‘Chivalry’s not dead.’
When I think of this phrase, I imagine flirty older ladies called Mavis or Irene twittering as they bat their spidery lashes at the man pulling out their chair or holding a door open for them.
When you hear it, do you think of these ladies, scent heavy enough to down a stampeding rhino, bust broad enough for every member of the Treorchy Welsh Male Voice Choir to rest his weary head on after a tiring eisteddfod?
Or do you imagine Arthurian knights, chastity belts and magical swords hefted by watery bints?
Well, as I’ve chosen CHIVALRY for this week’s Wednesday Word Tangle, you better have a good think about it. Come, take my hand, let’s have a wander.
Medieval codes of chivalry vary depending on the source, but one set was described in the 12th century Song of Roland, a French chanson de geste, or ‘song of great deeds’ (i.e a ditty written in celebration of killing), recounting the story of Charlemagne’s nephew. According to the song, amongst other things knights must remember,
to protect the weak and defenceless
to give succour to widows and orphans
to live by honour and for glory
to fight for the welfare of all
to obey those placed in authority
to eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit
to respect the honour of women.
Now, I don’t think I’m being too much of a cynic when I say these laws weren’t always adhered to, especially if your widows were Muslim or your orphans were Jewish. Sometimes they didn’t even apply if they were Christian, or at least the wrong kind of Christian. In 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, when the knights were short of cash to fund the trip to Jerusalem, they plundered the Eastern Christian city of Constantinople, killing and torturing a fair number of its citizens – men, women and children – in the process. Clearly, obeying authority didn’t always coincide with protecting the weak and defenceless.
I guess the closest thing we have to chivalry today is what you’d call ‘gentlemanly’ behaviour. When I was a teenager, the boys at the local nightclubs seemed to think being a gentleman consisted of buying a girl you fancied a vodka and orange and holding her hair out of the firing line as she’s regurgitated a dozen of them behind the wheelie bins in the carpark. Personally, I always insisted on buying my own drinks, always suspecting any staggering, sweaty beau bearing luminous drinks at the end of the night only did it so he didn’t have to bear the shame of leaving the club alone.
I don’t expect a man to hold a door open for me just because I’m female. I don’t see why the arrangement of my genitalia should have a particular impact on doors. Is there something magical about tucked away bits that compels some men to grab the nearest handle?
And what about those (increasingly rare) times when men – ones old enough to be your dad, maybe your uncle – look shamefaced or apologise for swearing in front of you. It’s rather quaint and vaguely endearing, but I’m no delicate flower. My knicker arrangement does not mean I will spontaneously combust at the first hearing of an ‘f’ an ‘s’ or even – da-da-daaa – that most powerful of swears, a ‘c’ word.
I would, though, prefer it if folk – male or female – didn’t feel the need to cuss like a navvy, a docker or any other kind of now-defunct manual worker in my local supermarket/ on my bus home at full volume in an eye-blisteringly aggressive manner.
Being a gentleman is as good as dead. So is chivalry, thank goodness.
Let’s forget outmoded codes of behaviour based on gender and just be a bit nicer to everyone.
Forget CHIVALRY. A bit of empathy is what we all need.
Ta to Kittykat, the founder of W4W