Chivalry Under Fire

I just googled the term Benedictio Novi Militis (Blessing of a New Knight) and happened upon a British feminist blog where I read this comment:

Polite is just custom, as is secular or modern chivalry, the religious version, blessing of sword on altar, truce of God, orphans, widows protected from mayhem,

I think “Benedictio novi militis.” was the first time since the Roman era that soldiers became respectable. In fact,

in the late Roman period in the west they were also hated, that aversion essentially continued to the crusades.

Chivalry is a boy-word for doing the right thing in the right circumstances. It’s as patriarchal as the pigeon splattered statues of yesterday’s war-mongering classes in the park.

To each calling there is a custom. If one is lining up for a life-boat, that’s probably not the time to make a big issue out of it

The whole post is quite interesting, as are the related posts, especially this one, which contains the following:

It seems to have been forgotten that it is the assumptions behind many chivalrous acts that make them objectionable to feminists. Below the surface, male chivalry has never truly been in the name of fairness or real respect. It inevitably gets paid for through female acceptance of a weaker and more needy role. Indeed, there is a particular kind of bitter man who, when recounting tales of rebuffed chivalry will have quite a little temper tantrum, huffing that he won’t bother next time. After all, if we don’t make him feel big and strong why should he make the effort? This kind of condescension is similar to what wheelchair users have often had to endure when being offered apparently well-meaning help from people. If niceness is really what it’s all about then people ought to consider that it really isn’t nice to use others to bolster your own ego (or at least not unless you’re sure you have their consent). Like with many other issues around the politics of power, women have been led to believe that there are only two options: smile sweetly and feel like a lady when he opens the door (thus accepting the price attached) or have it slammed in your face. The message is clear- you’re never going to make him respect you as an equal so you’d better accept the consolation prize of chivalry. It’s his best offer after all.

It’s true that, for some men, chivalry is the only way of relating to women in a polite way. Conservative society would have them believe that this is the only thing that holds in their aggressive manly urges. These men have been trained to respect women for the wrong reasons and the only alternative made available to them is negative. In ‘A Return to Modesty’, Wendy Shalit claims that today’s men are non-sexist but questions whether women are any happier because of it. But the boorish men she criticises could hardly be described as non-sexist. It is not the genuinely non-sexist men who are contributing to women’s unhappiness but resentful sexist men who can only be convinced to conduct themselves in a reasonable and well-mannered fashion if there is a patriarchal reward at the end of it. Shalit says that ‘In the old view, if you weren’t considerate to women you weren’t really a man’. Do men really have so little regard for women that proving they’re Real Men (and therefore not women) is a more important project than the far simpler one of just being aware of the other people around them and not clinging to their prejudices?

In the West chivalry developed as a code of ethics to moderate the ferocity of warriors and potentates.  On the part of the monks and other ecclesiastics who preached chivalry, it was based on Catholic principles, but their aim was somewhat pragmatic, that is, they wished to teach virtue for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, but they knew that in most cases all they would manage to accomplish would be to moderate the mayhem.  On the part of the warriors who accepted it, chivalry was mostly pragmatic.  Only a minority of the knights really embraced the ideal with their hearts, men such as St. Louis, King of France.  Knights were socially pressured by the Church and by their opportunistic peers to behave themselves, and to some degree it worked.

So the criticisms of chivalry above are not entirely off the mark.  For the most part when feminists talk about chivalry, they are speaking of the external customs which are often heartless attempts at pleasing women for the wrong reasons.  Most often when I do a search for information of chivalry, I find a blog post on how to pick up girls.  Not much has changed.

But What I find disconcerting are remarks such as the following from the commenter:

Chivalry is a boy-word for doing the right thing in the right circumstances. It’s as patriarchal as the pigeon splattered statues of yesterday’s war-mongering classes in the park.

I am not sure what could be wrong or “pigeon spattered” about “doing the right thing in the right circumstances.”  If that is patriarchy, which in the finest sense of the word it is, then let’s have more of it.  But I must assume that the commenter questions motives, as does the blogger in the second quote above.

There the contention is made that the only possible motive for “doing the right thing in the right circumstances” is egotistical and manipulative.  The man wants to be affirmed in his masculinity so he treats the woman like a lady.  He wants something for himself so he is nice.   I would agree that much of what goes under the title of “chivalry” is precisely this.  But it is not necessarily or essentially the case.

But the problem here is that traditionally the treatment of a “lady” has been based on the particular vulnerability that belongs to woman because she can potentially become a mother, and unless she is respected, she will likely become one in less than desirable circumstances.  This is why the second wave of feminism fought for “reproductive rights.”  Birth control and abortion are the necessary ingredients for a complete jettisoning of a woman’s inherent “weakness.”  And it had to go.  It is also why so many feminist women seem to hate their bodies.

