Chivalry—Whether or not it’s dead, it’s not for us regular men.

by Davd on March 24, 2012

Chivalry is not dead—well, i doubt it is—but it is rare, and not for the ordinary man; it is for the rich and warlike. This will probably be welcome news to most regular men, who find it more burdensome than fun to do all that chivalry-stuff. If it is less welcome news to most women, i won’t apologize: Better to tell the truth—and Lady, it’s not my task on this earth, to make you happy. It’s your happiness, so make it yourself… and if you help me with my happiness, then i’ll reciprocate1, as good neighbours ought to do.

The reason chivalry is and should be rare, is right there in the dictionary: Chivalry derives “from chevalier, a knight or horseman [which derives] from cheval, a horse.” (Thatcher and McQueen, 1971: 144). The definition reads: “Knighthood; the system to which knighthood with all its laws and usages belonged; the qualifications of a knight, as courtesy, valor, and dexterity in arms ….” (ibid.)

A man with courtesy, valor, and dexterity in arms, today, is a military officer—or perhaps a “classy” gangster2.  Leslie Charteris’ fictional character “The Saint” comes to mind. Skilled combat soldiers don’t tend to be courteous, nor do the police on occasions when they make working use of their dexterity in arms. Men whose social circumstances support chivalry, in the 21st Century, are a very small fraction of the adult male population.

Chivalry tends to “go with” patriarchy, but not all patriarchal cultures have chivalry: While i don’t happen to have a book on my shelf that documents this all-in-one-place, i have read in a variety of sources over the years, that patriarchy is common in three kinds of social conditions:

  • The upper and ruling classes of agricultural and industrial societies;

  • Herding societies (Lenski, Lenski, and Nolan, 1991: 205-7); and

  • Farming communities in climates where soils dry out frequently (Harris, 1969: 217-8, 328-331).

Chivalry can be found mainly among those upper and ruling classes, and occasionally among the more warlike in the herding societies. Of ploughmen whose families defer to them because only they can plow straight furrows in hard ground, probably fewer than 1% are chivalrous.

I grew up in the working class of an industrial society. As a boy, i had hundreds of hours each year—a few thousand hours over ten years—to walk from home to school, from home to my friends’ homes, to the store and elsewhere on errands for my parents, even to get some exercise for me and my dog; and while i was walking, i saw thousands of glimpses of working-class household power relationships. I saw men bossing their wives, women bossing their husbands, and more than either of those, i saw husbands and wives working out differences and just discussing things, as equals. Between 1949 and 1959, i saw gender-equality on average in working-class North America; and nothing i later learned from others who grew up about the same time, conflicted with what i observed “on the West Coast”.

My boyhood neighbourhoods were neither “upscale” nor impoverished. Most of the men were tradesmen; most of the women were housewives or occasionally schoolteachers, nurses, nurses-helpers, cooks—they followed the trades suitable to women’s strength, and the junior professions. In the poor neighbourhoods, i later learned, women were more often dominant than men, and some places had more matriarchal households than gender-equal. (Consistently with extrapolating from upper classes being patriarchal through skilled-labour classes averaging egalitarian, the lower classes were mostly matriarchal.)

So where did the notions of patriarchy and chivalry “get all that traction”?—if the middle majority, the skilled blue- and white-collar workers and their families, were gender-equal on average? A blogger who uses the pen-name “Futurist”, in a famous essay entitled “The Misandry Bubble”, explains it this way: “feminists compar[e] the plight of average women to the topmost men (the monarch and other aristocrats), rather than to the average man. This practice is known as apex fallacy,, and whether accidental or deliberate, entirely misrepresents reality.

It is difficult to decide if the misrepresentation be fraudulent or innate: From Cinderella to the little girls in many advertisements, there is some kind of “Princess syndrome” far more prevalent among girls, than any kind of elite pretensions are among boys. The ritual language of “Good Manners” places women one or perhaps two classes above men with its “Ladies and Gentlemen”: Ladies are the social equals of “Lords”,as is explicit in the courtroom rituals of Canada and the U.K, where a judge is conventionally addressed as “Your Ladyship” or “Your Lordship”: and referred-to as “Her Ladyship” or “His Lordship”. (The social equal of a “gentleman” is, by a very simple transformation, a “gentlewoman”. We do not see that word often—because English-language social ritual places women above men. We do not see nor hear the judiciary addressed nor referred to as mere gentlefolk.)

“Futurist” states, “women are not monogamous, as is popularly assumed, but hypergamous. … a woman may be attracted to only one man at any given time, but as the status and fortune of various men fluctuates, a woman’s attention may shift from a declining man to an ascendant man.” So women may plausibly be committing the “apex fallacy” because they think of themselves as princesses and—unless they are actually in the ruling class—men of their own social rank are almost invisible to them.

