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of knights and nonsense
the ghastly myth of gallantry
by heather m. millen
pop culture

Remember the days of lords and ladies? Of gallant white knights and their damsels in distress? As young girls, how we all dreamt of gazing out from our second story balcony wishing on faraway stars that our prince would come. From that euphoric place, we could almost see him galloping up on his healthy steed, dark hair blowing in the breeze, clear blue eyes transfixed upon our delicate splendor. There was nothing that would stand in his way from making sure we were the happiest girl on earth. Our days would be enshrouded in happiness and our nights dotted with romance. It would be the perfect love story… the kind of love that creates beautiful music and inspires great works of literature.

Because that’s how it used to be, right? Wars were waged, duels were held, and men would happily die for the honor of a fair maiden’s hand. “What happened to days of old?” we would cry. “Chivalry is dead!”

Bullshit. Chivalry is not dead… chivalry never lived. I fail to believe that men really acted that way. Ever. It’s completely out of line with the male genetic makeup. To believe that such behavior ever occurred would have to indicate the counter-evolution of the human race. It’s a myth. A legend. And the idea makes for some beautiful stories, but they’re stories nonetheless.

Take for example, the new hit movie Troy. Loosely based (and I stress loosely) on Homer’s The Iliad, the movie focuses on the love affair between Helen of Troy and her Prince Paris… a love affair that ignited a great war. A woman whose beauty “launched a thousand ships.” Please. That war had more to do with hedonism and chauvinistic pride than anything else. It was a glorified cockfight. Quite literally.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to believe in “the great love affair.” I think Romeo and Juliet is a lovely tale. I’d jump at the chance to die of a broken heart. Okay, maybe that’s an overstep. One would think that Shakespeare must have really been inspired to write such poetic prose. Perhaps… or maybe he just knew even then what a great sell it was. Shakespeare wasn’t a romantic bard of literature. He was a marketing genius who built his success by endorsing our unfaltering ideologies and throwing in a splash of fancy language.

It wasn’t just in “days of yore” either. It’s carried through the centuries. Just the other night I was at a restaurant that explained their 1940’s era décor as trying to “recapture the romance and innocence of that time.” And by that, they meant World War II? Enter Hollywood. There’s something about black and white movies that make a girl’s heart all fluttery. Bogart and Bacall, Cary Grant… nothing gets us going like a strong handsome man going weak in the knees over a lovely lady. We can’t get enough. I wish I had a time machine. I’d like to witness a man lay his trench coat over a puddle so his female companion could cross without mucking up her pretty little feet. I bet that’s never actually happened in history. Not once!

We perpetuate the myth. Each generation, each new era… we all do it. Because it’s fluffier and prettier and definitely sexier than reality. We give them a name and a face and we insert our legends into our history and there they can live forever. Everyone likes a good story.

Decades later, we look back and think of how it must’ve been. It’s the classic case of looking back through rose colored glasses. Memories tend to come packaged in a flimsy, dreamy film. It’s so nice to be able to talk about “the way things were” and “in the good old days.” History is so passé. So, what will it be like in 50 years? How about 100? It’s a shame I’ll never live long enough to hear people gathered around talking about how wonderful it was back in 2004. How romance ruled the world and life was one big slow dance. I’d jump at the chance to set those people straight. I’d bring along some men I know as cases in point.

“Why he’s a real gentleman. I bet he even takes the dishes out of the sink before he pees in it.” --Steel Magnolias

I’m not claiming that there’s no romance in the world and there never has been. Men have bought flowers and opened car doors and even written (predominantly bad) poetry for the women they love. But overall, I just think this whole ideal has become continuously exaggerated across the centuries.

I’ve been as much of a sucker as anybody. I’ve gotten all verklempt over poetry and cried at movies and even read some of that sappy crap Nicholas Sparks manages to make his millions off of. And why do we do it? Because if we didn’t, Rapunzel and Prince Charming would be out of a job. We want to believe in fairytales. We want to permeate them into our modern-day culture by keeping the legacy alive. We want them as our heroes. We want them in our dreams and we want them on our big screens. Let’s face it, without chivalry, Troy would have just been a bunch of overly pretty men running around half-naked with swords. And would that be so bad?


