Monday, June 22, 2009

Chivalry is Not Dead

Many people in our culture often give women the impression that the way to get a man to contribute more to a relationship, to motivate him to meet a woman’s needs and wants, is by figuring out what men want and giving it to them. Hogwash.

Put them to work. Give them a list of duties to accomplish that will free up your time if they want to continue taking it up. Assign them challenging tasks that would really excite you to see them carry out, and tell them what they can do that will really impress you and make you want them over other men. Decide on rules of conduct for them that will make you comfortable when they are around you, and determine the consequences, both bad and good, for breaking or keeping these rules. Then carry them out accordingly. Why do you think men are so devoted and dedicated to their workplace?

For a relationship to last and keep both partners interested it is important to put the woman’s happiness first before the man’s, because in romance and sex men are easily pleased compared to women; and if she’s happy, he’s happy.

Nevertheless, many people consider it to be a sign of weakness of will for a man to defer to what a woman wants of him, or what she values as right, on a regular basis. In a culture where male dominance is considered the norm, male reverence and submission to women is difficult to confess the existence of, usually resulting in people going into a panic whenever they are forced to confront it.

Yet, the men of our culture publicly show reverence and submission all the time. They show reverence for and unquestioning submission to rituals of national unity, fraternal rights of passage, military superiors, and athletic coaches. They show emotional abandon and devotion towards sports teams, sports cars, and successful male role models. In plain sight, men who our society recognizes as masculine are submissive with certain people, and in certain contexts. They know that public submission and deference to others doesn't make them weak-willed, because society recognizes the ability of men to be submissive in certain relationships while remaining competitive and assertive in others. As long as their submission is aimed at men and male traditional values, no one has a problem with it.

So, the controversy surrounding the concept of male submissiveness is not over men having a submissive side, but rather over what men choose to ascribe sacredness to and recognize the power of.

When men in our culture choose to apply their submissive adoration towards other men, they also choose to channel their physical competitiveness and self assertion elsewhere- and guess where that might be. Current male social leaders and media directors still discourage men from offering their submission to female role models, female authority figures, or any symbol of collective female values, fearing that to do so would eliminate the one area of life where men still have opportunity to express their aggressive and competitive natures without immediate danger to themselves –their relationships with women. They prefer to use social interaction with women as an outlet for their physical prowess and pioneering independence by attacking women and defying women's desires. Tackling a female associate to the floor doesn’t require much discipline or risk of physical injury, nor imagination for that matter, and it doesn’t endanger a man's popularity with other guys; yet it gives them the appearance of being competitive and triumphant in the eyes of other men.
I suppose you could say such men are “dick-whipped”.

Believe it or not, there was a time in history when venerating and deferring to a woman was seen as a sign of heterosexuality. Yes, it’s true. Back then, men consciously chose to meet their need for submission, their need for a leader and a source of inspiration, by deferring to women and worshiping female values. Out of loyalty, they devoted their physical strengths and hormone-derived valor to protecting the interests of women and applied their desire to compete to male troublemakers or alternate suitors. Prestigious men were expected to serve and entertain women, which was considered a sign of strength of will. To not serve women in this way eliminated a man’s common ground with other men, came across as undisciplined, and made him generally unpopular. In fact, public submission to women was one of men’s most favorite hobbies and gave them opportunity for all kinds of creative play and adventure. This cultural movement was chivalry, practiced across Europe and England from the 11th century to the 13th century. The men who bound themselves to live by its code did so to join a brotherhood of knights who worked to protect their society.

These men were not afraid of risk or hard work. After choosing the profession, a man went through a long and arduous right of passage before being tested and approved to serve as a knight. His right of passage involved: seven years of working as a servant for a knight’s household, another seven years serving the prestigious woman of his choice by carrying out duties for her designed to test and refine his character, being ordained a knight in an elaborate ritual, fasting for twenty-four hours, staying up all night in a church watching his new uniform, and undergoing a religious confession and communion, all before being allowed to swear loyalty to the code of chivalry.1

It seems the code of chivalry was so attractive to these hardened men of war because it gave men an honorable social role and a meaningful guide to measure their own manliness by. The principles of the code were the love of adventure, carrying out service as guards or soldiers with noble virtues, protecting the safety and honor of all women, showing loyal devotion and deference to one chosen noblewoman, and carrying their services out with self-sacrificing generosity and courage. This often took the form of practical protection of women from physical attack, which led to the practice of a noblewoman selecting a favored knight to escort her to her carriage; the role of escort eventually allowed opportunity for a knight to express his devotion to protecting a noblewoman by deferring to her wishes, as trivial or challenging and risky as they might be. This included defending women’s honor by protecting them from insult, as well as simply entertaining them with creative praise or performing athletic challenges.2

The movement was believed to be a reaction against the barbaric violence and corrupt excesses that were the customs of battle for warriors under the direction of feudal lords; the notion of chivalry developed among knights as they began to pursue a more just and noble purpose for their social role. In contrast to past self-centered values, chivalric knights identified their purpose as adventurously protecting women, upholding traditionally female virtues, and worshiping the inspirational power of femininity.3 They worshiped femininity in spirit and in action.

