Chivalry, despite what some have said, is not dead. In fact, it may be more important now than ever. But chivalry is not what you think.
This topic trends on the Internet every once in a while: Chivalry is dead! Men are buffoons and treating women like crap. People only want to have sex these days—who dates anymore? And, seriously, why can’t I get someone to open a door for me?! Well, I have some good news for these folks. Men paying for dinner, opening doors, being the first/only person to initiate conversations, or phone calls—none of this really has to do with chivalry. Chivalry is alive and well. The things that people are whining about have more to do with gender norms that much of society has moved beyond but you can still practice if you want. You just have to — shocker! — communicate with people.
Let’s start with chivalry first. Back in ye olde medieval times, knights were granted a sort of special status in society. They were soldiers, yes, but professional soldiers. With horses. They were essentially the first cavalry, and, effectively some of the most physically and militarily strong people in society. When you have people walking around with swords on horses, you have to have a way to keep those people with insane amounts of physical power in check. Thus, we have chivalry, or the knight’s code.
Chivalry is actually a fairly complex code of ethics, and similar to most concepts like this, shifts and changes depending on to whom you speak. But, among its core principles are: be brave and fight for your lord, be an expert at your martial training, and serve others who cannot help themselves.
This last part of chivalry is what we latch on to when we think of opening doors for ladies. Indeed, in the late middle ages, chivalry was incorporated into the idea of courtly love: that a man should serve his lady above all other women. But take note: courtly love was not very often, in fact, rarely, practiced between husbands and wives. It has little to do with courtship or romantic love that we conceive of today.
Chivalry in and of itself is not about love, dating, or even specifically about how to treat women. It’s about how you treat people who don’t have as much power as you. Chivalry demands that you defend the defenseless, help the helpless, and devote your life to the service of others.
Forgive me, but I don’t think that’s what Bro writing for the Elite Daily had in mind. He just wants the “rules of dating” to be easier.
The fact of the matter is this: in the Middle Ages, women were almost categorically weaker than men. Women who did not have husbands or families to promote their welfare were in many ways helpless because of the gender constructs of those societies. Thus, chivalry almost always meant treating women a particular way—with respect as it meant in that time period.
But we don’t live in that world anymore. Like it or not, women are more powerful, more capable, and more independent than they were when chivalry was born and more so than when the so-called “chivalry” that people are bemoaning was in vogue. Women aren’t helpless anymore, but there still are many people who are, and we reach out to help them. Chivalry is in the pervasive idea that you should give to the poor, help someone in need, or go grocery shopping for your neighbor when they’re sick. It’s in our society where there are Salvation Army bell-ringers, in organizations like Planned Parenthood and the Institute for Justice, in the acts of everyday strangers helping others out on the street. These, my friends, are examples of true chivalry.
I am sympathetic to those who enter the dating game and find that the rules have changed from what our parents taught us. Finding a romantic partner is difficult enough without some kind of code to fall back on that everyone understands. But these codes aren’t chivalry—they’re outdated gender norms, and I prefer a society where everyone talks to each other and determines individual preferences to one that treats people and how to relate to them as if they are mere extensions of their gender.
If you want to date along those old codes, there are people out there for you. You just have to ask them.