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The Modern Art of Chivalry

Updated on April 20, 2015

From Knights through Chaucer

The idea of Chivalry initially arose in the early middle ages as a code of conduct for knights only on the battlefield. It also only applied to how knights treated other knights, especially those who were captured, and thus did not apply to the common soldier on the battlefield. Essentially, it was a class dependent system. Over time it also began to incorporate elements of Christianity

In the late middle ages, with the writings of Chaucer and other authors romanticizing the idea of Chivalry, the code developed into a proper etiquette of courtly conduct, especially between knights and the women they "courted". Still, it was an inherently classist system.

It is this blend of military practice, Christian virtue, and courtly etiquette which most people think of when they speak of Chivalry. And into the 20th Century it manifested throughout society as the picture of the gentleman--holding doors open for women, standing when they enter the room, and properly paced relationships. None of this was bad, per say, but the chivalrous way of life soon found itself incompatible with modern values of society.

Post-"Feminism" Chivalry

The adage goes, "If Chivalry is dead, it's because women killed it". While the blame cannot rest solely on women, there is a large amount of truth to this statement. Part of the problem with Medieval Chivalry was that it portrayed women as defenseless and weak, in need of constant protection and guidance. Obviously there are examples contrary to this image, but the majority of the women's movement of the 20th Century saw the idea of chivalry not only condescending, but threatening to the equality and proper treatment of women. In many ways this was a valid observation, and the Chivalry of the middle ages is no longer compatible with modern society.

Still, we're still struggling with defining and manifesting proper relationships between genders. The issues of have just changed: rather than rescuing women from dragons, abduction, and slimy barons, we now are engaged of fights concerning "women's health", equal pay, sexuality, their role in society, work, and church. Surely there is a need for a renewed form of "chivalry". The question is, what does that look like?

Reclaiming the Art

The "New Code of Chivalry" should focus on three different areas: Our Inner attitude towards women, Our actions towards women, and our participation in "Gender Justice". While the issue of what constitutes gender is a hot topic (the author does not deny that gender does of consist as a spectrum), for the purpose of this article we will just discuss Men in relationship to Women.

1) Inner Attitude--The Virtue of Chivalry must start as an interior way of thinking, and it is at this step that most men fail, even if unconsciously. The man who wants to be chivalrous must see all women (not just his wife, his mother, and his sister) in all their glory. He must see them as equals possessing valuable and admirable skills that enrich the lives of all around them. He must see both her inner and outer beauty. He must desire to love all women in the way appropriate to their relationship with him. In this way, being chivalrous requires humility and love above all other things.

2) Actions towards Women-- Modern Chivalry must consist in more than holding open doors and standing when women enter the room. These things are amazing to do for women (when done with the right intent), and I wish more women were appreciative of them. But modern chivalry must go beyond mere politeness to all women. Our actions towards women will be a manifestation of our attitude towards them. Therefore a chivalrous man will listen to women, and not be afraid to take their opinion seriously. He will not chide them for being emotional, nor will he be afraid to allow them to lead when appropriate. His actions will affirm that he views women as empowered, capable, intelligent, and virtuous. He will be a true custodian of her sexuality. Empowering her to make virtuous decisions while never forcing himself on her (nor allowing others to do so). However, genuine love compels him to appropriately express concern when he feels she is acting as a detriment to herself. He will be open to such criticism from her as well.

3) Participating in "Gender Justice"-- No man can be truly Chivalrous without taking his fight for women beyond his personal relationships and into the greater world. It is important to note that, rather than fighting "for" women, men should be fighting "with" women. Their efforts and ability are an equal asset in the fight for gender relationships. There are many ways this can happen, and each man should decide which method is best for him. Movements like #heforshe are great places to start, and even just raising awareness of issues on social media can go along way. This is also includes, and perhaps more importantly, men's responsibility to hold each other accountable. Men who see or hear other men treating or referring to women poorly need to step up and defend women, especially if the woman is not around or incapable of defending herself. To do otherwise is cowardly, and undermines any positive attitude or action you take towards women in your own life.


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