Does Chivalry Have to Die?

>> Friday, October 2, 2009

I have got to give full points to Stephenie Meyers. Although I liked the Twilight books, I didn’t find them particularly well written and, each time I’ve read them, I’ve found more irksome details. But, as I’ve mentioned before, I very much liked the characters; sorry, I very much liked a character, Edward. Still, I’ve got to give credit where credit’s due. Few books have sparked as many interesting philosophical discussions for me, especially given its minimal philosophical depth.

My pal, Phyl, from Bookishgal, found a video contrasting Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Edward, the diamond vampire. (The huge irony in this is that I've always found vampires a silly concept and I've yet to read any book or see any movie that changed that. It is, in fact, Edward's human characteristics - and those of his family - that make him appealing to me.) She also made the statement, "It’s about time we stopped people trying to turn our young women back into 1950s helpless little man-dominated wifies."

Um, what?

There are plenty of problems with the Twilight books, don't get me wrong. But, in my opinion, turning women in to domesticated animals isn't one of them. Edward is overprotective, admittedly, and even tries to be domineering, but fails. He tries to be the one to call all the shots "for her own good," but she ends up calling most of them (with regards to herself and their relationship) and he learns why his earlier attitude was wrong. Now, someone tell me another book or series of books that has that as a central theme that has been accepted and embraced by one of the groups most in need of that lesson - teenage girls. The weakness, in this case, has to do with being human (and Bella's father is the recipient of his fair share of protection) more than being female - though that's largely the side effect of making vampires foolishly indestructible. Female vampires are demonstrably just as capable and a point is made of the use of intelligence, diplomacy, agility, and speed instead of brute force. In the end, though, (spoiler) all the vampire's are dependent on Bella's capabilities for survival. And, wait, there's more.

Edward and his family can be seen as a metaphor for all the arguments people use to excuse violent and predatory behavior and, the absolute core of their family (and especially Edward) is self-control, responsibility, self-restraint. Courtesy, consideration, patience, tolerance, all are highlighted throughout the series without the books becoming preachy, without making the books unpalatable for young minds. *Smacks head* Yeah, we wouldn't want any of our children to soak up any of that kind of thinking.

In fact, the worst thing Edward probably does in the whole series is sneak into her room to watch her sleep. Admittedly, that's hardly the kind of behavior we should encourage but, and this is important, he never does anything to her, which is what I suspect the real worry we'd have if someone did this to our own children. His unsanctioned forays into her room last all of a chapter or two after which he is there at her invitation only (and he tells her exactly what he's been doing). Could he kill or hurt her? Yeah, but, as a vampire, he could do so anywhere.

A big part of the problem, I think is the perception that chilvalry=chauvinism and I think that's a real pity. Chivalrous, according to Merriam Webster, is "marked by honor, generosity, and courtesy and/or marked by gracious courtesy and high-minded consideration especially to women." Personally, I think that's a fine thing to encourage (for both boys and girls, I might add) and I'll explain why in a bit. But first, I'll expound on why I think chivalry's considered sexist.

See, an apparent chivalry once served as a mask for subjugation of women. In the interest of being protected against ourselves, others had to control everything about us, or so they said. Except none of that really had to do with our (women's) benefit and, truthfully, it had nothing to do with true chivalry. Unfortunately, as a side effect of women refusing to wander about as doormats any more, they've eschewed chivalry entirely and I, personally, think that's not a good thing.

Why? A few reasons, not the least of which is that, physically (and in general) women aren't stronger than men. Women, as a whole, are dependent on men behaving themselves to walk around safely. Being stronger doesn't mean men are better. Women have their own strengths and own capabilities, but no amount of women's lib outweighs reality - most men have more upper body strength and, therefore, an edge in hand to hand. So, if women don't want to be raped and killed either they need to move out to a secluded island with just their fellow Amazons, travel in armed bands, or discourage men from becoming monsters. I opt for the latter.