There was a popular television show dacades ago, “Queen for a Day”, that catered to the princess syndrome; but no “King for a Day”. Mothers often referred to their daughters as “my little Princess”, but almost never to their sons as “my little Prince”.

When i read, over-and-over again, that women initiate divorce between twice and ten times as often as men, it’s consistent with the Princess Syndrome and the absence of a parallel boys’ syndrome: A boy grows up, learns a trade, meets a woman of his approximate age and occupational status, and if he marries her, is content: He’s married to a social equal. A girl grows up, learns a trade, meets a man of her approximate age and occupational status, and if she marries him, is relatively disappointed: She’s not a princess any longer. If he puts on prince-like manners for her, he looks and feels silly; if he doesn’t, she resents his lack of chivalry.

In this 21st Century, boys and young men have apparently noticed this problem—that there are more wanna-be princesses than there are princes for them to marry. More and more young men are choosing not to marry. And as “Futurist” noted, [hyperlinks in original]

By many accounts, 22% of men have decided to avoid marriage. So what happens to a society that makes it unattractive for even just 20% of men to marry?

Women are far more interested in marriage than men. Simple logic of supply and demand tells us that the institution of monogamous marriage requires at least 80% male participation in order to be viable. When male participation drops below 80%, all women are in serious trouble, since there are now 100 women competing for every 80 men, compounded with the reality that women age out of
fertility much quicker than men.

Expecting chivalry of men who lack the wealth and title of true knights, leads to a surplus of princess-aspirants and eventually, to a large number of frustrated spinsters.

I don’t know a gentle, effective way to break this news to the Princesses; but to mothers and fathers whose daughters are still young, i would suggest you teach them the following lessons:

  • What fraction of the young men of your country are able to keep a Princess in the style that the title implies;

  • What fraction of the young women of your country are ambitious to be a Princess; and

  • the alternatives to Princess that she might wisely consider, given her personality and talents.

We’ll assume that they learn subtraction in school, and can work out “as an exercise for the student,” how far the number of would-be princesses exceeds the number of princes.

If i think of the 20th Century women i admired, they include Simone Weil, Mother Theresa, my preacher grandmother, two nuns i knew as individuals, and two scientists. The princess i can most readily name, i didn’t admire; she divorced her husband, ran around with playboys, and died violently while fleeing the paparazzi. She probably saw more chivalry than the women i do admire. In my humble opinion, apart from the husband she divorced, that “chivalry” did her more harm than good.

Many readers on this and other men’s-interest sites have lamented the recent prevalence of “I’m not haaaaappy” as an excuse too many women use for destructive behaviour—divorce especially. Expecting chivalry from ordinary workingmen, and expecting to find a handsome prince to marry, are both unrealistic for most women who reached puberty with neither a title of nobility nor a million dollars. Unrealistic expectations lead to unhaaappiness—in social psychology we call the process “relative deprivation.”

Expecting that you will be in love for the rest of your life, when the best-known book on the subject (Alberoni, 1980) states that two months is a much more realistic estimate of how long people typically remain “in love”, also leads to unrealism and relative deprivation. Me-thinks many women who aren’t “haaaaappy” might be happy with the normal number of vowels, and do far less damage, if they could get their expectations aligned with reality.

My preacher-grandmother didn’t expect much chivalry from those around her. Modesty, yes. Truthfulness, definitely! Polite conduct, even to the extent of eating soup with a spoon and salad with a fork, and wearing clean clothes to church, yes. But chivalry?—she preferred honesty and keeping one’s word; and if she got that from her parishioners, she didn’t insist on fancy trimmings. My engineer-grandfather, same basic story. And those two, though they each had their moments of less than total satisfaction, those two i remember as happy people, in a serene and disciplined way.

Don’t worry about chivalry, fellows; we don’t need it—nor do we need to entangle ourselves with women who think they do.

References not hyperlinked:

Alberoni, Francesco 1979. Falling in Love and Loving Milano, Garz. Widely translated.

Harris, Marvin, 1989. Our Kind. NY: Harper and Row.

Lenski, Gerhard, Jean Lenski, and Patrick Nolan, 1991. Human Societies: An Introduction to Macrosociology. 6th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Thatcher, Virginia S. and Alexander McQueen, eds. 1971. The Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language. Chicago: Consolidated Book Publishers.


1. In my case, this is not a sexual innuendo. I doubt that sexual innuendo is anywhere-near as common in most men’s treatment of women, as it is in [for instance] advertisements for women’s clothing.

2. I’m not going to make a separate category for the present-day analogues of James Bond. Seems more accurate to say that some gangs are technically legal.

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