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Is chivalry dead? No, it was never born

Saturday December 7 2019

romantic relationships

Chivalry has come to represent the expected codes of conduct a (gentle) man should have towards a woman in a romantic space. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

MARIGA THOITHI
By MARIGA THOITHI
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Chivalry was a creation of people's imagination as a projection of what they would like to be treated like and never actually reflected reality.

"Where are the gentlemen like our fathers?" women ask. Let's explore that today.

"Cultural commentators have a strange obsession with asking whether things are dead," notes Becky Little, renowned history and culture journalist in Washington, D.C.

So here I am to whip the dead horse alive, without drafting a 160-page creative fiction document. Let's start at the very beginning.

Which fathers are women talking about? Because these are the same fathers that they refer to as the high priests of patriarchy

Again I ask; who is this ancient chivalrous man that is now giving us a bad name?

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Chivalry refers to a loosely put together code of conduct from the 12th century. It guided basic rules of war including who to attack and who to show mercy to.

CODE OF CONDUCT

The rules were supposed to guide the European Knights who served under different masters in the feudal systems.

Their masters were just warlords and the Knights were their guns for hire who later on employed good PR folk to clean their names.

The code of conduct was set up to try and redeem their image and make them seem less brutish than they were.

At the end of the 15th century, feudalism had died and so had chivalry, at least we thought it had.

This was until the 18th century when poets and artists brought it back and romanticised it.

Suddenly, it referred to gentle conduct in romantic love and Knights became honourable soldiers who fought to protect their nations and damsels in distress.

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, considered one of the most famous Spanish novelists who ever lived, through his book Don Quixote satirised chivalry so well that a disclaimer had to be included in the second edition that it was indeed satire.

Don Quixote was translated into 140 languages and comes second only to the Bible in the list of the most translated books in the world. So this discussion didn't just start. It's been there for a while.

COMPLIANCE

But as language evolves so do meanings. Chivalry has come to represent the expected codes of conduct a (gentle) man should have towards a woman in a romantic space.

It's the fuss around opening doors for people who have two hands, offering her your coat so that you can freeze to death, and making sure you walk her to the door before you walk to yours alone.

They're expectations I found as I turned 18 and honestly things I didn't care about. But all the same, these are things some women found to be endearing.

Since I wanted to be this gentleman they spoke of, I tried my best. It didn't come naturally but they were standards that we had to follow or else be seen as brutes.

Thinking back though, this sounds like a continuation of the Spanish soap operas that we watched as kids. The ones with a new Alejandro on every new show.

ACT OF IMAGINATION

The ones which every girl loved as they daydreamed on the men they would marry when they came of age. Unfortunately, the girls are still in Kenya and we're what's available.

I was about to say that I think chivalry died and won't be coming home for Christmas but that's even less accurate.

Chivalry was never born. Chivalry was a creation of people's imagination as a projection of what they would like to be treated like and never actually reflected reality.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for treating people well in relationships. I'm all for respect and loving people fully, but to use abstract rules that most men don't care for as a measure of love is foolhardy.

It's also inconsiderate and a sure way of getting disappointed. Men love just as deeply as women do even if they might not verbally express it and may show their love in different ways which won't be the ones in books and movies.

EXPRESSING LOVE

You know the Mills and Boons-esque books with white, long-haired shirtless toned men on horses? It won't also be the love from the 1950's movies where men kiss the hand of every woman they meet, hygiene notwithstanding.

Love will come with nyama choma. It will be illustrated with road trips. It's when you are introduced to his close friends or he buys you flowers.

Chivalry will be displayed in many forms. So stop holding men to ridiculous standards that were made up by storytellers.

These standards are no indication of love. You're being loved in the ways that we men know best. That's what matters.

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