In 1152 Henry the Second of England marries a French Queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine, to solidify a peace between the constantly warring nations. The Queen is wary of the King’s brutish nature, he is a soldier fighting the Holy wars, and maybe suffering from the then misunderstood traumas that come from battle. During his period of warfare, soldiers were prone to mistreating, abusing and even raping their spouses as their broken minds, numbed by the brutality of what they have seen, would lead them to believe is the way of the world. The Queen hires a troubadour (a bard) to write love songs, which display the loving ways that her husband treats her, and the respect that he shows her. He has not necessarily done any of these things, but these songs set the standards by which warrior men in Europe should treat their ladies. Eleanor of Aquitaine single handedly starts chivalry, the manner of men, in Europe. Thanks to the efforts of her ladies in waiting, poetry is used to solidify new rules and conducts by which knights should act in order to preserve the honor of their ladies. They demand that their violence and sexual urges should be tamed, and soon this expands to a fully-fledged set of rules, demanding that these returning crusaders pay more attention to the way they act. Rules like not picking your nose in front of others and not to ride a horse indoors begin to show an expansion of the breadth of areas the code of chivalrous conduct covers. As our societies evolve, so do the policies and names, however one thing remains eternal, and that is to make society a place where it is alright for virulent men to act delicately and carefully.
This story of chivalry is an interesting one as it tells us a lot about how to start change in one’s society, and also what it is at the core that we want to change. There are mixed views as to how we should understand chivalry; some say that men are inherently beasts with strong desires to sex and violence, and so chivalry tames this, I personally prefer to view it as a coming of age. Men were, for a long time asked to take the characteristics of strength, toughness and emotional withdrawal, and as that became less necessary, or more of a curse than a gift, people aimed to change that. Being, on average, built to be able to carry a heavier physical burden, men for centuries were sent to fight and protect. As civilizations grew, social order was built by them; as worlds where survival is the main objective, those who protect lives have a greater voice. Now we are not trying to survive, at least not in the richer nations. Our worries are now with self-worth and placement within our peers. This change in situation demands us to look one last time at chivalry before we leave it forever. Chivalry is dead, but not because the men are pigs, have been misled by porn or the media, but because there is no longer a need for it. I believe we are still on the relatively early stages of social change. On the grand order of things, modern women’s rights have only come up recently (200 years is not long on the scale of human history), and it took 300 years at least for Christianity to be adopted by the Romans. Now that men no longer hold an intrinsic role in society, it becomes a fair game, or at least it would be if not for the reason that it’s hard to give up power. Given the next 60 years all the men holding important political positions, who were raised in an age of limited acceptance towards a women’s role in society, will be dead or unable to hold those positions any more. Within that time a free ground should emerge and the issue of feminism in the workplace will be almost nonexistent (hopefully).
The fight for equal chances at life, for both genders, and for all people is a long struggle. But it is only through continuously asking that movements can survive long enough to shape their societies to the point where they are ready to be accepted as a new norm. This may be the most important of all the lessons we can derive from the story of Chivalry and the most applicable even now. With the shootings plaguing the US right now, the senate has been blocking all attempts towards gun control laws that polls show a clear majority of what Americans want. When asked why, they claim they only receive calls from people who want to protect themselves from gun laws. If we want change, we must persist, for that is what the minority is doing. They have been protecting guns before, and will continue to do so many weeks after. So if you want change, the majority must make their voices heard. It may have taken the ladies in waiting almost 800 years for them to finally get their message put into law, but we have phones and emails now, we can call our representatives and force their hands to make a difference, to show what it is we care for, and that is what we want now.
Featured image via inthechickencoop.us
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