Thursday, April 5, 2012

Chivalry be Dead

This post was inspired partially by a discussion I had with my friends about appropriate boundaries with members of the opposite sex and partially by a historical art series ("Romance and Reality" by Lord Kenneth Clark) that my boyfriend was watching last night.

Appropriate boundaries with members of the opposite sex:
We live in modern times, where depending on the culture of your clique, it's okay to put your arms around your friends or slap them on the butt or be friends with benefits. That being said, your partner may not always be comfortable with all that. This whole discussion came up because one of my boyfriend's girl friends whom he has not seen in awhile innocently but inappropriately crossed that line by jumping on him (as in jumped up to hug him, possibly wrapping her legs around him--I'm not sure, I didn't actually witness it). Later I asked my boyfriend if he thought it was appropriate. He got nervous and said that people thought it was funny, and that his girl friend didn't mean anything by it. That's probably true, in that his girl friend didn't think anything of it, but it still makes me uncomfortable. So I talked with two of my friends. One has totally inappropriate boundaries with her guy friends, but she helped me see that this was mostly about my insecurities. Then I helped her see that she would freak out if her own boyfriend did half the stuff she does with her guy friends. The other friend took my perspective x2 and said not only that my boyfriend should be respectful of my feelings, but that his girl friend probably had romantic feelings for my boyfriend and that she doesn't like the way they conduct themselves toward each other. More on that later.

Romance and Reality:
This series has to do with courtly love, which Kenneth Clark says was one of the strangest aspects of Western Civilization, popping up during the Middle Ages around the time of the Crusades. He mentioned that some people speculate that it came about from the love poetry of Persia (sure, blame the Asians), but he said that one more likely reason for its development had to do with the fact that a lot of guys went off to steal land during the Crusades (war was more transparently for profit back then), leaving their wives at home. Women at this time in the Middle Ages actually had some authority; when they're husband was away, they were the boss. In the meantime, all of the gallant young knights who for some reason or another did not go to fight in the Crusades had to pay fealty to their lady. Think of the most well-known example of courtly love: Lancelot and Guinevere. Although the stories have changed over time, originally, Lancelot and Guinevere fell in love because they spent a lot of time together ruling Camelot while Arthur was away searching for the Holy Grail. Also, originally their love was never consummated. It was pure and chaste, like most courtly love.

Courtly love is when a man falls in love with an unavailable, usually married woman and pledges ever-lasting devotion to her because she's so beautiful, refined, and virtuous. It's associated with the devotion some religious figures have toward the Virgin Mary. Like one's relationship with the Virgin Mary, the woman may or may not even give the man the time of day (not even in a non-dirty way), but the man's devotion will still be unyielding.

In the Middle Ages during the Crusades, this probably was an ideal. This way, the married woman really does get to stay chaste and loyal to her husband (therefore avoiding the problems of bastards), but she still gets some male attention. And the poor guys who have been tricked into this situation are supposed to be happy with it.

But think about how messed up this is in modern times, when even in long-distance relationships you can communicate with your lover or jump on a plane. I don't think most guys would be happy with their girlfriends receiving devotion from some other dude, even if it wasn't consummated. But the real benefactress is, of course, the lady, nowadays referred to as a female lonely user. Basically, she's not going to really get with her guy friend for whatever reason, but she uses him as a de facto boyfriend, sans the kissing, etc.

But how can a guy be a boyfriend if there's no kissing and no nooky? Well, how can you be "friends with benefits"? By separating the sex from the emotional intimacy and commitment. Friends with benefits have the sexual relationship and may even have some emotional intimacy (hence the "friends" part), but not the commitment. That's 2/3s of Sternberg's Love Triangle (I mean--Triangular Theory of Love). Girls with surrogate boyfriends have at least the emotional intimacy; there may even be some one-sided commitment, but there is no passion. At least not consummated passion. Flirtatiousness--fine. Sex--no-no. In case this is still unclear, here are some of the things a surrogate boyfriend would be expected to do:
  1. Listen to girl friend's problems for extended periods of time.
  2. Be available at all times to chat.
  3. Sit next to girl friend or save girl friend a seat.
  4. Accompany girl friend on errands.
  5. See and give commentary on her underwear.*
  6. Let girl friend hug put her arm around him.
  7. Dance with girl friend.
  8. But not initiate any touching of girl friend.
*Not necessarily while wearing it.

Numbers 1 through 7 are guidelines for a functional girl-girl friendship, but only if it's two sided. What strikes me as weird about the relationship though, is the unevenness. This list is catering to the girl. It's not that the guy friend isn't getting anything out of the relationship, even if he's not secretly in love with her, but the relationship is primarily dictated by the girl's needs.

Well, yeah, some may say. Girls are needier than guys. Fuck you. But there do seem to be types of girls who "need" a boyfriend--someone to wait on them--literally. My boyfriend's girl friend moved from one long-distance boyfriend to a local one during the peak of their surrogate relationship. At one point, she was going to the city to see a play at night, but had class during the day. Therefore her boyfriend waited for her on campus the whole day. I'm not sure what he was doing. He had a laptop, I think.

We call these types of girls "princesses." They always need to be attended to, even if there is no immediate need, because what if? These princesses imitate the real princesses in the day of yore, when the female sex was considered too delicate to fend for herself, even as she was running her husband's estate. Therefore, she had both female and male attendants--chivalrous knights to pick up their handkerchiefs and whatnot. Not that the knight was supposed to expect anything in return. He was supposed to want to do it because she was so damn beautiful.

Girls, this is outdated thinking. No matter how beautiful you are, it's not okay to treat a guy like crap. It's not okay to receive without giving in return. You are not a princess. Pick up your own damn shit. Get your hands dirty--like a queen.

Here's my real beef with chivalry--it's sexist. Sure, it's nice when a guy makes you walk on the inside of the street for safety or opens doors for you or takes your jacket or pushes your chair in or stands when you enter the room--actually some of those things are annoying. I have to admit I let my boyfriend do the first, but I am kind of unobservant when it comes to traffic, so my safety may actually be a real issue. The other stuff? A non-issue. I know how to operate doors. It's okay if people help you out that way, as long as you help them back in return. Some girls might say this stuff is respectful, but I believe real respect is a two-way street. Chivalry is men treating women differently because of some essential difference, such as delicacy. Do I want my boyfriend to change the my lightbulbs? Yes. He's taller. But in a pinch I can do it myself. Besides, I'll make it up to him by searching for stuff under the furniture. Division of labor.

Even before I connected chivalry with female lonely users (to be fair, I think guys can also be lonely users), I hated it because I view it as a deterrent to feminism. I know it's not an equal argument, but how can women achieve equality with men if they're still holding onto sex-specific privileges? Having a door opened for you is not equivalent to having equal pay in a work environment, but it's the idea that counts. Don't accept any chivalrous bribes! Fight for equality! Even in the dating environment! Go Dutch!

Disclaimer: I allow my boyfriend to steer me to the inside of the street, change my lightbulbs, and carry my bags. I convince myself this is okay because of my deficient traffic awareness and the fact that I am seven inches shorter and 75 pounds lighter than him. I refuse to let him pay more of the rent even though he (currently) makes more money than I do.

1 comment:

  1. I commend you on resisting the urge to exploit the power of the pussy! I agree with you on the whole chivalry thing. Nevertheless, I still enjoy letting others dote on me. Because they want to, of course. ;-)

    And even though I endorse these views, I still feel that society has planted a few seeds of sexism into my subconscious.