Truth is, if the pendulum swings too far the other way (as I fear it has) and we tell everyone everywhere their fate is entirely in their own hands, then, again, we absolve the violent, the rapists, the manipulative, the users, of their responsibilities. We change the questions from "How did you go out without an escort?" to "Why didn't you fight harder?" when the one who should be scrutinized are thosewho victimized them, those so self-absorbed that they do nothing but serve their own interests with no concern for others. The ones committing the crimes should be in the hot seat, first, foremost, always, NOT the victims.

Note that I say all this as a woman whose spent her career in what is often considered a male-dominated field, who writes characters who frequently kick serious butt, largely using intelligence as opposed to brute force (fighting smarter), characters who are as apt to do the rescuing as be rescued. Because chivalry, treating people with courtesy, honor, respect, and consideration, is a good thing for people to do (of any gender). And, if we can get to the part where we all accept it, where it becomes the defacto norm, much of today's ugliness will be all that easier to spot if only because of the contrast.

Because we can do much more together than we can individually and that's the real reason chivalry should not die. There's nothing wrong with having my husband lay the flooring and open pickle jars any more than there's anything wrong with me doing paperwork or do the bulk of the writing we do together. Cooperation is using each others strengths to fill in the blanks, to make the whole more than a sum of the parts. Because a team isn't successful if everyone's just looking out for number one.


  • Jeff King

    amen to every thing... hated how it was written but like the chars. and couldn't agree more with everything else.

  • Shakespeare

    Hear! Hear!

    Actually, and I hate to say this, chivalry was dead when it was written about. It still isn't really here, though the ideal of it is. I wish I could truly say people like Edward exist, but men are selfish pigs (and yes, I do love my husband).

    Even back when knights were supposedly chivalrous, the code of honor was intended as an attempt to keep them from their own darker natures, yet those darker natures came out, try as they might. Even love poetry had dark purpose, and the pressure was on the recipient of the poetry to respond to it with "merci"... and that meant only one thing.

    I do understand why so many women resist this. Even though I love for my husband to put gas in my car's tank and do other manly things like mow the lawn, etc. I can see how women don't like the exchange--don't like to be objects. I just have to understand that my husband is a guy, that his mind and body work differently than mine do, and that in many ways, we both need each other. Without him, I'd be begging the streets and going insane, and he'd forget to clean the bathroom for years on end.

  • Stephanie B

    The thing about an ideal, an aspiration, is you don't have to absolutely attain it to make the world better. Each person who's more polite, who treats people with honor, who has a generous spirit makes the world better.

  • Jeff King

    I am not selfish. And I am a man.

    I put my wife and kids above myself no matter what. I would go to any lengths to help a friend and have stopped many times to help out a stranger broken down on the side of road.

    But I do agree a man’s mind works a lot different than a woman’s does. And I could see how someone could think being lazy or lazier than they are. Is a sign of being selfish, but on the other hand it is the person asking for something to get done that is the selfish one. Because they aspect it done their way and on their time.

    But not all men are selfish, but we are pigs...

  • mrsbitch

    I'm of an age that I went through the "Women's Lib" movement - the burning bras, laws changing to allow women into jobs previously only filled by men, etc. Were men more chivalrous before all of that? I don't really think so. It may seem like it because women are doing so much more for themselves than was acceptable 40 or 50 years ago.

    I equate chivalry more with manners and integrity than anything else, and both seem to have been on the decline for years. However, I still have men open doors for me and believe there are some who would feel honor bound to protect a woman if she needed it, the same way they would assist another man who needed it.

    Also, women can be just as unchivalrous as men - the words we use to describe them are just different: an unchivalrous man is a jerk or pig, the women are bitches or gold-diggers or whatever.

  • Stephanie B

    I entirely agree, Mrs. Bitch, the chivalry is not gender specific. If I reach a door first, I hold it open. No one should be immune from common courtesy, honor or integrity.

  • The Mother

    I also agree that chivalry should not be gender specific--but we use the term "common courtesy" for that aspect.

