Like most young women, I lost it in the back of a car. Unlike most, I got it back two minutes later when a guy told me I left my purse. It’s a well-known fact that today’s chivalry isn’t the same as a knight stabbing a dragon to save the princess in a castle. Along with fanny packs and clogs, the old concept of chivalry has gone out of style. These days, the question of whether chivalry exists is taken rather superficially instead of the serious matter it actually is. When Miley Cyrus tells you chivalry is dead, and when politicians are sexting, it’s easy to get rather cynical about Guinevere and Lancelot. After all, no one really jumps over a mote of lava just to give a girl a flower.
In hookup culture, chivalry has been lost with your socks between the sheets. It’s easy to be twisted about your views on chivalry. Some see it as patronizing or infantilizing means to an end. Whether we be two adults shopping downtown or two school kids on the bus sharing Fig Newtons, chivalry is an important concept of how we treat each other in contemporary relationships. The question is: Could we reclaim chivalry like ’90s grunge wear and Dunkaroos?
“Chivalry is absolutely dead,” student Wendy Mazuk said. “I’ve been here for three years, and I have not met one guy capable of having a relationship with.” While there are many different kinds of chivalry, the one with which we most often associate chivalry is men treating women like little girls and expecting less of them simply because they are women. However, the basis of chivalry should not be seen as antifeminist. A man who shows chivalry is not distinguishing a woman by her sexuality, but acknowledging what his masculinity might imply. A man who does everything possible to make a woman feel safe and comfortable and who acknowledges that she encounters men who will degrade her humanity is rare and worthy of shining armor.
For many college students seeking a serious relationship, finding a mate who will arrive to the party with them, and leave with them, can be difficult. “I think that has more to do with people not looking for a serious relationship than chivalry. I hold doors open for a girl all the time,” Trevor Sanders said.
In a time in their lives when college students don’t know whom they are dating, it can be difficult to draw the line between common courtesy and a relationship. Perhaps hookup culture isn’t slowly killing chivalry. Maybe our lack of communication is. Unlike Lancelot and Guinevere, our text messages and Facebook messages are sent quickly, without facial interaction, and can be interpreted in numerous ways. Lancelot really had to sit down and think before he penned his love letter, which would arrive a month later (if at all).
Our romantic notions around chivalry are not based on holding open a door, but on going against all impossible odds to express to someone what they mean to us. Social media doesn’t give us romance, although it does give us instant gratification, video games and snappy songs. “Chivalry is like Mario saving Peach from Bowser’s castle,” Jarrod Cohen said. Cohen sent Selena Gomez a picture of himself holding gladiator swords with the message “chivalry ain’t dead.” She didn’t reply. “Women are also more independent now. The tables are flipped, and Guinevere can run off on her horse,” Cohen said.
The real problem with chivalry could be that women have more power. It’s not that men are simply inconsiderate and looking for just sex. Women can be the exact same way. In the past, a man made the first move by asking the pretty secretary out on a date. There was music, roses, red wine and candles. Today, the hot lawyer meets a guy at the bar and straddles him like a wrecking ball. She’s got the job, the hair and near the bed a box full of condoms, one of which she places on him. Imagine if Guinevere left her garage door wide open and put a picture on Instagram of her new red satin petticoat. Our struggles with chivalry are a response to women’s newfound confidence in sexuality and in themselves. Sorry, Miley Cyrus, but I don’t think you’re in the place right now to say chivalry is dead. It simply needs some rescuing.
So how do we rescue chivalry? The answer is choosing to treat people humanely and honestly. Regardless of their gender, you never know what is over the person’s castle walls until you climb them. Maybe our recovery of chivalry will happen over time once the power play comes to balance. Chivalry is understanding that there may be a dragon, but mounting the white horse anyway.