[Another serious, somewhat rambling post. Lighter fare tomorrow, promise.]
At what point does a portion of culture die? Is it when people start protesting the practice and the ideas behind it? Or is it when those who most believe in it say, “OK, if that’s what you want, have at. You set the trap, you get yourself out of it.” I ask because over the past two years or so, I’ve been watching arguments about chivalry, the roles of men and women, and just where society is now. One recurring question arises: if chivalry is dead, as so many claim, who is going to suffer?
Discussions about chivalry, what it means and how you live up to it, have been batted back-and-forth on a number of blogs and web sites. The bloggers and commenters on Grim’s Hall blog, Villainous Company, According To Hoyt, John C. Wright’s blogs, and a “few” other sites have discussed, and still debate, the history of the ideas of chivalry, medieval history, warfare and culture, modern manners and mores, education and the complete person, the ways of men and maids, and all sorts of things. One of the perpetual points of discussion is “what does ‘chivalry’ mean when you use the word?” And “Is it dead or just sleeping?””
This came up again at According To Hoyt some weeks ago. One commenter who, like me, frequents Grim’s Hall as well as ATH, expressed dismay about those who shun “feminism” and who seem to want to return to the old days and ways. To paraphrase one of her arguments, she does not want to go back to the limitations and expectations of a time when men protected women (too much so, perhaps) and demanded certain privileges in exchange. For example, Sarah Hoyt has described on several occasions how the men of her childhood in Portugal leaped to the defense of respectable women. However, those proper women lived within rather high walls of constraint with narrow limits on their behavior. A 16-year-old on her own on a public bus, in daylight, was not a proper woman and would be harassed. A woman out after dark without a male family member or close acquaintance at her side? A fallen women, to be chastised or taken advantage of. Protection and respect came at a price too high for the commenter to be willing to pay again.
The other side of the coin came up as the news announced the refloating of the Costa Concordia. At the time the cruise ship wrecked, people expressed dismay that the century-and-a-half old practice of “women and children first” had seemingly been abandoned in favor of “every man for himself.” After all, the average male is larger and stronger than the average female, especially one trying to assist her children or other weaker dependents to get out of a rapidly listing boat. Several commenters in the media and blogosphere pointed out that women had been saying “I’m as good, strong, aggressive as you are, and I can prove it” for fifty years or so, and men’s behavior during the Costa Concordia‘s evacuation was the logical result.
There are long tomes about society’s changing perceptions of the sexes, the roles of men and women, and proper manners between them, so I won’t try to rehash the arguments. I will say that I’m appalled by what those changing perceptions and the most recent generation of self-proclaimed women’s rights advocates hath wrought.
I grew up in a world where the sexes had different, equally valuable strengths. Men and women also had duties to each other and to the people around them. As Grim the blogger has said on several occasions, in an ideal world, women would strive to be the kind of women that good men respect and honor and wish to serve. At the same time, men would labor to be strong, honorable, and worthy of the love and respect of the women they cherish and who care for their family and children. In that world, women can and will do what their abilities permit to defend themselves, their children, and their mates, knowing that the men in their lives will do the same. Chivalry comes from cheval, meaning horse, and you can’t successfully train a horse through brute strength. You need to have a healthy amount of respect for the beasts, understand them, and to a degree work with them to achieve the result you want. (Mules even more so.) So too men and women. Enough brute strength and pain will break a horse, not train it. A broken horse is a sad and potentially dangerous creature. Either the horse won’t do more than is necessary for survival, or it lashes out at everyone around them. So too broken humans. Controlled strength, physical and moral, is the basis of the world I want to live in.
I emphatically do not want the West to become a world where women are honored and protected to the point of enclosure: machismo is not always that far from honor-killings. Neither do I want to live in a “devil-take-the-hindmost” system.
I want a world where men and women respect each other, and live up to what it means to be worthy of respect, sort of like that line, “Lord, help me be the person my dog thinks I am.” I appreciate having doors opened for me, and having help with awkward boxes, so I smile and say thank-you. I try to live so as to be the kind of women that men, real men, manly men, can respect and perhaps love. It’s fascinating: when I wear 19th century clothes, or otherwise look old-fashioned, all of a sudden doors open, men smile, a few touch their hat brims, and manners return. And I find my behavior changing, improving to match theirs.
Yes, I can saddle my own horse, change a flat, use a handgun or shotgun, use a rivet set (and buck rivets), and trouble-shoot plumbing, patch sheet rock (and mud-and-tape and sand. Yuck. I hate sanding sheetrock.) I am very appreciative when someone offers to help, too. Ditto house cleaning, cooking, and other “womanly” tasks. Although I prefer to mend my own clothes, thanks. I remember where and how that button went on.
We’ve lost the balance, I think. There is a sweet spot between the helpless clinging female and the Woman Who Roars. Another sweet spot lies between using strength to dominate women and children, and treating women as guys-with-internal-plumbing (or taking up the “bros before hos” mantra). Do I understand men? Oh heck no. I don’t understand many women, for that matter. But I think we need to take a step back, to remember that politeness is not a sign of weakness and submissive degradation (yes, I’m looking at you, Ms. “How dare you open the door for me you chauvinist pig” glaring at me from the corner.) Strong women appreciate strong men, and vice versa, at least in the world I want to live in.