Sunday, 4 May 2008

Chivalry and courtship in modern times

David Brady’s comment about my last post was a perfect lead-in to a topic I’ve been thinking about lately – what’s left of chivalry in today’s society?

Firstly, whilst I’m nowhere near ready to start compromising my principles or my wants, if I’m going to prioritise the main qualities that I find more and less important in my dream guy, I would rank chivalry and gentlemanly behaviour slightly above dominance and leadership. Of course, I do want and need a man to guide and lead me if he and I are to successfully pursue a relationship.

But first, I need to be treated like a lady (I like to think I act like one!)…I need him to act like a gentleman…and perhaps more importantly, I need to respect a man in order to follow him – I need to know that my leader is a gentleman.

The bad news is that chivalry today is quite rare and we women have long-since been conditioned to make do without it. But the good news is that the few men left who understand what it means to be a gentleman have the opportunity to shine…because they are part of a rare and lovely breed.

I wish I could tell all of you men that we women love having chivalrous deeds bestowed upon us, but there are women out there who would beat me up for making such a sweeping statement :) So I’ll just say that if you do take the risk and act chivalrously, unsure how your good deed will be received, know that for those of us ladies who appreciate your efforts, we appreciate it even more because we know you took the risk of getting yelled at! :)

Chivalry’s original purpose was twofold: it served as a formal code for knighthood, with ritualistic and theatrical aspects intended to mould a man into a suitable knight. But since becoming a knight meant that a man was entitled to court ladies in the elite class, some of the codes of chivalry were related to romancing these ladies. The codes served to create an atmosphere of romance, tenderness and respect. A truly chivalrous man should be brave and strong enough to fight for his lady, but tender enough to romance her. Despite modern feminists’ claims that chivalry demeans women, its original (and still true) purpose was to put women up on a pedestal. And in addition to engaging in chivalry whilst pursuing a lady romantically, the code also required that men extend chivalrous deeds to any unaccompanied women.

It was and is a man’s duty to protect the women in his company.

From an overall (romantic or not) standpoint, I just love the civilised and respectful nature of chivalry. I love it when a man opens a door for me, offers to carry my bags or seems concerned for my safety whilst we are walking down the street. It makes me feel like a respected lady and it gives me respect for the man in question.

One of my oldest and dearest friends back in America is married to a southern gentleman. As far as I know, they do not have any sort of a TiH aspect to their marriage, but they have adopted relatively traditional roles. And his mannerisms not only toward her, but also toward all women, are a perfect example of basic chivalry…a gesture of respect from a man to a woman. When they lived in a home that required guests to park far away, he’d insist on walking me to my car if it was late when I left from visiting them; if the three of us went somewhere, he opened the car doors for both my friend and I. He treats my friend, his wife, like she is the most prized woman he has ever come across.

But he, unfortunately, serves as a rare and idealistic version of basic chivalry in modern times. His southern American roots placed him in one of the few places left where boys are still taught how to properly relate to and respect women. The reasons for the downfall of chivalry are varied and many and both men and women, for several generations back, are to blame.

Society, as a whole, started the ugliness, by forgetting how important women are to society; by insinuating, through both culture and law, that women should be treated as second-class citizens. At that point, it was more the fault of men than women, because it was men who were building and maintaining these norms. I don’t blame women back then for feeling a need to change things, I just wish they had gone about it a bit differently.

Because the manner with which women fought back was what really started the ugliness, creating the beginning of a gender war that is (still) killing everything chivalry once stood for. In the eyes of the early feminists, chivalry was suddenly to blame for the ill treatment of women.

The early feminists decided that the only way to gain respect was to become independent and redundant to men, taking on the same roles that men occupied…and by extension, the respect and courtesy so inherent in chivalry became both unnecessary and offensive.

