Chivalry is “the collection of qualities expected of an ideal knight, especially courage, honor, civility, justice, and a readiness to help the vulnerable,” according to a typical definition.
The term is frequently associated to the medieval institution of knighthood, when chivalric social standards governed the conduct of knights and ladies. Today, however, chivalry is understood as showing women respect and compassion.
Small actions can go a long way, like waiting for women to sit before men, helping them with their coats, or opening doors for them. However, in a society where we prioritize gender equality over everything else, it is debatable whether chivalry is still important today.
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The term “chivalry” refers to the code of honor followed by medieval knights, which covers a variety of male actions. Jennifer Wollock, a literary historian at Texas A&M, claims that in medieval European literature, knights and kings were depicted as women’s protectors.
For instance, King Arthur kills the rapist giant of Mont-Saint-Michel in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “History of the Kings of Britain” from 1138. A few decades later, Sir Lancelot is depicted by the French poet Chrétien de Troyes as sacrificing fame, grandeur, and prized warhorses in order to save the kidnapped Queen Guinevere. Such well-known stories of chivalry, according to Wollock, “pressured aristocracy to accept the chivalric code to some extent.”
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According to Wollock, in the 14th and 15th centuries, English authors like Geoffrey Chaucer and Sir Thomas Malory portrayed King Arthur’s court as a haven of justice for women, going far beyond the social conventions of the day. As knights intervened to defend citizens, western chivalry developed into a distinct force.
The importance of chivalry, however, is a topic of intense debate in our society today. Because feminism asks for equal rights for men and women and gallantry urges that mistreatment of women be stopped, by logic, feminism and chivalry both refer to respect.
However, because they feel that chivalrous behavior is not the same as respect, some people are not completely at ease with it. Skeptics claim that chivalry is no longer appropriate since it conflicts with feminism.
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Men showing women a variety of extra courtesies is a common example of chivalry in contemporary Western cultures. Paying for dates, moving heavy objects, pulling out chairs, opening doors, and letting women leave first—even though the man got there first—all fall under this category.
Beatrice Alba, a lecturer at Deakin University, argues that these acts of chivalry, in which males are excessively nice to women only because they are women, have a dark side despite being typically regarded as polite and even romantic.
The paternalistic sentiments that underlie these practices are referred regarded as benign sexism by psychologists. The idea that males should value, guard, and elevate women is referred to as “benevolent sexism.” This is due to the perception of women as being more morally upright, more vulnerable, and in need of protection, Alba explained.
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