Once heralded as the idealised version of male behaviour, chivalry was the standard to win the hearts of medieval dames and Victorian aristocrats, as well as 40s pin-ups and Disney Princesses. Yet, as a modernising society, the beating heart of chivalry was ripped out and left to die. In our caffeine-fuelled, gossip-ridden, Hollywood-obsessed world, there is no room left; we are simply too busy, too horny or too expectant to warrant any form of chivalry. We single-handedly executed it, usurping the knightly valour for tinder swipes and blowjobs in club toilets.
Arguably serving as chivalry’s guillotine, social media has garnered a very fair reputation as the driving force in removing chivalry from our society. In a modernised era where a single like on Instagram can be interpreted as low-key flirting, or where ‘sliding into your DMs’ is a daily occurrence of ‘romance’, it is understandable why it cannot exist. The internet has bred an entire generation’s dependence upon snappy, short methods of flirtation; the compliment has been replaced by a like, and serenading has become a ‘cheeky inbox’. Maybe these activities are the modernised equivalent – and the likes of Lancelot and Sir Gawain would probably engage in this behaviour if they were a product of the 21st century. But, realistically, where is the chivalric effort or romantic gesture within a double tap? By killing chivalry, we have cheaply attempted to replace the valour and honour with a mechanism that functions as part of a societal acceptance of this new ‘chivalry’.
Social media’s influence has trickled down into the methods through which we find romantic others, changing rapidly in modern times. Hook-up culture has served as chivalry’s executor, ensuring the absolute decimation of romance. Apps such as Tinder and Grindr have elevated appearance to a much higher pedestal than personality, and advocated the ‘no strings attached’ interaction that is now commonplace. The swipe right speaks volumes to both involved parties, removing the awkward (yet chivalric?) aspect of buying a drink at the bar. Convenience and speed dominate over effort and small talk. Our very thought processes have changed in relation to romantic excursions, with one night stands, friends with benefits and hook-ups considered healthy. This begs the question; is it worth being chivalrous if the ultimate aim is a singular night of passion? We live in an era of sexual empowerment, in which everyone should have the power and choice to engage in sexual endeavours free from prejudice or judgement. Yet this shouldn’t have to correlate to a lack of chivalry, but the age of complimenting strikingly beautiful eyes or the power of a smile have faded. Even hello seems to have slipped out of the modern courtship ritual.
This loss of even ‘hello’ can be explained within The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a stereotypically modern book and film that captures exactly why chivalry has faltered. Stephen Chbosky writes that “we accept the love we think we deserve”, highlighting that we don’t expect chivalry, so accept any form of flattery and attention. Receiving a phone call instead of a simple message is now hailed as something that is out of the norm. A surprise visit to catch up has become worthy of screaming from the rooftops as the height of romance, as well as broadcasting to an entire snapchat contact list via a heart-emoji ridden story. Surely these activities should be commonplace. They aren’t chivalric actions, but rather standard expectations. We elevate these occurrences because they are no longer the norm.
It also becomes apparent that 21st century thinking is incompatible with the values of chivalry. The influence of many über-feminists, those who act upon misandric attitudes and shift the much needed political movement towards a path of ‘bettering women over men’ have scared male chivalry to death. Holding a door has become, at least according to some attitudes, a means of belittling women or highlighting male dominance. A compliment seemingly contains undertones of sexual objectification. Offering to pay for dinner can be interpreted as a representation of the inequalities in earnings between males and females. Of course, this is utter nonsense; yet many of the populace have begun to avoid chivalry because of these beliefs. Men have become too concerned that their attempted chivalric actions will be misconstrued as a means of promoting masculine dominance. It is not the fault of Feminism, but rather a limited number of misandric feminists, that have aided to killing off chivalry.
Rather than being completely dead, chivalry could be seen as going through an enforced comatose state, remaining constantly inactive but occasionally providing glimpses of life. Generationally speaking, irony, humour and sarcasm have become the common tongue. A sense of playful wit and a painfully sarcastic sense of humour has manifested itself throughout the minds of millions. What is considered funny and flirtatious has become twisted and dark, boasting a duplicity of humour and romance. Often, the word ‘banter’ is utilised in direct relation to flirting and courtship. The simple action of holding the door open finishes with a playful tripping up and a light-hearted giggle. The very act of comically pushing a significant other into the pool before diving in after seems staggeringly more appealing than a slow descent into the water hand in hand. Our affections are often expressed through uncouth actions, with playful flirting and humour usurping the traditional means of chivalry. Here, it appears in glimmers, aided along by the modern humorous elements.
However, chivalry itself can also be very dangerous, serving as a façade for an ulterior motive. Chivalry has created two kinds of guys – those that are naturally chivalric and those that fake it. The scarcity within modern society has meant that chivalric behaviour has become a tool for the latter to bed someone quickly and easily. Often, chivalry produces an instant attraction and sense of optimism to finally find someone who is ‘different’ – someone who is willing to act out of the ordinary. Unfortunately, this is where the trap lies. This so-called gentleman often has just one singular motive in mind; sex. His chivalry is far from gentlemanly or valour-driven, it serves as a means to an end. Popular culture has instilled this behaviour, with role models of chivalric behaviour ranging from Mr Darcy to Troy Bolton, with thousands of Hugh Grant and Channing Tatum characters resonating within the apparent gentleman’s head when he acts. It is these ‘gentlemen’ that have ruined chivalry for a majority of the populace, with the genuine guys losing out because their counterparts have blackened the good name of chivalry.
Chivalry itself is facing a very real threat in the form of its more successful younger brother, the ‘bad boy’. It seems both old-fashioned and slightly dull to favour chivalry over someone exciting or enthralling. Sylvia Plath once said that “every woman adores a fascist”, and the truth of this statement continues to resonate with society’s consciousness. Far from adoring the chivalric and polite gent, society is drawn to the cocksure, humorous individual – the self-confessed bad boy. Be it the sexual might of Danny Zucko, the sheer arrogance of Tony Stark or The Breakfast Club’s own punk boy John Bender, the chance of excitement and spontaneity seems to outweigh the seemingly dull, docile, chivalrous guy. The question that must be internalised and mulled over is this – do I really want chivalry?
All in all, Nelly Furtardo sums up the situation of chivalry beautifully, “chivalry is dead, but you’re still kinda cute.” Chivalry is dead, and sure, it would be nice to see it return – but in our modern day society that is focused upon aesthetics and a fast-pace, is chivalry still needed?
Words by Adam Levick