Opening doors, helping your lady into her seat, carrying her bag, and paying for dates—they’re said to be the gentleman’s way to treat a lady according to the prevailing social etiquette 1 Social Etiquette on How to Treat a Lady. . Those acts, also known as chivalry, are associated with thoughtfulness and good manners. But in the wake of feminism and calls for gender equality, chivalry has come to be perceived as a set of ‘patronizing bullcrap marshalling as good manners’ 2 Chivalry Isn’t What You Think It Is! .
Yes, our women of today are strong and independent enough to carry their own bags, open their own doors, and my personal favourite: rich enough to pay for their own meals. What’s the point of gender equality if we still specialise a gender, right? Women aren’t these fragile, delicate creatures in need of protection, nor are we a fan of being babied and ‘manhandled’. But, is chivalry really about manhandling women? Is it a matter of gender, or is it a matter of manners?
The Beginning of Chivalry
Chivalry was first practiced in the 12th century in the form of an informal, varying code of conduct for knights to follow 3 Keen, Maurice Hugh. (2005). Chivalry. Yale University Press . If you’re familiar with the gallantry of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, they’re the perfect example on how chivalrous knights and gentlemen were expected to be. But please, lower your expectation by a few notches, because not only the story of King Arthur came from the more modern and civil 19th centuries, back in the actual middle ages, knights weren’t exactly the most honourable figures 4 Chivalry Was Established to Keep Thuggish, Medieval Knights in Check. .
Nor were the people in general. The ladies, peasants, even priests of the middle ages were described by Michael Crichton in his book, Timeline, as crude, selfish, and violent 5 Crichton, Michael. (1999). Timeline. Alfred A. Knopf: UK. . Nobody could describe it better than Crichton himself in which he let his character, Marek, narrated in gory detail the middle ages as an incredibly violent world, where invading armies killed everyone, where women and children were routinely hacked to death, where pregnant women were eviscerated for sport. The streets slippery with blood, soldiers soaked in red from head to foot. Great book, really; chased my appetite away.
What differentiated the knights from the rest of the people was their possession of heavy armours and ability of combat, which could potentially be more dangerous to the less armed civilians, because many of them solely believe in their own social advancement and personal enrichment 6 Chivalry in Timeline. . Their aggression was needed to win wars and protect the people, admittedly, but in order to prevent bigger casualties 7 The Rules Of Chivalry Were So Important In Medieval Society, But Breaking The Rules Was Almost As Important. it was then decided that their honour must supersede their aggression 8 Blazina, Chris. (2003). The Cultural Myth of Masculinity. Westport, CT: Praeger . The Code of Chivalry served as a way to overcome said cruelty and aggression, which is why one of the original Ten Commandments of The Code of Chivalry said to “respect all weaknesses” and to “constitute thyself the defender of them” 9 Gautier, Leon. (1891). Chivalry. .
How did it sneak its way into romance, then?
The term courtly love became popular as something practised alongside the Code of Chivalry and the art of chivalry 10 Courtly Love. . It constituted a revolution in romance, where previously marriage served as a political tool rather than a bond between two people in love 11 Haley, Shelley P. (1985). The Five Wives of Pompey the Great. Cambridge University Press. , it presented a brand new concept of romance where courtly lover was described to exist to serve his lady 12 Medieval Courtly Love. . That means winning her heart fair and square, hence the serenades and the sweet words, the roses and the riches. European neo-romantics in the late 19th century later adopted the word and concept down to the details on how one respectable man shall speak to a woman, to define the ‘ideal male behaviour’.
This was carried throughout centuries and continents, and evolved into a new set of rules on how proper gentlemen are supposed to treat respectable ladies. If that’s the case, we’re no longer talking about chivalry, but rather of courtly love which specifically discussed how one should treat their lovers. If we are to refer back to the Codes, yes, indeed it was mentioned in Charlemagne’s Code of Chivalry 13 Code of Chivalry. to ‘respect the honour of women’, but it was never really mentioned in the original Code of Chivalry to specialise a certain gender—it was simply about good acts toward others, and how one is to treat other members of the society.
To add to it, Crichton also described in his book how women were imagined to be powerless and delicate, yet they ruled fortunes, commanded castles, took lovers at will and plotted assassination and rebellion. See, even then women were already cunning enough to command castles, and who said chivalry existed because society believed women to be weaker than men? Yay, ladies!
Chivalrous Act vs Chivalrous Tact
The misperception of chivalry and what it stood for brought us here: to the point where some people think that chivalry is dangerous given that it ‘blankets itself as courtesy while concealing a dramatic assertion of inequality between the sexes’ 14Chivalry Must Die: On Women’s Expectations and Men’s Obligations which they aren’t completely wrong about. Chivalry has become something it wasn’t meant for: an emphasis on how men and women can never be equal—when really, all chivalry wanted to do was to create a better version of the ridiculously cruel medieval society. None of the Codes said that men should open doors for women, but in the spirit of social etiquette, a gentleman and a lady would surely open doors for anyone within 10 feet of distance, as done in Britain and South America. As for paying, I agree it gets a bit old if men constantly need to pay for dates, recalling that women do work for a living nowadays. I mean, gentlemen, if you know how much our bags cost us, you wouldn’t be so surprised of the money we have stashed in them.
The misperception of chivalry became even more twisted in a sense where women feel threatened when being courted chivalrously. This is because most of the time gentlemen “expect a degree of intimacy to prevail” after they have taken it upon themselves to pick up the tab during dates 15 Zelizer, Viviana. (2005). The Purchase of Intimacy. Princeton University Press. . This has caused a widespread misperception that, not only chivalry emphasises discrimination between the sexes, chivalry also comes with a cost. Which it definitely shouldn’t, and foremost it doesn’t.