Heather has a penchant for drama, both personally and professionally. She secretly wishes people spoke in song and wholeheartedly believes that everyone deserves a standing ovation now and again. She finds it appalling that people reserve champagne only for special occasions, when champagne is clearly best on a Tuesday, while riding the subway, accompanying a slice of kick-ass pizza.

more about heather m. millen


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topic: pop culture
published: 9.27.04

party monster
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by heather m. millen
topic: pop culture
published: 9.26.03


matt morin
5.28.04 @ 1:12a

Abelard and Eloise?

Prince Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson?

dan gonzalez
5.28.04 @ 1:37a

Crud, I just finished up a bit on chivalry not being dead. Timing, I got none.

Well, women are in charge in any case, so if you want it dead, it's dead. You prefer raping and pillaging? We're all over it, just snap your fingers. But you can forget all that half-naked sword business, we ain't doing it.

lisa r
5.28.04 @ 9:58a

Rumor has it Sir Walter Raleigh spread his cloak over a puddle for Queen Elizabeth I. You could borrow Dr. Who's Tardis and travel back to check for accuracy of the tale.

My dad goes out every night to kill the earwigs that think my parents' screen porch is their version of Studio 54. THAT'S chivalry.

dan gonzalez
5.28.04 @ 10:07a

My dad goes out every night to kill the earwigs

A fine line between chivarly, and the continued genocide of the family insectidae, no?

I'll take it though, if killin' bugs counts, I'm frickin' Launcelot.

lisa r
5.28.04 @ 10:14a

I'm personally convinced that the majority of insects exist not for the benefit of the world's flora, but to give man an outlet for his violent tendencies. Why else would roaches and earwigs exist? They're useless, nasty creatures.

mike julianelle
5.28.04 @ 11:02a

This reads like something I might've written were I a woman. And slightly less angry. Except for the Nicholas Sparks part. If I were a woman I'd still hate that garbage.

dan gonzalez
5.28.04 @ 12:11p

I don't know, brother, enjoying men running around commando-style with sharp blades sounds pretty angry to me.

On the other hand, we're probably safe because she did say 'overly pretty'.

heather millen
5.28.04 @ 2:39p

I like my men pretty and their chests shiny!

Okay, not really. Ya know, Mike, I'm honored that you feel this sounds a bit like you. You're a straightforward kinda guy- no reason to pussyfoot around with that chivalrous facade for you!

mike julianelle
5.28.04 @ 2:44p

Why you!

robert melos
5.28.04 @ 11:37p

Heather, you sound as jaded as I am. Romantic gestures are sweet, but I learned a long time ago from my mother that some women prefer a dishwasher to a diamond ring. Dad was thrilled cause the dishwasher cost less than the diamond.

If you want a romantic film, rent "Until September" or "May Wine." Both very romantic, but realistic as well.

And what are "earwigs?"

Okay, one last thought. Romance is fleeting, but love is everlasting.

casey pendelton
5.30.04 @ 9:06a

I'd rather have a man who would do the dishes sometimes than one who opens the car door for me. The same with the diamond ring. Pretty, but doesn't really help me feel like I've got someone there to help share the burden.

dan gonzalez
6.1.04 @ 10:58a

First bug-killing and now dishwashing. I'm beginning to feel downright cavalier.

I am Sir Gonzo! Have at thee, ye befouled flatware!

heather millen
6.2.04 @ 11:54a

I don't think modern-day acts of kindness really qualify as chivalry. I see opening car doors and killing bugs(should the lady require it) to fall in more the "polite" category.

craige moore
6.2.04 @ 12:20p

I see opening car doors and killing bugs(should the lady require it) to fall in more the "polite" category.

Exactly. Opening doors is not just something that men ought to do for women, but that everyone can do for everyone else, depending on who gets to the door first and who has his or her hands full.

I don't think that chivalry is dead. I think that politeness is dead. Or maybe it's just NYC. I am aghast at how often I see people letting doors slam in the faces of the folks right behind them. Or drivers honking at pedestrians who are in the crosswalk when the driver wants to make a turn.

A girl can get really bitter and hate all of mankind after a while.

mike julianelle
6.2.04 @ 12:25p

Opening doors for everybody is fine and all, but it'll be a cold day in hell before I get out of my car and then walk around to the passenger side to let one of my guy friends out. Let's get serious, here.

tracey kelley
6.2.04 @ 12:28p

Matt* said one of the things that impressed him about me on our first date was that I reached over and unlocked his car door...

