It’s Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine in “Casablanca.” It’s Prince Eric in “The Little Mermaid.” It’s Zac Efron as Troy Bolton from “High School Musical.” You’ve seen it in movies, you’ve read about it in Arthurian legends in English class, perhaps you’ve even experienced it first-hand at Homecoming or Prom. It’s chivalry. Consider the age-old question: is chivalry dead?
As you ponder that question, try and grasp the elusive concept of chivalry in modern times. What is chivalry anyway? Is it a boy giving you his jacket on a chilly night? Your date walking on the outside of the sidewalk in order to avert a curbside tragedy? A knight in shining armor rescuing a damsel in distress?
In historical context, chivalry is a knightly code of behavior, morality and, of course, courtesy towards women. During the Middle Ages, to be chivalrous meant to be courageous, honorable and ready to assist the (key word) weak. Simply put, men rode around on steeds doing heroic acts and women were polite and submissive, praising them along the way. The chivalrous man worked to earn the delicate lady’s love. Women played a passive but important role in maintaining the chivalrous lifestyle.
While good morals and high standards for behavior sound right in principle, the context in which chivalry evolved should be considered. The roles of both men and women have drastically shifted since the 1400s (fortunately). The truth is, chivalry was established during a time in which women were largely considered to be weak and in need of a male savior.
Modern society, often blinded by its own delusions of romance and obsession with such an outdated system, fails to see the underlying flaws with chivalry. The medieval way of life made it the duty of all men to be alert and ready to help the weak and suffering. But why do we strive to maintain an ideal that assumes only men can do the rescuing?
Why can’t men show weakness or need saving? Women today should assume equal responsibility in living an honorable life and assisting those in need.
Perhaps chivalry is not something that needs to be “brought back.” Instead, we can incorporate the ideas of chivalry into an ethos both men and women can live by, one that cultivates a standard of virtue and mutual respect. Men AND women can do good deeds-all while being courteous and polite to each other.
Boys, keep being courteous and respectful towards women and expect the same from them. Ladies, remember that you can hold the door open, too. Feel free to ask that guy you’ve been crushing on out for coffee and pay for it. Give a boy your jacket if he forgot his own. Don’t sit around waiting for someone to rescue you. You can be your own knight in shining armor.