Image Credit: Chris C., Pequannock, NJ
The term “gentleman,” created during the Middle Ages, originally meant a man of noble birth and title. A gentleman was not expected to be chivalrous, or even amiable; chivalry – honesty, fair treatment, and a grand respect for ladies – was associated with knights. Upon the extinction of the knight, however, the gentleman adopted the knights’ temperament. By Jane Austen’s time, late 18th- and early 19th-century England, a gentleman had both high birth and impeccable manners. The essence of a gentleman, as John Ruskin put it, “is what the word says, that he comes from a pure gens [Latin for “family”], or is perfectly bred. After that, gentleness and sympathy, or kind disposition and fine imagination.” Over the centuries, this regard for gentlemanly manners in general culture has decreased. Today, women often complain that chivalry is dead; however, that is not quite the case. Chivalry is not dead, but rather suppressed by the modern cultural image of masculinity.
In Jane Austen’s time, men, gentlemen included, were leaders in all aspects of life. Men owned the businesses, ruled the countries, supported the family, drove the carriages, butchered the cows, married off their daughters – their masculinity was their power. Their power was their masculinity. But, alas, single men did not have power over single women, and a gentleman’s grace was the only way to charm a woman into marriage. With the woman, the gentleman could secure full and unbreached power.
Being masculine has, of course, always been tied to not being feminine. In Jane Austen’s time, the difference between masculinity and femininity was much simpler than it is today. Men wore pants; women wore dresses. Men paid the bills; women bore the children and did needlework. Being polite, courteous, and gracious were traits expected of men and women alike. Then, at the turn of the century, women began to evolve their definition of femininity, and masculinity was forced to change with it. In 1919 women gained the right to vote. Rosie the Riveter and thousands of other American women proved their economic worth during World War II. In the 1960s, women started regularly wearing pants, and the birth control pill became popular. Women fought for the power to control their own lives, and they won.
Today, men do not have nearly as much power as they once did. As women gained independence, men lost control, and they struggled to define their masculinity through other means. Thus began the evolution of the modern man. In the 1960s, sexuality had begun to make an appearance in media. Men were introduced to the idea of a “bachelor,” and Playboy magazine was published. With the popularization of the birth control pill, the public began to accept the sexually active single woman. On the cusp of a new era of sexuality and facing a steady decline of their power, men replaced gentlemanly manners with blatantly sex-motivated seduction. Masculinity became the ability to convince a woman to take off her clothes. With their control ebbing in the workforce and at home, men used sex as a tool to once again feel dominant, powerful, and masculine.
Along with the ability to seduce, modern masculinity idealizes physical strength as the key to attract, and hold on to, a woman. In the medieval era, knights used their strength to fight chivalrously. In Jane Austen’s time, men used their strength to provide for their families. Testosterone has always graced men with muscle growth and physical power, but until the modern age and the augmentation of sex culture, how toned a man’s body was did not affect his public or private masculine identity.
Gentlemanly manners have thus been pushed aside by sexuality and brute strength. If a man attempts to be gentlemanly now, women may take offense. Feminists began to see gentlemanly actions – like men opening doors for women – as patronizing, as if the woman could not open the door for herself. On the other hand, some independent and progressive young women still expect men to buy them flowers and pay the bill on a date. The cultural changes over the past 200 years have confused gender roles, and the public expectations for gender-specific behavior have become difficult to comprehend.
From knights to Mr. Darcy to Channing Tatum, the definitions of masculinity and chivalry are always evolving. Women today may complain about the death of the gentleman; however, women, and their influence on the convoluted course of gender evolution, may have been the killers. If chivalry is to come back to life, its associations with male superiority must be discarded, as they have no relevance today. Men and women must disregard the old definitions of gender and simply show they enjoy the company of their companions to create a happy state of gender harmony.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
Is Chivalry Dead? Essay
Chivalry; the act of being gentlemanly; has changed dramatically over the years. Is Chivalry Dead? is the most frequently asked question on the topic. There are obviously going to be different views on the answer but the changing eras need to be taken into consideration first.
Chivalry first came to be known in the medieval ages thanks to Knights. It was referred to the title of the medieval institution of knighthood and the values/ideals of; knightly virtues, honour and courtly love. It was assimilated by some as being a warriors code, which was tweaked by the church in later years. The word itself actually comes from the French word chevalier, which means Knight in the English language. Eventually, the word came to have and aristocratic connotation: distinguishing a wealthy knight on horseback from a peasant etc. Knights in war were referred to as chivalrous if they were brave in battle, loyal to his king and God and if he was willing to sacrifice his life for the good of his defence or attack. Towards fellow countrymen, knights were to be merciful, humble and courteous, whereas above all, to noble ladies they would be gracious and gentle; courtly love. When it came to courting women, knights had to woo a lady; it was the idea that a nobleman would dedicate his life to the love of a/his lady. Knights would write poetry, letters and songs, anything to serenade and get into the good graces of the lady of his heart and would then build up enough ego to ask his lady to dance, when appropriate. It was all rather innocent and sweet and the more sissy in modern thoughts, the better it was in those days.
Chivalry in the early to mid 1900s, I like to refer to as the age of gentlemen. People see movies with people like Fred Astaire and Gene Kelley in them and men would follow their stereotypes to please the women of that era. Men took dance classes so they would feel confident going out on the town with a lady, some who could, would sing, they would never let a women pay and basically treated women like princesses to the extent of their pocket budget. It all went to pleasing women, outside the home if married. Then the un-equality comes to mind. Women would be an asset to a man in professional public places; it wasnt accepted for a woman to be the breadwinner or to have a true opinion to be taken into consideration of the workforce or life once she was with a man. Women fought it but the world was so man-dominated that its taken a long time to get as far as weve come. It was still nice to...
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