Can Chivalry Be Anything Other Than Chauvinism in 2017?
C. Brian Smith
4510

Look, what you’re talking about isn’t chivalry. It isn’t even close. Not in any real sense and certainly NOT in the 11th-12 century version(s) of it. It’s the modern perpetuation of what the modern (actually Victorian) world THINKS (sometimes) is medieval. It’s medievalism. One of the most important manuals we have on chivalry is from a 12th century fellow, Geoffroi De Charney, called The Book of Chivalry. (It’s in French, but there are some excellent modern translations, including facing page translations). In a book that is maybe 60 pages, like 5–7 at most are on women at all. Some are on whether or not you should marry (life long soldiers-to-clergy were an option), and what it meant if you did, and whether or not having a lady was a good idea, etc. A bit was to women on how they should dress. But it wasn’t ANYTHING like the rules you’re talking about today.

In fact, most of chivalry was about fighting. (The word itself comes from the french word for horse, and was about maintaining a horse, something a knight would do, and that was incredibly expensive.) In fact, a lot of it was a structure that kept a lot of trained, armed young men from wandering around causing havoc.

The “chivalry” you’re talking about is the Victorian creation. The same thing that fueled all that pomp and frippery and nonsense in Gone with the Wind. You’re talking about a fantasy of an idea. The fact that chivalry became more about how you treat women (and pretty much only good, “angels in the house” type women) is a bit of a testament to how much it is, in many ways, oppressive. For example, if you wait for a man to hand you into and out of a car, you’re giving him control of your space and choice. You only move when he tells you to. It doesn’t have this much of that connotation today, and usually (99% of the time) it is a guy being polite. I will say, though, I’ve seen it used in abusive relationships, and it was all about control.

“Chivalry” also locks men into a bunch of unhealthy roles.

And I can’t even with the whole “women couldn’t divorce; women couldn’t own property; women couldn’t marry w/o consent.” No, no, and no. (Divorce was very uncommon, period. Mistresses, however, were not). Again, this is a fantasy of the middle ages through the eyes of the Victorian era. The Victorian era (and to some extent the Renaissance started this) took a lot of freedom from women. Medieval women ran their own business — including beer brewing — , could inherit property, ran large estates, and had a lot of autonomy. (For a sort of bizarre example see The Book of Margery Kempe. For a literary one, Chaucer’s Wife of Bath). Also women could gain power through the church, prioresses and abbesses, for example. And yes, marriages were arranged, but remember 1. this meant men couldn’t marry w/o consent either and 2. this was true for the upper classes. The lower class you were, the more freedom you had in this area.

To the main point of your article — what are we to do with things that for years (though not as many years as you think) were simply called good manners? — it doesn’t much matter what chivalry was, only what people today think it was and is now. So, in that sense, it is immaterial whether or not your definition is accurate — it’s whether people share your perceptions, and they do.

I’m just tired of people not understanding that we are looking back at the Middle Ages through a whole lot of very foggy glasses, and what we think is medieval, just from gleaning it from the world we live in, is not.