Chivalry is Dead? It’s About Time

[I’m guest posting at Laura Droege’s blog today about chivalry, the Bible, cats and P.G. Wodehouse. Here’s the first bit.]


I’ve taken it on the chin more than once when I’ve opined that chivalry is bunk. Some people respond that they like chivalry because it’s a reminder of good manners, some say it’s good for “gentlemen” to treat “ladies” well, and others insist that chivalry is biblical.

I call bunk on all three.

To caution against chivalry is not the same as tossing good manners aside. I hold the door for people – women and men – at almost every opportunity, and the times I don’t are usually when they’re holding the door for me. That’s good manners right there, so there’s no need to play the chivalry card.

For those who are into the ladies-and-gentlemen motif, the truth is that there’s no need to treat women like “ladies”. There is, on the other hand, every reason to treat one another with love in the name of Jesus. So let’s not cloud the issue by deciding what’s gentlemanly and what’s ladylike. Let’s instead focus on Jesus and what it means to be women and men who belong to him.

And for those who say that chivalry is a system based on Scripture, I have news. No it’s not. It’s based on …

[You can read the rest of my efforts to tear apart chivalry and show the Bible’s real teaching on the subject over at Laura Droege’s place.]


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15 Responses to Chivalry is Dead? It’s About Time

  1. Laura Droege says:

    Thanks for coming over to my place, Tim!

  2. Erica M. says:

    I think the concept of chivalry becomes especially problematic when people try to defend it as “giving a woman extra respect”. One, someone shouldn’t get extra respect merely because they are a certain sex. Two, truly respecting a woman would be treating her how she wishes to be treated. In fact, as you said it all boils down to respect for people in general. (Also, I’m pretty sure chivalry came about as a way to make the men behave themselves in court and around women. We’re all adults here; we should be able to respect others without the need for a code of conduct!)

    • Tim says:

      Those are two great points, Erica. And I’ve read about chivalry among the French nobility and how it developed a practice of the men creating love poems that the women would vote on to decide who won the poetry contest. I would hazard a guess that this was somewhat of a mating ritual of sorts as well, and the poetry (like massages in coed college dorms) often led to sex.

    • Laura Droege says:

      Erica, I like what you’ve said here. One thing I wonder about, though, is “treating her how she wishes to be treated.” Women differ on how they want to be treated. Think about the old “men hold the door open for a woman” concept; some women don’t mind (or like and want) when men hold the door open for them (and would find the man rude if he didn’t do this); others are deeply offended and (ungraciously, IMO) inform the man of that displeasure; and some don’t care one way or the other.

      I’ve heard men complain that they don’t know what to do in those situations because they don’t know the woman’s wishes or how she’ll respond to what he believes is a gesture of respect. (Will she snap my head off? Will she say “thank you”?)

      Obviously, none of us can control other people’s reactions to our actions. But how can someone (a man) show respect for a woman when he doesn’t know how she wants to be treated? It should be a no-brainer, but some men really hesitate on this one. Thoughts, anyone?

      • Tim says:

        I think if we stop looking at it as a man/woman thing (I have to hold the door for her because she’s got XX chromosomes and I have XY) and instead look at it as a person/person thing, it takes all the pressure off. And if someone – man or woman – doesn’t appreciate me being polite to them, tough.

        • Ruth says:

          Agree with the sentiments in this post, but, as you say Tim, if some one doesn’t appreciate the expression of good manners, or politeness expressed by someone, too bad! I like having a door held open for me…have you send the SIZE of some shopping centre doorsm I can’t even get them open for my self, and I try being polite to any person who helps or needs help. I notice the smile of pleasure older men give when I thank them for opening a door or indicating I could go first, so I accept their kindness, and we both feel good. Ladies with prams and those with children can always use a hand. People’s suprised thankyous says it all. Our society is not caring or polite enough by half.

        • Tim says:

          You are so right, Ruth. More politeness and caring, given in love, would go a long way to making everyone’s day better.

  3. Pastor Bob says:

    I want to weigh in on this, since I have posted before about the “R” word I instill in children and youth. So the journey begins.

    From Wikipedia (always good to quote the sources used there):
    Over time, its meaning has been refined to emphasise social and moral virtues more generally. And the Code of Chivalry, as it stood by the Late Middle Ages, was a moral system which combined a warrior ethos, knightly piety, and courtly manners, all conspiring to establish a notion of honour and nobility.
    ((Johan Huizinga remarks in his book The Waning of the Middle Ages, “the source of the chivalrous idea, is pride aspiring to beauty, and formalised pride gives rise to a conception of honour, which is the pole of noble life”. Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages (1919) 1924:58.)) —— This is the Wiki page:–

    Chivalry is not dead, nor should it eve be. The societal rules are enshrined in the respect we show to all. Chivalry is all of the good shown epically the good manners. As you have written on the subject you have demonstrated all of the good graces of “courtly manners” that one would expect.