Fast forward to today and the last generation of men who truly understood what it meant to be a chivalrous gentleman is long gone…and, save a few of them, today’s young men are nearly completely ignorant of what it means to treat a woman like a lady. Men and women have become identical and the idea of treating a woman differently, in any manner, is viewed as offensive.

Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but I have always wished that instead of abandoning their unappreciated feminine roles in favour of the masculine roles that were already respected by society, that the early feminists had worked harder to gain respect for feminine roles. I wish that instead of learning to hammer nails, women had worked harder to make sewing a respected skill.

I wish I lived in a society where it was commonplace for women to act as ladies and for men to act as gentlemen. The society I do live in is one where women have stopped acting like ladies and they’ve stopped expecting and requiring men to act like gentleman…we all simply act as inharmonious equals.

The realistic version of “chivalry” today is something as basic and simple as a man stooping to help a nearby woman collect something she dropped. I, as a woman, have been conditioned to appreciate something that small, because the likelihood of anything more chivalrous is unlikely. Most of my male friends treat me as an “equal,” I’m expected to find my own way home after a night out, to choose where we’ll eat, etc. Modern society has created an aura of independence and a lack of connectivity between a man and a woman, where chivalry once provided a deeply respectful connection.

And while chivalry should extend to all relations between a man and a woman, within a romantic relationship it takes on an additional level and dimension. In a romantic relationship, chivalry becomes courtship. And, as with platonic chivalry, that idea seems to be a dying concept.

When a man courts a woman, he pursues her romantically in a manner that is slow, sweet, and respectful…he makes it clear to her that he wants her for the long-term, not just for a quick fling. And, of course, in courting her, he is leading the relationship already. So I guess, in essence, courtship is how a man properly leads a lady into a relationship.

Again, if we put aside the overt power dynamic inherent in my ideal of a traditional relationship, then much of what is left is really a very romantic, innocent, respectful and civilised courtship. A silly and old-fashioned word I know, but when I look back at the men I’ve been attracted to, they all share certain characteristics. One of the major ones was that they were, in essence, courting me.

These men respected me and they understood that there is a certain level of intimacy and forwardness that can only happen once two people are committed to each other. That’s the nature of an old-fashioned relationship :) Later in the relationship, when he is leading me, I’ll know from his earlier courtship that he truly respects and values me.

I met a wonderful guy a couple of years ago and after we’d exchanged several lengthy emails, he ended his latest email with a very carefully worded request for my phone number. The language he used signified that he understood that a) it was his role to make such a request, not mine b) that he had no sinister intentions in his request and c) that he hoped he “wasn’t being too forward.” And silly as it may be, I was giddy just at the manner with which he asked. Later, when we decided we wanted to meet each other, he made it quite clear that it was his responsibility to be the first one to go to any travel expense and effort (we were not local to each other). Then he sent me flowers in anticipation of our meeting…sadly, there wasn’t any chemistry and that was that, but I’ll never forget how respected I felt throughout our communications. How much it seemed that my feelings and my worth as a woman mattered to him.

My ex’s method of pursuing me was similar…he built things slowly and though I was the one who did the travelling initially, that only happened after I assured him over and over that I wanted to do so…he too felt that travelling was his responsibility. He’d carefully thought out what I might want to do and see during my visit and he was ever mindful of my well-being – ensuring that I was dressed warmly enough, etc. Overall, again, I felt very much like I mattered to him…I wasn’t just anyone, I was someone he really wanted to be with. Throughout our relationship, he nearly always put my feelings and well-being in the forefront of his decisions. And whenever he faltered in that, he soon took it upon himself to apologise.

Last autumn, someone answered my Taken in Hand profile and we just really clicked…and in one of our many conversations, he was the first to actually refer to courtship by name. I’d never thought of it that way, I thought courtship was something that only happened in Jane Austen novels ;) But he spoke of the very slow path he thought a relationship should take, the respect a man should have for a woman he wanted to pursue. We never had a chance to meet, but his thoughts all sounded heavenly and lovely…and it was then that I realised how important courtship is to me…it’s really precisely why I never warmed to BDSM relationships. They’re cold and they lack the dance of courtship…a dance that I’ve found I love.

