I’ve been finding out about King Arthur. He’s a very big deal in European culture, you know.
His knights of the round table and their quest for the Holy Grail gave a new model for how kings and warriors should handle themselves in times of peace. Impossible quests have their purpose, it seems.
And he is very associated with chivalry. The knights were all male, and that left a whole bunch of women who had to be dealt with.
Chivalry, as it happened, has very specific roles for men and women.
All of which was a very very very very very long time ago. Right?
What does any of this have to do with our lives?
As I was hearing how the chivalric thought leaders had lined out the roles for men and women, I was staggered at how modern these roles are—as modern as the pages of Modern Bride.
One of the things that surprised me was how women were expected to love men.
The men were the lovers. The women were the beloved—a wretchedly passive role. The women were supposed to verbally and rhetorically parry the advances of the male lovers.
Once again, the passive role. Acquiesce, not definitively. A lot of “maybe” and “Maybe later.”
How familiar I am with this dance! To be trilly and silly. To always appear to be fond of the man who is pressing his attentions on me, to say, “I like you as a friend.”
I had thought this kind of absurd femininity came from the Victorian period, but it seems to come from much deeper in the past.
There was a special hell for women who would not permit themselves to be loved. They had to sit on a chair of thorns, and the earth beneath their feet was red hot. Also, men were assigned to rotate the chairs of thorns so that the uncooperative women would be scratched and never rest.
What a strange role assigned to women! Never ever say no. Never assert yourself.
For the sake of what? To be called the fairest in the land?
Chivalry is not dead. But I wish it were. A better partnership between men and women is certainly desirable.