This is going to be one of my muddled mental musings, in part because of sorting out timelines for characters and motivations, historic and modern. If the ideal of the medieval knight and of the best of chivalry was/is something for men to aspire to, what does it mean when there are very few if any visible ladies for the man to respect and honor and even love?
As I drove back from a meeting of the North Texas Troublemakers (pilots, writers, retired military, writers, skilled craftsmen and women, writers, and generally creative, competent people), I thought about some of the stories, and what didn’t need to be said. The general approbation that met an account of some blue-collar guys who took it upon themselves to remonstrate with the abusive boyfriend of a coworker was part of the catalyst. The way other men went “on point” when a lady commented that she’d been propositioned and hadn’t caught on at first, and had witnessed a would-be purse-thief was another element in my thoughts. The gentlemen would brook no harassing or abuse of “their” ladies. Now, in the second case, the lady in question is able and willing to fend off unwanted attentions, so that wasn’t part of the equation. The men want to protect her. That’s their job, and woe betide the predator who thinks the men’s friend would make easy prey.
So, if the rising generations of females balk at being ladies in the traditional sense—polite, honorable, skilled in a trade or craft, able to assist men and to make a home or just be a good companion and friend, what is the reason for being a knight or gentleman? Back in the day, some men dedicated themselves to the ultimate Lady, the Virgin Mary, serving Her as clergy or knights (Templars, Hospitallers, Teutonic Order, and others). That’s not really an option for most today, and it was not a common calling even back then.
Why not be a slob who indulges in whatever impulses push him? If there’s no lady to reflect the knight and mirror his ideals in a womanly way, why bother? Some young men are raised with personal ideals and standards, but it helps to have help and encouragement – been there. It’s not easy to hold true to beliefs and ideals when no one else does. The military used to provide encouragement, as did organizations like the Boy Scouts. If those are weakened, what remains? Gangs, but their philosophy is more anti-society than pro. And the less said about the role of women in urban gang culture the better.
I’ve said before that I try to be the sort of woman – and general person – that is worth befriending and helping if it comes to that. I try also to be a person who befriends and helps when I can. I’m not as ladylike as my great aunt or mother, but I try. That means encouraging boys and men to be the best they can be, somehow.
So what moves a man to be a gentleman when no one is watching? What inspires him when society doesn’t provide a lady and warps the very idea into something negative? In Jude’s case, his faith, and finding a lady (or perhaps ladies) to help and protect. And his Lady. In a way he’s a bit of a knight, and it would not surprise me at all if Fr. Antonio Manfredi isn’t watching him as a potential deacon and perhaps eventually seminary material if Jude shows any signs of a religious vocation. Or perhaps not, since the good father has experience with other shadow mages. But that’s fiction. In our world? I don’t have a good answer.
In modern times, there’s issues with confusing the wrapper with the contents, too.
Depending on who I’m speaking to, I may say that I am not a lady.
I do not avoid dirty jobs, and I do physical work, and the way they use lady it means “person whose most dirty, physical labor is cleaning house, and probably not that, does lot of social stuff.” I super duper do not do fancy clothes, much less fashionable ones.
The meaning of “lady” as “is sort of generically nice and will be easily drafted to help bully the chosen acceptable target, especially after you attack her personally if she is hesitant” is just Right Out.
With those folks who have a more philosophical, lady-is-the-feminine-of-gentleman? I work to be that, yes. Honest, and loyal, and kind, and strong enough to do what is not popular– and a hard enough worker to do what must be done when i feel like I just can’t even. I want to be that. Samwise is my hero– there is nothing lesser about being support, and trying to pull folks up when they’re wavering, or even slip.
So I can’t be the pointy end of the spear for physical stuff? Even my broken husband is far, far more physically able than I am? I’ll do what I can. Think like in the Discworld books, Lady Ramkin and her ancestresses.
Someone looking for one of those meanings of ladies and finding another is going to be very unsatisfied.
Where I grew up in the 60s and70s, a “Lady” was someone who dressed well, had excellent social skills, and wanted to be a good, demure wife and mother. Career? No. Show you are smart? No. Take the lead when necessary? No. I failed on all counts.
I like Foxfire’s description of lady-is-the-feminine-of-gentleman. It fits me more than my family’s version of lady.
Working on this, after 60-80 years of it steadily redefining down.
One thing I should note, is the number of young women who would rather be Bacchanists or Furies instead of Ladies. This is daunting for men to overcome without help. Also in many cases without the aid of a hickory switch. Cicilizing the girls first consumes a great deal of time, energy, hope, and patience.
Alas, this post has caused Sinatra’s “Luck Be A Lady” to become stuck in my head. My brain free-associates far too easily.
“So what moves a man to be a gentleman when no one is watching?” Tough question, in my case I would say how I was raised, the books (lot of history) that I have read, and the reactions of some women when someone stops and fixes a flat tire or opens a door for them. The act of kindness or gentility or whatever you want to call it just seems to please them. The one female that was…let’s say very rude, when I held the door for her several years ago is excepted. But that was the only negative instance out of a pretty large sample size.
It is up to us old farts to try to pass on those traits that we were raised with to our kids/grands… Not always successfully. There is also the ‘issue’ that we were raised to treat a ‘lady’ as a lady until she proved otherwise… Today, that can be an interesting decision tree, depending…
A lady is supposed to provide sustenance, in the Old English sense of “loafgiver,” and leadership and teaching in the Latin sense of “domina.” Inspiration, if you asked the French from the Middle Ages.
I am not traditionally feminine in a lot of ways, and I am in late middle age… But I think it is easy to see that politeness and respect, coming from a woman, has a strong beneficial impact on young men, and indeed on men of all ages.
Approbation when merited, and assistance when needed. Perhaps that is the simplest way to put it.
And apparently testosterone surges in young men come from receiving approval for winning at life challenges… So maybe women really do inspire men by giving them expressed respect and approval.
That does not mean becoming a dishrag for fragile feefees. But maybe recognizing that men have weak spots that should not be attacked, but should be strengthened… Maybe that is just as reasonable as men respecting women’s weak spots.
That’s how I understood a true lady’s role – support, encouragement, being a helpmeet. And also providing a check on certain passions, in ways appropriate for the situation and age/station of those involved.