Whilst sitting on my couch one night recently, relaxing after a very long day, I received an instant message from another man who’d responded to my Taken in Hand profile last autumn. When I saw his nickname, I very vaguely recalled who he might be and I also recalled that our communication last fall had fizzled before it had really even begun. We only ever exchanged a few quick chats online. But it wasn’t until his second sentence to me the other night that I instantly remembered what had caused the fizzle.

“Are you still my little sub slut?” he typed.

I felt my eyes fly open and I felt myself bristle at my screen, instantly filled with anger and frustration at his utter lack of manners and gentlemanliness. I was merely a piece of (virtual) meat to this man, not worth being courted.

Clarifying to him where we had left off last fall and that I never was such a thing to him or anyone else, that I didn’t appreciate being referred to as such, and that he and I were looking for very different things, our conversation seemed to end. Of course, so did my relaxing moment on my couch, as I was suddenly livid at the disrespect I felt. It was the polar opposite feeling to being courted. I find that type of man far more reprehensible than the average modern man who simply doesn’t try to lead me.

I managed to get over it quickly and went about my evening, rest assured ;) I suppose it served as a good reminder of what I mostly definitely don’t want…and as a lovely reminder of one of the reasons why I treasure chivalry so much, because it isn’t very common.

Whilst the latter issue of a lack of leadership is frustrating because in my eyes, a man who doesn’t want to lead lacks confidence and/or is lazy, the former is just plain depressing…because a man who cannot bring himself to simply act as a gentleman, to be chivalrous, lacks respect for me…and perhaps for women in general. Except then I go back to what the feminists have done to men…is it that he doesn’t bother to show respect for women? Or is that he’s been conditioned to think we don’t want respect?

And really, that’s the most misunderstood thing about chivalry today, isn’t it? The radical (and delusional) feminists decided that chivalry existed because men viewed women as less than, as “weak.” And so in modern society, men are either afraid or disinterested in being chivalrous. It may be because they think it’s unwanted…but as time goes on, I think it’s also simply because no one taught them how to be gentlemen.

I agree with Mr. Brady in absolute terms, helping someone gather items they dropped is simply polite, not chivalrous. I have and would again help someone in that manner myself, I would never just stand there ignoring them…but in modern times, it seems like that’s the closest thing to chivalry I can usually hope for.

So, I guess to sum all of that up…we’re both unlucky and better off for the state of chivalry today. In a way, it would be nice for the dance of chivalry and courtship to be the norm…but in a way, it’s really rather lovely when I come across it unexpectedly. It’s like Christmas in July ;)

1 comment:

aquariux said...

Dear Cinderella,
Thanks again for this wonderful text. Being quite international, I have lived and worked in France, Germany, UK, Japan, Spain and now Luxembourg, most of the time in international organisations, and travelled in many more countries, I would say that being a modern chivalrous man is not as easy at it seems. Many modern women, especially Northern European and American, send very conflicting signals about what they want (I am not speaking about you Cinderella obviously). Having chivalrous attitudes with such women may mean in the best case sending a clear, and not necessarily welcome, signal that I am courting her and in the worse case offending her by pretending that she is not able to open the door or hail a cab herself. Most modern successful young women see themselves and want to be seen as being as independent and self-secure as men and nevertheless, some of them, sometimes, expect men to intervene in certain situations to support or protect them. Twice in many years interval I happened to be in a situation in which a man started an "exclusive" conversation with a woman I was with (in one case a German girl I was courting in the other an Italian colleague). In both cases the situation was not easy to deal with. Either intervening but she may have said "Mind your business, if this man is boring I can deal with him myself" or just waiting for her to send a clear signal but then she may later have complained for being left alone (I hope my English is readable).