What is chivalry? According to Wikipedia – for the answers to all our deepest questions lie in this particular domain in cyberspace – chivalry was a code of conduct upheld by the knights of medieval England. This knightly code involved an oath to protect all those who could not protect themselves, in those times it would have been the women, children and the elderly; I would also mention the disabled and the sickly. A knight would have to be strong, disciplined and possess the skills required to fight honourably in battle. They were to be loyal, generous, completely honest and respectful towards women. They were to obey authority without question and always accept challenges from an equal. This code required knights to be devout in their Christian religion, never surrender to an enemy, to follow through with their endeavours and to protect all.
So, who is chivalrous today? If we apply the original and true meaning of the term, first and foremost you would have to bear a male physique. Women were not socially accepted as fighters let alone knights and therefore could not carry the code of chivalry. Secondly, you would have to be a knight. That reduces the number of chivalrous men quite a lot, although there are those noble families who still exist in a dying royal glamour and of course, those celebrities who have enough money to have themselves and their entire entourage knighted.
These chivalrous men would have to protect those who are not able to do so themselves. That is a tough one, aside from the ill and disabled, it is not simply women, children and the elderly. In today’s society it would be more appropriate to say the women who do not protect everyone else for a living (fire fighters, police officers, spies and soldiers), children who are unarmed (not part of a gang, aspiring gang or violent racist youth groups) and (in South Africa) elderly who were not kick-ass activists and solitary confinement survivors during Apartheid. So, a chivalrous man would have to protect, passive, neutral, innocent and possibly ignorant (to inventions such as pepper-spray) women, elderly people and children – and also some easy-going men such as overly confident hipsters and businessmen. This is a very specific group of people to protect and it contradicts the part of the code that states that he must “protect all”.
This man must be loyal, generous, completely honest and respectful towards women. Loyal to whom? His ruler perhaps, then he may only vote for one and the same party every four years. That rules out all those with consistent democratic values. Loyal to his woman? Or man? That rules out all the cheaters, customers of strip clubs and divorcers (or divorcees). He must be completely honest and therefore may not be a spy, businessman or member of any facet of the media industry. He must be respectful towards women but is not required to have the same respect for men. That rules out construction workers, truckers, fruit-sellers, porn-watchers and many other watchful and sharp-tongued perverts – for they are many and exist everywhere (a very biased statement, I apologise, it wanted to be written).He must always accept challenges from his equal, today; everyone would be considered an equal, so he must accept all challenges from everyone. An amusing prospect when considering prankster children and lonely old women.
They must obey authority without question. I think this one may only apply to marines, army and navy soldiers, oh yes and good children. So, that rules out everyone except disciplined male soldiers and little boys. The chivalrous man must never surrender to an enemy, a daunting thought if you’re getting hijacked at gunpoint – unless you are particularly faithful or have your own loaded gun. Lastly, you would have to be a Christian man and if I am not mistaken, a certain kind of Christian. That rules out many, many men in South Africa. It seems that none of these rules of this code may comfortably co-exist in modern society; perhaps it would be safe to say that this form of chivalry is dead. When it was conceived it excluded many aspects of equality that we much attention to in the 21st century.
This morning I hopped into a taxi and was later joined by a middle-aged man and an elderly woman. I was at the back and the man was behind the driver’s seat. The women struggled to open the door and then with some difficulty lifted some pram contraption into the taxi. The man sat there as she scolded him in Afrikaans, she asked “What happened to the days when men opened doors for women?” and the man replied, quite defensively: “Nowadays, women want to be men”. This statement seems to make more sense in Afrikaans but it doesn’t really. So, I croaked: “What constitutes being a man? Opening a door?” Oh, that left him at a loss for words, the driver gave a coy smile and eye twinkle in his rear-view mirror and the woman thought I was assisting her argument. I ended off with saying that one should help the elderly. I didn’t want to judge him but if I was sitting in his place, I would have opened the door and picked up her weird machine. Also, if I were an elderly woman who was too weak or ill to open a door and pick up the thing I’ve been lugging around, I wouldn’t be travelling in a taxi by myself. It goes both ways really. But even so I would have opened the door for her and I am not a man. Is this chivalry? Or merely consideration? It is a kind of chivalry that is not required but rather comes from a kind thought as opposed to upholding a good reputation amongst strangers. The latter being a bit vain in my opinion, even though it is practised by many men. What is it they say about vanity and women…?
I suppose in a society where we are equal we may admit and accept that we share the same values and weaknesses whether male or female, young or old, purple or green (I hope that’s not offensive to anyone) and so admitting and thenceforth growing we may just become quality people who are noble figures in society or simply kind individuals in a community, a unique member of a family who upholds their very own authentic code that follows the golden thread of tradition and initiates the morals of previously unspoken truths. I could go into the evils of chivalry and its degradation of female strength and intellect but then I wouldn’t just be viewed as a radical writer but also as a feminist (shiver). After failing miserably at my goal to stay under the thousand-word mark I shall be considerate and end this column here. I know how much you hate to read.
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