Since Tuesday’s blog was relatively bleak, today I’m opting for something almost as international, and just a little less catastrophic: relationships, men, women, and the lamentable death of chivalry. As the title reads, and Nelly Furtado sings, “Chivalry is dead, but you’re still kinda cute”.
I have heard, certainly more than once, that chivalry (you can find the definition here) is dead. And, if you consider the time in which we live (i.e. not the Middle Ages) then yes, it is very much dead; that much is easily understood. Of course, if we consider the accompanying code of conduct and the chivalric values, there’s definitely a debate to be had. There aren’t many knightly men left in the world if we measure modern men against medieval men, but one must also consider that the chivalric code was largely a product of literature and not of real life. That point is the crux of the whole issue, as well as what makes this day and age just as chivalrous as any, though the actions and terminology that define it are nearly unrecognizable.
Let’s see, how many times over the last four years have I heard the word chivalry/been asked to define it/used it in a paper? Certainly more than 100. I’m intimately acquainted with the concept, and I have been quite attached to the idea that there are still men out there who abide by a code of conduct that might be considered knightly. There are lots and lots of them who don’t abide by such a conduct, but that’s not new. It is the evolution of the chivalric values that I’m interested in. If Mick Jagger can be knighted by the Queen, surely we can say that chivalry has evolved. In fact, if Mick Jagger has the chops to have been knighted, just about every man I know should be known as Sir, no questions asked.
The proper actions are a huge part of being considered knightly, and the actions of today’s men have been so harshly condemned at times that one might wonder what the Hell has happened to the male species in the last five hundred years. However! (and that’s a big however) women certainly can’t escape from criticism, even though some seem to think it’s a privilege we should possess. And we can’t go around saying that our collective behaviour has gotten that much worse, because let me tell you, medieval men and women were just as bad or worse than we are today. The literature may paint a pretty picture, but the history isn’t in keeping with such a laudable view.
Meanwhile, getting back to the actions of chivalrous men: if a modern man were to act as a medieval one might and pine for his lady, write her verses and fight battles in her name, a modern woman would likely either a) be completely weirded out, or b) get a restraining order and label him a stalker. Though I prize the literary view of those actions, real-life execution of such behaviour becomes awkward, making both parties uncomfortable at best. A chivalrous action in today’s world becomes more about the motivation behind it and less about the action itself. For example, if a man is kind and genuine, he will do nice things for the woman for whom he cares, as well as the important people in his life. I particularly like the “open door” scenario: a man opens the door for his wife/partner/girlfriend as a gesture of kindness or courtesy. Now, I’m of the opinion that there is nothing wrong with such a gesture, though some women take offense to it. The simple act of opening of a door, preparing a meal, paying for a ticket to a movie – all of these things (to me) fall under the category of what it means to be modern and chivalrous. This, of course, means that women can be chivalrous as well, which I think is wonderful. The idea that chivalry can be based in equality makes me smile, though I do admit that I’m all for being doted upon by an ambitiously chivalrous man.
The more interesting aspect of modern chivalry is definitely the language: how it has evolved, how it comes into play, and how technology has changed everything about the way we communicate with one another. The way in which we communicate has changed so much over the course of the English language, certainly, that one generations’ view of romantic or chivalrous language is sometimes drastically different from another’s. With text messaging and e-mail and all of the social networking sites that have taken over the internet, the way we speak to each other has completely changed over the last 15 years or so, so much that we only have to type a few letters to express an entire sentence full of feelings to someone. omgwtfbbq! lol. wtf? btw. ttyl. rofl. bff. lyf. fu. I came across a new one today: MUSM, which means: miss you so much. We’ve become a culture of such immediacy that a full sentence is a rarity sometimes, especially when it comes to wireless communication. In that way, when a person (men and women can be included, here) makes the effort to go farther than to send a few letters, or to include a few more emoticons here and there, that the message might be heightened with the employment of tiny, yellow circles – even that might seem slightly chivalrous because of the extra effort, the meaning behind the messages.
The point is, chivalrous language is no longer the fancy, frilly language it once was: it’s not romantic in the old fashioned sense, it’s new fangled and improvised, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be chivalrous in its own way. I, personally, am not a fan of people who use shortened language in any circumstance, but that’s because I’m an English Major and therefore I am in love with the language and its subtleties. So shoot me. Just don’t use u for you or r for are, or I might get medieval on your ass.
The moral of the story is: you can find medieval chivalry in books, movies and poetry, but not in the frequent text messages of your peeps or the advances of drunken men in bars. Chivalry is in the intent – seek it out, or make your own.