It is, in fact, possible for a man to love a woman because of who she is, and to respect her particular type of vulnerability because it is worthy of honor, which BTW, does not make her less equal or valuable.

And why should anyone chafe at the notion that a man who disrespects a woman is unmanly as the blogger suggests?

Do men really have so little regard for women that proving they’re Real Men (and therefore not women) is a more important project than the far simpler one of just being aware of the other people around them and not clinging to their prejudices?

It is not a question of proving anything, but a litmus test for manly virtue.  Femininity, fertility maternity and marriage are realities.  They have always been around, and no amount of revisionist history is going to religate them to the dusty shelves of cultural relativism.  Regard for them is not predjudice, but the common sense that not even abortion can obliterate.

8 thoughts on “Chivalry Under Fire

  1. Well, if you can peel away the comments about chivalry being foolish and boylike and archaic, then I agree with the rest of the *conversation* these women were having. I do think, in general, people have become very impolite and so self-absorbed that they don’t even NOTICE others and their situation. It reminds me of Christmas Eve Mass (the 4:00 one) that is unbelievably crowded … standing room only. There are elderly people and mothers with young children that are forced to stand while teenage boys (and girls for that matter) are sitting comfortably in a pew. Even a teenage girl should give up her seat for a clearly elderly gentleman, don’t you think?

  2. It never fails to amaze me how convoluted the minds of those who push God away can become. Up becomes down, left turned to right, and white into black in their minds. It is only by the grace of God that we can see truth for what He created it as. A truly feminine woman has no need to have others see her for who God created her (a delicate blossom in the garden of souls), but is it not something God could send the graces to a man to understand and in a way revere. I am no great theologian, all I know is mostly from life experience, as little as that may be…but I know that those little acts of chivalry are just the first baby steps. Just as the words “I’m sorry” may not always be sincere when spoken, but the sincerity inevitably will follow; so a man who practices small acts of chivalry can become deeply steeped in chivalric virtue. True to say most men in this day and age do acts of chivalry without real virtue upholding it, but that doesn’t wipe off the possibility of it growing into those virtues in the future. It always begins somewhere; you cannot build a tower without first hewing the rock to form the foundation.

  3. Jennifer,

    I agree in substance, but I would just reiterate that the thought reflected on that blog is not advocacy for a more courteous society, but cynicism about any real differences between men and woman, with assertion that any conviction to the contrary is sexist and bigoted.

    In the Kitchen,

    There is some virtue in the adage: “Fake it, till you make it” (as long as the goal is to make it and not fake it).

    If gender differences are allowed for, then it is generally true that women are more attentive to the good of persons and men tend to be more neanderthal. Most normal people will not dispute this, nor will parents deny that it becomes evident even before children have had a chance to learn habits.

    Boys need a code of behavior. Even if it seems somewhat artificial and ritualistic in the beginning, the willingness to adopt it should be encouraged and not cynically dismissed as insincere.

  4. It IS this cynicism which is upheld in these types of musings as the highest order of thought.

    A co-worker of mine was boasting that his daughter (who spoke at her high school graduation as valedictorian) gave her speech on the meaning and value of cynicism in a modern world. Essentially, she was telling her teachers, parents and graduating peers that cynicism is a value which helps prepare one for the “real world”. The talk was received with great applause.

    It’s ironic that those who are most cynical would often lecture us all to “not judge another person’s motives”. At the same time… they seem to believe they know the motives of any person who acts in a courteous way toward the other as being merely utilitarian.

    What darkened intellect could support this kind of self hating schizophrenia?

  5. Pascendi,

    I think that there is a lot of anger among the cynics and it is of a personal nature. I don’t mean to say anything ad hominem against an individual; however, I do think that it is generally true that personal anger about the way men or leaders have treated individuals has led those individuals to make their own generalizations contra common sense against the fundamental institutions of natural law.

  6. Father Angelo,

    Here is a little poem about “Chivalry” that I have always liked. It is entitled “The Old Code.”

    Inside the Table’s Circle,
    Under the Sacred Sword,
    A Knight must vow to follow
    The Code that is Unending.
    Unending as the Table –
    A Ring by Honor bound.

    A Knight is sworn to Valor.
    His Heart knows only Virtue.
    His Blade defends the Helpless.
    His Might upholds the Weak.
    His Word Speaks only Truth.
    His Wrath undoes the Wicked.

    The Right can never die,
    If one man still recalls.
    The words are not forgot,
    If one voice speaks them clear.
    The Code forever shines,
    If one heart holds it bright.”

    From the book entitled “Dragonheart” by Charles Edward Pogue.

  7. John,

    You noticed that too. Good point.

    Otherwise the pic was great. Anyway, what photographer wants to stand in front of a feminist woman with a loaded gun pointed at the camera?

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