By Dixie Andelin Forsyth
To the ladies out there, have you ever seen a man working on an oil rig, covered from head to toe in tiny, glossy black dots of crude, and thought “I sure wish I could do what he’s doing”? What about a logger, or a guy who operates a jackhammer or chainsaw; are you envious? Have you ever tried chopping wood? I have, and I don’t recommend it. Imagine putting up miles of barbed wire fencing around a farm. Or collecting smelly trash bags and driving a garbage truck around town. These are tasks I believe no one envies, but they have to be done. Have you noticed that it’s almost always men performing them? And that they don’t get together and protest en masse at the unfairness of having to do such things? Throughout my life, any time I’ve seen a man performing hard labor tasks I’ve thought “Boy, I’m glad I’m not in his shoes!”
Think back to a time in your life when you were in trouble and literally didn’t have the physical strength to get yourself out of it. I think of times in college when I made the mistake of shopping for groceries while hungry (NEVER shop when you’re famished!) and then struggled carrying the heavy bags home from the market on foot, or the time I ran my car over a cement ridge once in a shopping center and couldn’t get back over it. And then I remember how, so many times, nearby men came to my aid. I didn’t ask them for help, and they didn’t seem to want thanks; they were simply there, helping out a stranger because they had an ability, a strength, that I didn’t. In the case of that cement ridge, two big burly men in a truck came and lifted up the back of my car (with their hands!) while I sat in the driver’s seat with my foot on the gas pedal, slowly driving forward. I thanked them profusely, but they waved it off like it was nothing, disappearing almost as quickly as they’d appeared. As for the grocery debacle, a nice guy from my apartment building came and helped me home with those heavy bags as if it was the most natural thing in the world.
Hopefully most (or all) of you have been recipients of many similar acts of service. I’m sure you’ve experienced chivalrous males holding doors open for you, at least, or witnessed them on the news lifting heavy sandbags to build flood-proof walls in drenched cities. Still, I’ve heard a lot of women say they believe chivalry, or the idea of the physically stronger of our species (men) unselfishly looking after the more vulnerable of the species (us, children, the elderly, etc), is a thing of the past.
The idea of chivalry did, yes, come from the very long ago past (between 1000-1100AD). In the epic 4000 line French poem, The Song of Roland, a code of chivalry that would influence the human race for centuries (and still does today) was laid out. Take a quick glance through the list of qualities a man, or especially a medieval knight of that time period, was expected to have. Then try to imagine the males, young or old, in your own life who have followed these ideals. Pay special attention to numbers 3, 4, 8 and 14, because those are the qualities that have ended up as the foundation of our modern definition of chivalry:
Song of Roland
(Charlemagne’s Code of Chivalry)
- To fear God and maintain His Church
- To serve the liege lord in valour and faith
- To protect the weak and defenceless
- To give succour to widows and orphans
- To refrain from the wanton giving of offence
- To live by honour and for glory
- To despise pecuniary reward
- To fight for the welfare of all
- 9. To obey those placed in authority
- To guard the honour of fellow knights
- To eschew unfairness, meanness and deceit
- To keep faith, At all times to speak the truth
- To persevere to the end in any enterprise begun
- To respect the honour of women
- Never to refuse a challenge from an equal
- 16. Never to turn the back upon a foe
So, back to our modern times, imagine a world where none of these things existed. A world where men never fought for their country, where the vulnerable in society were never respected or protected. We still have military personnel all over the world who make a point of shielding the weak and keeping as much of the conflict as they can away from the vulnerable. There are still foundations set up to take care of the homeless, the starving, and those in physical danger. There are still men who fill sinkholes, put out raging forest fires, and tirelessly lay out rows and rows of those heavy sandbags during floods. And on a smaller scale, there are men like my husband who happily move huge pieces of furniture because they know that would absolutely kill us. Men can take on the heavier, more grueling tasks in the world because they were born, on average, stronger.
It’s important to remember that men have at least 75% more upper body strength (sometimes up to 90% more!) than women. That alone equips them to perform a lot of more physically demanding duties and do them more quickly and easily. Think of it: those heavy bags and boxes you find yourself having to lift from time to time are actually lighter to a man because of his natural strength (or they’re just heavier to us!). It’s not even so much that their chivalry consists of taking on difficult tasks, but of taking on tasks that aren’t so difficult for them in the first place!
I can’t imagine why any women would not want men to be chivalrous, especially when men were built for it, and it’s not nearly the burden to them that it would be for us. Perhaps some women have misunderstood the meaning of the word “chivalry” and how it was intended, from its foundation in the middle ages, to improve men, and to aid the physically vulnerable. Hey, I’m no wilting lily (Bob and I go to the gym regularly). I can lift 50lbs if I really have to, but it takes a lot more out of me than it does my husband or sons. And they love helping in this way, especially when I show appreciation and gratitude for their masculinity when they complete such tasks.
Of course, some chivalrous tasks aren’t technically difficult for even the weakest of us. Opening doors, sharing an umbrella or giving up your seat can be done by almost anyone. And yet, these can also be considered chivalrous acts when a man does them consciously for the vulnerable in society. You could argue “I can do it/take care of it myself” and be absolutely right, but service builds character and shows respect. Are you against a man building character by performing unselfish acts? Does anyone think it’s an insult for a celebrity, head of state, or a company head to have a chauffeur open doors for them, carry their luggage, or offer other courtesies? Such service is universally seen as an act of respect or deference, not an insult. Some say the difference is that a celebrity pays the person to open doors for them so that’s acceptable, while such things done as an act of service become offensive. Doesn’t that sound strange? It does to me. Are you averse to acts of kindness and unselfishness? I say, bring ‘em on. The world needs a lot more of that.
If, as some say, chivalry is “dead”, then we women must bear a large part of that guilt. We raise and instruct the bulk of the people of this earth and teach them most of the rules of propriety and attitudes towards women, as well as their attitudes towards themselves and their masculinity. Are we, through our attitudes and behavior, teaching our sons, our male students, our younger brothers, our male friends, to be chivalrous and masculine men? Or do we teach them that men aren’t to be trusted; that their masculinity is “toxic” or otherwise undesirable and worthy of extinction?
Do any of you single women out there, whether intentionally or otherwise, discourage chivalry in the men you are attracted to and/or love? Do any of you mothers or schoolteachers inadvertently punish young boys simply for being masculine, or even let statements such as “Such a typical male” or “Boys will be boys” escape your lips when they do something undesirable? Are any of us guilty of linking bad behavior with masculinity (or vice versa), whether in word or in expectation?
Perhaps it’s time for us to understand what chivalry means and how we might encourage and promote it in the men and boys of our nations? We would all be so much happier. This is something we can each work on in our own lives. We can take an active role in helping the males in our lives understand and appreciate how valuable chivalry is.
Chivalry never dies, it just lays dormant in unwelcoming environments. We as women, born with unmatched skills of our own (in relationship building and a sensitivity to the potential and needs of others) are more than well-equipped to awaken and welcome chivalry through our words and actions. Don’t let this ability go to waste.