    I'm not sure I agree that the original chivalry was entirely chauvinistic, either. It arose from the "courtly love" movement of the 11-12th centuries, which was widely propagated by one of the most feministic women of her time, Eleanor of Aquitane (a true character). The purpose was to elevate women from their role as mere property of men, to give them the right to indulge in the arts, and most importantly, friendships with men who were not their husbands (a HUGE step forward).

    I will also argue that modern feminism has BOTH argued that women are as capable as men, and shot themselves in the foot by claiming that men are solely responsible for sex crimes of virtually any nature, and women are not responsible for their own behavior in many situations.

    Men may be stronger, but we can't blame everything on them.

    DO NOT take this to mean that I feel rape is in any way the woman's fault--rape is not about sex, it's about power and control.

    The feminist point of view on such subjects as "date rape"--which, according to the most strident, should be prosecuted in any case where the woman has sex with a man, wakes up, and realizes that it's a mistake, and she didn't want to--after the fact, or even when they both get drunk (because, somehow, the woman is not at all at fault on that one), is antithetical and harmful to the status of women as capable.

    As is the feminist stance on PMS--women can't control your hormones, so they aren't responsible for their behavior during certain times of the month.

    To me, you have to choose one side or another. Either we are capable, or we aren't. Pick one.

  • Stephanie B

    The Mother, making the statement that people have confused chivalry with chauvinism doesn't mean I think it is, just noting that some people have confused them largely because many of the areas where "gentlemanliness" was considered most prevalent were also those places where women were the most oppressed. My point is that I don't think true chivalry has anything to do with chauvinism.

    I'm an advocate for responsibility and don't agree that women should hold men entirely responsible for consensual acts. However, I think that is still very much the exception and not the rule. Even women who have been clearly brutalized are still put under the microscope, their actions and past considered evidence.

    My issue is that neither extreme is healthy. One is responsible for one's actions, but not those of another. Being treated with courtesy and respect is not a sign of contempt or patronization, whichever gender is doing it.

    Men and women are equal but different. There's nothing wrong in those differences. Nothing wrong with admitting to limitations and nothing wrong with providing support where someone else has a limitation. We can be capable without being able to do everything. That's the one I pick. I'm not a black and white person.

    FYI, in my entire life, I have never used PMS as an excuse nor let my daughter do the same. Whatever the situation, I'm responsible for my actions.

    Those Plantagenets, they sure liked those feisty women.

  • The Mother

    Those Plantagenets liked feisty women, until they started threatening them; then they locked them up. Poor Eleanor.

    And yes, the legal process, despite massive improvements, still puts the victims of sex-related crimes under scrutiny. The problem is that, in the absence of proper forensic evidence, the issue often dissolves to a he said--she said argument. Hopefully, as more and more women watch those crime procedurals on TV, they will figure out that the best way to protect themselves is to show up in an ER, pronto.

    Let us not forget that there have been several, well publicized cases where a woman falsely accused the man, usually because she was embarrassed by her own behavior. Families have been ruined and men imprisoned.

    So there is no easy solution.

    I do wish more women felt the way we do about the whole hormone thing. PMS sets women back 200 years.

    I agree with the "different but equal" idea. Can we try that, as a society?

  • Stephanie B

    Women who falsely accuse men of rape hurt us all. But for every one of those I've heard, there is an OJ Simpson situation. And right now, the estimates are still 4 unreported rapes for everyone one that's reported (I personally know of half a dozen of the latter and only one prosecuted case of rape). Let's not confuse notoriety with prevalence.

    The men and women who are monsters (and they come in both flavors) don't have to represent the rest of us. Hence my post.

    I would love to espouse the different but equal mentality; I, in fact, do. I don't think women should be hired in physically demanding jobs, like firemen, unless they can meet the same criteria; I also think, if they can meet it, they should equal opportunity for the job. For jobs that are less demanding (and let's face it, most are), it should be a matter of capability and nothing else.

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