So what if chivalry is dead?
Normally I’m just the person who lets the photos I take speak for themselves, but reading Justin Manry’s column Monday got me thinking about the idea of chivalry and what role, if any, it has in society today.
And as an English major, I’m more than happy to find an excuse to ramble and talk about literature in the process.
Chivalry, its demise or rise aside, is an archaic and problematic notion. (Though, I would argue that from a philosophical perspective, if we’re still talking about it, it must exist in some way or another).
But when I think of chivalry, my mind goes to tales of knights, maidens, dragons, battles and courtly love.
And if that’s not your first warning sign that the concept may be a bit out of place in this day and age, then you either might be a little out of touch with reality or live in a much different reality than I do.
Chivalry is an idea and principle that belongs in the world of King Arthur and his knights, not here and now.
But after all, even the ideal world of Camelot fell.
And Sir Lancelot, who you would think to be the ideal embodiment of chivalry, was an adulterer as much as a beloved knight (as for myself, I’m more of a fan of Sir Gawain anyway).
But however romantic these legends make the idea seem, chivalry is based on the idolization and objectification of women. Women were prizes whose favor would inspire knights and lead them to victory.
And while this inclusion of women is an important part of Western literary history, we don’t live in the Middle Ages nor do we exist as ink on the pages of Norton Anthologies.
Women have agency and motivations.
A woman does not have to be expected to show gratitude because a man holds open a door for her or pushes her chair in, much less create situations to allow such actions.
Women are not passive beings that exist to make men feel better about themselves.
Now I don’t want to imply that we shouldn’t be hold open doors for other people or not thank others when they do.
I just want to point out that the idea that a woman’s role in chivalry is to let men treat them in what is deemed a “gentlemanly” way is ridiculous.
Women are just as capable of holding open doors for people. I know I do so every day, regardless of who’s behind me.
It’s just polite.
This doesn’t mean that men should stop holding the door open for women.
This also doesn’t mean that women shouldn’t acknowledge and be grateful when men do nice things for them.
It just means that we must recognize that chivalry is an outdated idea that reinforces a binary idea of genders as well as stereotypical gender roles.
Stereotypical doesn’t mean bad, it just means that it isn’t the only way things have to be.
And heck, if chivalry is just about little, courteous things like holding open doors and pushing in chairs, there’s no reason why these actions have to enforce gender roles.
So I say if chivalry is dead, then let it be dead. It is a remnant of a long-gone era, a notion that belongs in storybooks, not in the modern age.
In chivalry’s place, instead let a new notion of courtesy arise. Let men, women and non-binary gendered peoples choose their own roles while still treating each other with kindness and respect.