If chivalry isn’t already dead, then at the very least, it seems to have passed its expiration date.
Gone are the days of the chivalrous knight in his shining armor – a knight who would slay any number of dragons to rescue a beautiful princess. A knights who would pull out a throne for the princess to sit upon during the following banquet, pay the full bill for said banquet and then, at the end of the evening, would walk said princess back to the portcullis of her own castle.
For many men, their reluctance to display chivalrous behavior is linked to a concern that women now view such acts as embarrassing or even insulting.
The notion that chivalry is sexist is a belief subscribed to in many branches of feminism. Chivalry, it is claimed, relies on a gendered premise that women are weak and need protection. Thus, while chivalry might be benevolent (at best), ultimately it just puts women down.
In part, I think this problem with chivalry stems from a reluctance to actively recognize the differences that exist between the sexes. It’s argued that chivalry is unnecessary, because if men and women are equal, then there should be no substantial difference between the way men behave towards women and the way women behave towards men. This kind of thinking confuses equality with sameness. In reality, while men and women are certainly equal in dignity, we are not the same.
One of the most obvious differences is physical strength. A quick glance at a Belarussian female power-lifter would reveal that strength is not the exclusive domain of men, but even so, this trait has always been associated with masculinity.
Strength has been an important aspect of chivalry since the Middle Ages, when knights would swear an oath to defend to their uttermost the weak, the orphan, the widow and the oppressed. Chivalry was fundamentally about men using their strength to serve and protect others.
To be sure, this argument would be a lot easier to make if I was a 6th century knight driving off hordes of invaders who sought to burn and pillage. These days, there are very few women out there who actually require a man’s physical strength to get a door open or pull out a chair. But there’s a deeper symbolic significance to these acts.
At this point, I want to share a story from the life of Samuel Proctor, a 20th century Christian minister. One day, Proctor was in an elevator and a young woman entered, so he tipped his hat to her. She was offended and responded by asking, ‘What is that supposed to mean?” to which Proctor replied, “Madame, by tipping my hat I was telling you several things. That I would not harm you in any way. That if someone came into this elevator and threatened you, I would defend you. That if you fell ill, I would tend to you and if necessary carry you to safety. I was telling you that even though I am a man and physically stronger than you, I will treat you with both respect and solicitude. But frankly, Madame, it would have taken too much time to tell you all of that; so, instead, I just tipped my hat.
Ultimately, chivalry isn’t about performing certain courteous acts; it’s about a mindset of respect. A man should not perform chivalrous acts for women because he thinks “they can’t do it themselves.” He should perform such acts out of love and service.
This point is particularly important as we seek to address our culture’s huge problem with the objectification of women. Chivalry places a very special emphasis on the way men treat their female counterparts. The chivalrous man is called to uphold the value of women as human persons, not as objects for his pleasure.
To all of my female readers, I think that one of the saddest aspects of the disrespectful behavior some men exhibit towards the opposite sex is that far too many women tolerate it. In a society where this tolerance exists, alongside a widespread male perception that chivalrous acts are offensive, it isn’t surprising that the way men relate to women has degenerated.
However, a woman who sets her standards high will be far more likely to attract men who are willing to meet them. You deserve chivalrous men in your life, men who will respect you and authentically care for you. Don’t give up on that. Don’t settle for less.
And to the male readers: Saint Josemaria Escriva once said, “There is a need for a crusade of manliness and purity to counteract and nullify the savage work of those who think man is a beast. And that crusade is your work.”
Live a life that demonstrates chivalry. Make your stand.
Samuel Brebner is an under-graduate, studying theology and law at the University of Auckland. He lives in New Zealand, loves to surf, and hopes to challenge youth to be everything God created them to be. Samuel works part-time with Real Talk, a Catholic organization that speaks in high schools on the topics of sex, relationships and personal identity. For more of Sam’s writing, visit his blog https://parttimeprophet.net/.