I’ve heard a lot of people say it’s dead. It used to be a lament, and then it turned into a joke, and now it’s just a fact that almost everybody accepts. Chivalry is dead, because it’s 2015 and nobody wants to suck your dick for holding the door open for them. And it’s true, nobody wants to do that to your hog in exchange for that minor favor. But that’s not what the fuck chivalry is. Chivalry is a complicated, difficult, and ultimately good code of ethics that you probably have a fundamental misunderstanding of. So let me set some things straight:
1. CHIVALRY IS NOT ABOUT TREATING WOMEN LIKE DELICATE FLOWERS
This is probably the main thing people fuck up about chivalry. The truth is, chivalry has basically fuck all to do with women, and everything to do with horses.
See, the word “chivalry” comes from the French word “chevalier,” which comes from “cheval,” which means “horse.” Chivalry is literally just “rules for if you have a horse.” This was an important set of rules to have in chivalry times. Horses were the Blackhawk Helicopters of the Middle Ages; if you had a horse, you could absolutely kill anybody who didn’t have a horse and nobody was going to say a god damn thing. The only thing stopping you was chivalry.
That’s what chivalry was for. Chivalry was – and still is – basically a way of saying, “okay, I have an optimized death machine between my legs, maybe I should look out for people who don’t have one of these.” So it’s not that chivalry is specifically about defending women because women are weak. It’s that chivalry is about defending people who don’t own horses, and in the middle ages women didn’t own shit.
It’s 2015 now. Women can own as many horses as they want. But there are still power structures built into society that put some people in metaphorical Blackhawk helicopters, and other people underneath those helicopters (sometimes the Blackhawk Helicopters are also literal). Real chivalry is about noticing when you have a horse and somebody else doesn’t. It’s about being careful not to trample people just because you can. It’s about holding the door for a dude in a wheelchair. It’s about actively trying to recruit more people of color in your workplace. Sometimes it really is about sticking up for women, but only if your help is wanted. And even then …
2. CHIVALRY IS NOT A POINTS SYSTEM REDEEMABLE FOR FREE SEX
There are no prizes for being chivalrous, other than the prize of being a decent god damn human. This is because the people who chivalry was invented for were so fucking rich that prizes were totally meaningless to them. In addition to horses, knights also owned fancy armor, sick weapons, and huge tracts of land. They were powerful, exciting people relatively free of disease. They weren’t exactly hard up for sex opportunities, is what I’m trying to say. They didn’t need to invent a complex code of ethics to justify getting shit for free, because they already had all the shit. What do you get for the man who has everything? How about some fucking morals.
Anyway, if you’re desperate for booty, tales of chivalry aren’t the best place to go for inspiration. King Arthur’s court is basically one endless sex disaster, what with Arthur’s accidental incest and Lancelot’s righteous wangfoolery. Tristram and Isolde is a bonerific nightmare that borders on farce. Sir Galahad, the Greatest Knight Ever, is also the biggest virgin in the universe, and he is thrilled about it. It turns out you’re not even allowed to see the grail if you thought about a boob once. The chivalric canon is not overly sex positive, you guys. In fact the only problem-free sex I can recall from my chivalric reading is the story of Sir Gawaine and Lady Ragnell, in which everything turns out for the best because – spoiler alert – Gawaine leaves the decision up to his wife. Funny how that works out, huh?
3. CHIVALRY IS NOT PERFECT, AND NEITHER ARE WE
Like most things invented in the past, chivalry has some problems. One of the problems with chivalry is that horses are no longer the height of technology. The main problem with chivalry, though, is that it can very easily cross over into paternalism, and nobody likes to be treated like a child. It is important to remember that just because you have a horse and somebody else does not have a horse, that does not make you their dad.
Even if you have the best intentions, chivalry isn’t a code you can blindly follow for A+ results. Even if chivalry was perfect, which no moral code is, it’s impossible to be a non-shitty person absolutely all the time. Like, the Knights of the Round Table were probably the most righteous group of horse-havers ever to have horses, but Gawaine chopped a lady’s head off, Lancelot fucked his boss’s wife, and Percival was the biggest idiot ever to hold a sword. Galahad was perfect I guess, but Galahad also had a magic chair with his name written on it in fire and ascended to heaven because he found a neat cup. Galahad was a fake person. All of those dudes were fake fucking people. We made them up. The people we made up to be the ideals of chivalry were still remarkably shitty. Back here on earth, nobody is chivalrous all the time, and that’s not sufficient reason to write anybody off. We are all shitty sometimes. Also Galahad is a dickhead.
OKAY SO WHAT IS CHIVALRY THEN?
Chivalry boils down to three things: mercy, charity, and humility. Mercy means being conscious of your advantages, and treating other humans gently. Charity means giving without expecting anything in return. Humility means accepting your mistakes, and recognizing that those who don’t have your advantages aren’t your inferiors. Anybody can embody these traits – woman, man, or even horse. At this point, you may be thinking “hey, this is bullshit, these are just basic guidelines for not being an asshole!” and congratulations, you’re right. That’s all chivalry is: basic guidelines for how not to be a sack of shit. And as long as a sack of shit is not a good thing to be, chivalry will never die.