    Chivalry is not the bad manners you have commented on. it is not addressing anyone with a term that is not socially accepted nor personally accepted. it is not using terms incorrectly. I have been around many young women, girls, older women and some of them would not qualify for the adjective of “lady” or “lady-like.” To the matriarchs in our lives, this would a term that is earned.

    I her the word “men” I think of adult males who have undefined social graces. Nothing bad, the term is as generic as “human.” The term “gentlemen” embodies the the social graces we would expect. In the name of courtesy and respect I have been guilty of using “ladies and gentlemen” even when it may be overly complimentary.

    Having posted before about weddings (and other formal ceremonies) there was a wedding a few years ago and it was the rehearsal. One of the bridesmaids was walking with huge ungainly steps. I stopped her and spent the next few minutes teaching her how to walk with more of the majestic poise the ceremony called for. The words of “majestic” fell on deaf ears. When I said “walk like a lady” she understood, and her mother was giggling. Her words, “I have been trying to tell you this for years.”

    As a Christian of the male persuasion, I know many who have failed in areas of gentlemanly conduct. Older men are tasked with sharing, instructing, guiding and (if necessary) forcing correct behaviors upon our young men to share these key aspects of “gentlemanly” behavior.

    Chivalry is not dead, but like societal rules, based on absolutes with varying and changing measures of application, it needs to adapt. Largely it has, but when the man holds the door and responds to the “Thank you!” with something discourteous, that is NOT chivalrous nor courteous.

    Chivalry and courtesies expanded, modern day —

    Simplicity says stop here, hoping that an examination of the whole concept helps. Remember the “R” word is — Respect.

    • Tim says:

      PB, I think you’re describing politeness and calling it chivalry. I was using chivalry in the more every day sense of men doing things for women just because they’re women. Maybe I wasn’t clear enough in the post, but I thought that’s what I said in it.

      • Pastor Bob says:

        Perhaps, but when i comment on chivalry not being dead, I receive smiles.
        *Such is life.

        • Tim says:

          Smiles are nice, but how does that stack up to the scriptural points I raised? Chivalry as a set of rules to follow (which is what most people mean by the word nowadays – men always hold doors for women, men always pay for dates, men always drive the car, men always …) is unbiblical and in direct contradiction to Paul’s wisdom in the Colossians passage I cited.

  4. Pastor Bob says:

    Commenting on that one thread is limited so:
    Chivalry as a set of rules to follow (which is what most people mean by the word nowadays – men always hold doors for women, men always pay for dates, men always drive the car, men always …) is unbiblical and in direct contradiction to Paul’s wisdom in the Colossians passage I cited.

    Shall we parse some thoughts:
    The set of ‘rules’ you quote are not part of the Chivalric code. This is tradition and/or custom form the advent of dating from the 1920’s or so as dating started to encroach upon courtship – according to some a very American tradition. Holding doors became a practice as she was the one carrying the child. Always driving the car – more sexist since women did not drive too often (or not at all), and with trusted man (or husband) allowed her more freedom to do non-driving things.

    I would posit that traditions, customs, and habits have been added to the common courtesies of the term or practice of chivalry.

    Much of the “code” or creed is based on scriptural principles:
    1. Thou shalt believe all that the Church teaches and thou shalt observe all its directions (Believe the Church’s teachings and observe all the Church’s directions).
    2. Thou shalt defend the Church (Defend the Church).
    3. Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them (Respect and defend all weaknesses).
    4. Thou shalt love the country in which thou wast born (Love your country).
    5. Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.
    6. Thou shalt make war against the infidel without cessation and without mercy (Show no mercy to the infidel. Do not hesitate to make war with them).
    7. Thou shalt perform scrupulously thy feudal duties, if they be not contrary to the laws of God (Perform all your feudal duties as long as they do not conflict with the laws of God).
    8. Thou shalt never lie, and shalt remain faithful to thy pledged word (Never lie or go back on one’s word).
    9. Thou shalt be generous, and give largesse to everyone (Be generous to everyone).
    10. Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil (Always and everywhere be right and good against evil and injustice).
    === -Léon Gautier. Chivalry. trans. Henry Frith (New York: Crescent Books, 1989).p.26-

    Rather than pick out the “nice parts” all included. Obviously some of this has cultural roots sthat should be acknowledged, but not followed.

    Verse 16 in Colossians 2 seems to narrow down what you wish to say. Look more to the “why” of the action(s) rather than the “what” is done.

    16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

    20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

    I have gone on enough. I hope that we see that perhaps we see the proverbial “accident” from differing perspectives, yet remain largely in agreement.

    Thanks for the thought provoking responses.

  5. Pastor Bob says:

    ps. perhaps I am using this as a genuine synonym for courtesies and respect…. ?

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