of chivalry, they are almost certainly speaking of the kind Bass is referring to. I think this is unfortunate and I'm definitely going to talk to others about this.

I would like to see the meaning changed back to its original state, although I'm not sure if it's possible. I, along with many people I know, uphold that version of chivalry, but I usually refer to it simply as "common courtesy". The kind of chivalry Bass speaks of is just another mechanism to cleverly disguise the patriarchy.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post. I never knew about the original usage of chivalry either.

To exposing feminism:

Just because a woman has no qualms with going against cultural programming to pay for her date, etc, doesn't necessarily mean that she subscribes to feminism. Labels such as "feminist" are created to neatly encompass certain worldviews for easy digestion, but they're not supposed to be treated in an inflexible manner. Just because someone acts in "feminist" ways, does not mean that they've ever conceptualized their actions as "feminist." They might just be doing what they want to; what makes them most comfortable. If a woman doesn't like a man paying for her all the time without question, it doesn't automatically mean she's protesting the man's action in an effort to live up to some feminist ideals she's dreamed up for herself. It may rather be that she just doesn't feel comfortable. She may not be able to tell you exactly why, but that is the feeling she gets about it, and if it bothers her, her wishes should be respected, instead of just brushing her off as some nasty confused feminist. A label is only created after the views/actions are already in existence. So let's stop hindering the discussion with all this worry about whether an action or viewpoint fits into the "feminist" category or not, and focus on the reactions that some women themselves have toward actions that are considered chivalrous (in romantic sense, not original sense). I'll use an example from my past.

Before I ever thought to put the feminist label on my personal viewpoints, it all started with one knee-jerk reaction to a guy's treatment that I had; one experience of misplaced "chivalry." I went on a couple of dates with this guy who considered himself chivalrous, complete with the knightly imagery and so forth. (I was sixteen, it was my first shot at dating, yes I was a tard, don't judge me.) When I first began talking to him, I thought it was relatively sweet and harmless (lots of things seem harmless from far away). But after less than 10 minutes of being around him in person, I got irky vibes and decided that I didn't want to continue into a relationship. I sent numerous signals - I started being increasingly sarcastic and negative towards him, I pulled away when he tried to touch me, and I stopped talking to him for weeks at a time (yes, I could have told him straight up how I felt, but once again, I was 16, a tard, and afraid to hurt his feelings, he was pretty damn sensitive). Despite all this negative treatment, he continued to use his "chivalry" on me. He came to a group get-together with my friends at the movies and bought me - alone - a movie ticket. He tried to put his arm around me and give me a massage. Now I know this is a very exaggerated brand of chivalric behavior, but these types of people are out there upholding this badge of warped chivalry nonetheless.

Now, I didn't consciously identify what I felt about his behavior at first. Initially it was just a vague feeling of blind rage at him (which is rare for me, I'm a very chill and unemotional kinda gal). I wasn't sure why I was so angry; He was a nice guy for the most part, and thus it was difficult for me to understand what bothered me so. Was I wierd for not liking this treatment? Isn't this how it works? But as I thought about it more deeply, I realized that his behavior toward me, in essence, covertly implied that he had a cookie-cutter view of women and how they were to be treated, regardless of the personality of the actual woman involved. Some women really like that blanket-treatment stuff, but I was not one of them, and even when I made my disapproval clear to him he would not stop. In doing this, he completely disrespected me and assumed he knew what was best for me. He assumed that I'd "come around" eventually. I also got the feeling that he thought he would get some sort of reward out of me if he kept it up - a girlfriend, sex, etc. He'd get some sort of reward when I didn't even want what he was offering. It's kinda like the salesperson you always wish would fuck off: like if they drop a chia pet (lol, why not) off on your doorstep when you're not home and then the next month are berating you to pay for it.

Anyhow, I understand that it is the cultural norm for a man to treat a woman a certain way and for her to accept it. But cultural norms =/= natural state, and many of us, women AND men, have personalities that, no matter how hard we try, will never fit the cultural standard. And that is why, I think men and women should figure out the personalities of the men and women they're getting involved with, and modify their behavior accordingly, rather than treating everyone with some blanket standard that is supposed to work because it's "normal" or the cultural status quo, really. It may be "normal" but never confuse normal with "natural."

Anonymous said...

Rather late to be commenting on this, I know, but I can't resist pointing out that Neil Gaiman's charming short story "Chivalry" (in the Smoke and Mirrors anthology) wonderfully illustrates the idea of chivalry as a non-gendered concept. The grail-keeper in the story puts the knight through tests of virtue which have nothing to do with the strength of his sword-arm or with impressing beddable women, and it seems likely that a female knight would have received much the same treatment.

Anya D. Night said...

LOVED this, just started writing my own post on chivalry and wasn't at all disappointed to find you'd captured many of my own thoughts. I'll open my doors, you open yours!