Along with the growth and development of capitalism, providing a service usually does come with a catch—in most cases the catch is money, but in other, rarer, cases it could be anything: favour, objects, your phone number perhaps. The twist in chivalry is that people start to see it as a commodity of service: something you shouldn’t do without getting anything in return. This, inevitably, leads people into thinking that we could and should definitely get something out of treating others nicely. In the case of single men asking single women out on dates and paying for everything, including gas money to pick the ladies up and drive them home, they can’t really expect money in return for the money they have spent, no. Nor could they possibly ask for the ladies to open their doors for them to reciprocate the gesture. That would be very cheap and weird of them.
So what could the single ladies possibly offer that’s more expensive than money but still cheap enough to be bought by the few hundred bucks said single men have spent? Easy: intimacy. The ladies must initiate a certain degree of intimacy, or if they cannot do so, the very least they could do is not object when the men initiated it. Of course, yes, not everyone is like that, some can tell for themselves that chivalry is not a commodity, nor it is the currency. Chivalry, courtesy, and good deeds shouldn’t be measured by how much you can give in return, but rather how much you’re actually willing to give without expecting something in return.
Once Upon a Civil Dream
It would seem kind of shallow if we are to completely disregard the fact that chivalry has a discriminating tinge to its existence—especially between the weak and the strong. Here’s the thing about chivalry: people associate it with the words polite and nice, but also patronising. It was created for knights who had a certain amount of power and responsibility over others considered ‘weaker’, so yes, it would be patronising in nature for the very simple reason that knights had to look powerful to protect those they were supposed to. But one thing people tend to forget is the fact that the Code was created so the knights would act civilly and respectfully toward those they were meant to ‘protect’. Chivalry was more than just a code of conduct, it was a guideline—a social norm, in a way—to make sure that you treat others nicely; which is exactly the core value of chivalry. As aforementioned, what chivalry stood for didn’t exactly translate into what it stands for today, but among all the differences and misconceptions of chivalry, it still hasn’t lost its core value: it’s about how you treat others, not how others treat you. Chivalry is about you.
That is what’s so interesting about social norms: when we talk about it, we’re not only talking about something stagnant; social norms do evolve over time. They are so fluid that they are able to adjust and accommodate themselves to newer values, but also sturdy enough to keep their core essence intact. Some norms are even fluid enough in the sense that they adopt enough additional values to be able to pass as a new norm, when really, they are just a manifestation of an old norm 16 Social Norms and Cultural Dynamics. , and that is exactly the case with chivalry. It survived the middle ages by, quite literally, creating our civilisation today. The civilisation in which most mankind agree that the strong needs to protect the weak, the young should treat the elder with respect, and no sane person shall slam a door to someone’s face. Chivalry, in a sense, is the root of our civil behaviours, creating what today are known as table manners and etiquette 17 Hitchings, Henry (2013). Sorry! The English and Their Manners. Hachette UK .
In the end, an outright rejection to such manifestation of the old norms would really seem like a rejection to what they used to be instead of what they are today. You may reject and boldly bash the existence of sexism, and we can all agree to that. There is no use of sexism, anyway. But rejecting chivalry is not the same as rejecting sexism or discrimination against a certain gender, because that was never the intention of chivalry anyway. Let’s ask ourselves, would the world really be better off without common decency and good manners?
If I were to slam a door to your face, wouldn’t you be tempted to do the same the next time you see my awfully punchable face? Just as kindness is a magnet for another kindness, so is hostility. I’m sure you’re already familiar with the saying an eye for an eye, but you must also remember what comes after that is an eye for an eye makes the world go blind.
Irrevocably, chivalrous acts define you in the eyes of others—would you open the door for a person? Either a handsome or pretty one, a stranger or a friend; a person nonetheless. Would you give your coat for friends who are in need? Would you help someone carry a heavy load? Are you nice because you want something in return, or are you simply nice for the sake of being nice? All chivalry wanted to do was break the chain of “me, me, me” and allows us to ask the question that really matters: “what can I do for you?” Because despite everything, chivalry means service 18 Chivalry Means Service. . Politeness sees no gender, and kindness is an attribute of splendour. In the wise words of Tex Ritter, “It Doesn’t Hurt a Bit to be Polite.”
Have some class, don’t be an ass.
Editor: Miftah Rasheed Amir
Illustrator: Dhea Monica
Referensi [ + ]
|1.||↵||Social Etiquette on How to Treat a Lady.|
|2.||↵||Chivalry Isn’t What You Think It Is!|
|3.||↵||Keen, Maurice Hugh. (2005). Chivalry. Yale University Press|
|4.||↵||Chivalry Was Established to Keep Thuggish, Medieval Knights in Check.|
|5.||↵||Crichton, Michael. (1999). Timeline. Alfred A. Knopf: UK.|
|6.||↵||Chivalry in Timeline.|
|7.||↵||The Rules Of Chivalry Were So Important In Medieval Society, But Breaking The Rules Was Almost As Important.|
|8.||↵||Blazina, Chris. (2003). The Cultural Myth of Masculinity. Westport, CT: Praeger|
|9.||↵||Gautier, Leon. (1891). Chivalry.|
|11.||↵||Haley, Shelley P. (1985). The Five Wives of Pompey the Great. Cambridge University Press.|
|12.||↵||Medieval Courtly Love.|
|13.||↵||Code of Chivalry.|
|14.||↵||Chivalry Must Die: On Women’s Expectations and Men’s Obligations|
|15.||↵||Zelizer, Viviana. (2005). The Purchase of Intimacy. Princeton University Press.|
|16.||↵||Social Norms and Cultural Dynamics.|
|17.||↵||Hitchings, Henry (2013). Sorry! The English and Their Manners. Hachette UK|
|18.||↵||Chivalry Means Service.|