Spiritually, they venerated what they considered to be female values by emulating them. The values of honor, courtesy, hospitality to the poor and oppressed, deference to others, unselfish love, endurance of suffering, loyalty, chastity, and faith in God- these were all seen as the virtues of the Virgin Mary, which they valued as noble and sought to experience personally for their own edification of purpose.4

In action, they protected women from physical danger and social insult while also putting their newfound female virtues to use by honoring and pleasing women with their masculine strengths. Knights saw the truest and purist expression of heterosexual love as a man’s worshipful longing for a woman in response to her powers of sensual appeal and savvy, channeling their passion for her into honor and praise for lack of a sexual outlet. For this reason, knights from this period of time courted their chosen mistress while practicing chastity.5

One historian says,
“Thus, the lady leaves her isolation and becomes an inspiration; the relationship between the sexes tends to acquire a teaching dimension, above all else for the man, the sentiment of feminine gentleness and the joy of serving the lady disciplining and gentling his warrior roughness and ferocity.” 6

There are still men who connect with this archetype of masculinity and relate to its way of building relationships with women. Though they do not have the advantage of an organized brotherhood or a universal code of demonstration to be recognized as such by women, they do tend to have certain features in common and their behavior takes on a similar pattern.

They make their woman their first social priority. They like to run errands and take care of chores for a woman, cook dinner for her, and attend to her in public. They like to listen to a woman without interrupting her, take an interest in what she thinks without arguing with her, and show a great interest in her work with the admiration and support of a devoted fan. They see the merit in doing things her way at home and in the relationship. They remember what she likes and do it often. They let her set the pace for sexual activity, and once invited they attend to her needs and interests first; they are intensely sexually loyal. They don’t take their sexual cues from porn films. They do not ejaculate prematurely.

They might open doors for women, but it is not out of an effort to confine women’s labor or public role. On the contrary, these men prefer to play the role of assistant to women who are professionally successful and highly independent -women who have their own sense of direction and are not afraid to apply it to men. And yet, at the same time, they will confidently compete with other men, even aggressively, and assert themselves in their profession or hobbies. Again, male selective submissive allegiance to a woman is hard for some to conceive of, but it is much the same thing as a sports fan’s intense admiration for a highly skilled and talented professional athlete. Women may tend to take their strengths as women for granted, but these men don’t.*

Contrary to popular belief, there are a good number of men out there with this disposition, though they are not always obvious to women because they aren’t the ones causing a public commotion in a desperate attempt to get female attention. They’d rather pay attention, and then appeal to her personal interests to earn her attention from her. Perhaps the best way for a woman to find them is to develop a healthy interest in what she wants and use an online profile to let men know exactly what that is so that discerning men will find her. This tends to weed out the self-absorbed ones.

The more clearly women perceive how masculinity and male submissive allegiance to women are not only compatible but also interdependent, the higher women’s standards for men’s attitude and behavior will rise, and the men who want the adventure of a real relationship will meet the challenge. Setting low standards to help a self-centered man get the swing of things in the adult world is a waste of time. Men are not stupid. Men are quite capable; if they aren’t taking direction, the issue is one of willingness.

But there’s no need to contend with an unwilling man. Men that are chivalry-oriented are already motivated, getting a sense of adventure and importance from performing a service for a woman. They are willing to work for a woman’s love and happiness because they don’t take women for granted. All they need is direction.

And why should women doubt it? Women’s physical sensuality and intellectual power exerts a force over men that disarms them of their competitiveness and inspires them to serve instead. It has inspired men to do all kinds of spectacular things in the effort to be as noticeable and interesting for women as women are for them. Women’s power of sensual allure has inspired whole fleets of warriors to rein in the barbaric carelessness and wasteful excesses that were the custom of their position in society and to conform their way of life to a strict ethical code of behavior. All without having to give sex to any of them.

* For a great example of the chivalrous man, and this combination of competitiveness with female adoration, watch The Widow of St. Pierre, with Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil. Also read Graceling by Kristin Cashore.

1 (Sidney, pp.260-261), (Elvins, pp.2-8, 59-61)
2 Ibid.
3 Ibid., (Westerson, 2007)
4 (Elvins, pp.2-8, 59-61)
5 (Westerfield, 2007), (Elvins, pp.2-8, 59-61)
6 (Elvins, pp.7-8, quoting Giuseppe Salvioli from ‘Cavalleria’, II Digesto Italiano, Florence, 1912)

Elvins, M. T. (2006). Gospel Chivalry: Franciscan Romanticism. Leominster, Herefordshire: Gracewing.

Sidney, Low, Sir.(1973). Dictionary of English History. New York: Cassell.

Westerson, Jeri. (2007, November 12). Getting Medieval: The Code of Chivalry and Courtly Love. Posted to

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Women and Power

For a continuation of our dialogue on the differences between women and men in their use of power, check out one man's perspective in Give Women Guns by Randy Cohen from last week's NY Times. 

Also check out Men have messed up. Let women sort it out by Gillian Wilmot from Financial Times, and Do women make better managers? by Joanna L. Krotz.

It seems these concepts are part of a larger Zeitgeist.