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[personal profile] dmilewski
Chivalry is often thought sexist, but once you look at its structure, it doesn't look sexist at all.

We know Chivalry from the middle ages, where knights rode off to rescue ladies, which is taken as sexist behavior. This behavior codified a set of behaviors, relationships, and obligations. There was a very formalized relationship between Lord and Vassal, but also a very distinct behavior set out for Knight and Lady. Because these days were literally dangerous, knights were assigned to ladies to act as their protectors, with their honor on the line for both how well they protected their lady and how well they honored her. 

Much of chivalry wasn't real, it was a meta-narrative that made stories possible, every bit as artificial as the sexism narrative. However, as a practical institution, women did need protection from non-hostile males who weren't their immediate family. 

We think of chivalry as sexist because so many medieval movies were made where the sexist meta-narrative substituted for the chivalric meta-narrative. Naturally, chivalry looks like sexism because the two copulated copiously.

Chivalry concerns itself with the following:
  • A knight owes obligation to his lord.
  • A lord provides for his knight.
  • A knight may be given an obligation to protect a lady.
  • A knight's reputation depends on his ability to protect a lady (a relative of his lord).
  • (Losing a lady is a career limiting move.)
  • A knight's life is subservient to his lady's life.
  • Knights don't boss the ladies around. They serve ladies, not the other way around.
  • Knights gives affection to his lady.
  • A lady gives affection to her knight.
  • A knight's actions are at the behest of his lady. (The Lady gets all the credit.)
  • A badly behaved knight, who violates chivalry, kidnaps women, making the world go wrong.
  • The world is set right when the knight defeats the bad knight, and thus fulfills his obligations.
Chivalry centers around obligations and the fulfillment of obligations. The reason that women are passive actors in these stories is because the primary conflict is between knights, between obligations and duties violated and obligations and duties fulfilled. That's why both the king and the lady are barely in the story. in a chivalry, happy endings are signaled when all relationships are restored to proper order and all duties are fulfilled.

Contrast this with sexism, which is concerned about where each gender is happiest and where each has a natural place. 

If you add a modern sensibility to chivalry, where the woman frees herself, that would indicate a failure on the knight's part. If the lady were to say, "I rescued myself," that would be the same as kicking the knight to the curb, who had just risked literal life and limb. His reputation would have been shattered. In the context of chivalry, such a modern twist would break the social contract, rendering the narrative unsatisfying. Fortunately, even in those old stories, ladies often found way to get information to their knights so that they could win. Those women weren't totally useless. This also showed that the audience that the woman did want to go home, and that she wasn't just a ball in a ballgame. 

* Disclaimer: I'm not an expert in chivalric narratives, so I might be full of shit. 

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