...after he unlocked the passenger door and let me in first.

He's incredibly courteous most of the time, and I think he learned it from his dad. A lot of what he does for me he does for his mom and other people, too. But I like to think of myself as polite, and look for that in others. I unlock the passenger door for anyone getting into my car, male or female. I hold the door open for anyone, male or female. These little things are important in society, but I'll admit, I think more highly of a man if he's courteous.

tracey kelley
6.2.04 @ 12:29p

Yeah, Mike, I don't think guys have to adhere to that standard when they've just come back from the party store with a six-pack and Funjuns.

mike julianelle
6.2.04 @ 12:57p

Thank you, Tracey. And that "reach over and unlock move" you pulled is often used by guys as a litmus test. See Singles and A Bronx Tale.

jael mchenry
6.2.04 @ 1:10p

See also the first column I ever wrote for Intrepid.

dan gonzalez
6.2.04 @ 2:40p

And that "reach over and unlock move" you pulled is often used by guys as a litmus

Absolutely. If you do this on a date gals, you're serving one up. You can bet we're gonna try to score.

As for Jael's column, that poor slob noted the lack of invitation, and spent the rest of the time desperately hoping for other signals.

As for "Falls Asleep Afterward Ken.": Instulting!

Where was "Cold Butt and Feet Barbie" and "Has To Cuddle Constantly To Feel Loved Kylie?"

craige moore
6.2.04 @ 3:47p

Note to guys: if you take a girl out who expects you to get out, walk around the car, open her door, and help her out -- unless she's wearing an extremely cumbersome costume, say, an elephant costume -- she's probably very high-maintenance. As for me, I'll be half way, or all the way out the passenger-side door by the time you get to my side. I'm not infirm! I can get myself out! Unless I'm wearing that elephant costume. Then please help.

As for opening the driver's side lock after the guy has unlocked the passenger-side door for the woman ... Jeff and I just got a new car -- one with power locks and everything! -- and I remarked that now he'll have one less way to know when I'm mad at him because I won't be able to not unlock his door to make a point. Heh.

juli mccarthy
6.3.04 @ 1:02a

I disagree wholeheartedly. I am courteous the same way Tracey is, and I expect the same courtesy in return, from people of any sex. If someone is insulted or offended by courtesy, THAT is a high-maintenance personality.

tim lockwood
6.3.04 @ 1:55a

Chivalry, as commonly defined (open the door for a lady, take her coat, light her cigarette - all those Sir-Galahad-meets-Jimmy-Stewart gestures), is usually as phony as the poseur who uses it in an attempt to score on a date, and any woman who falls for it is probably getting the guy she deserves. Taken to its logical conclusion, the facade can only hold for so long. Once the guy has scored a couple times, all those lovely gestures are out the window.

Manners, however, are a result of good upbringing, and generally reflect the likelihood of a man being raised by a mother who taught her son how to behave around a lady. Good manners do not necessarily consist of knowing which fork to use when eating shrimp at a formal dinner, or keeping one's elbows off the table while eating (although there is a place for all that); it is more a matter of being considerate of others.

There are a couple of sayings that describe how a woman can find a good man. Neither of them I can attribute, but both are incredibly accurate.

  • "Any man who is nice to you but is not nice to the waiter is not a nice man."

  • "If you want to know how a man will treat you, watch how he treats his mother."


matt morin
6.3.04 @ 2:04a

All chilvary is, is thinking of someone else before thinking about yourself. If that means taking their coat for them, cool. If that means opening a car door so she can get out of the rain first, all the better.

Chilvary is just a $10 word for courtesy.

jael mchenry
6.3.04 @ 8:49a

No, there's clearly a difference. Chivalry has a lot of implications that go beyond common courtesy. Throwing down your cape over a puddle so a woman doesn't have to dirty her shoes is chivalrous. And kind of stupid. Because courtesy only dictates that you point out the puddle so she can walk around it.

juli mccarthy
6.3.04 @ 9:42a

Jael is right - chivalry is machismo and it's based on the idea that women are too fragile to fend for themselves. I have heard people argue that it is designed to place women on a pedestal, but it never really was. Somewhere around here I have a history book to back this up, but I'm not going to dig it out. "Common courtesy" is a rather recent invention between the sexes, and it didn't exist as we know it until the 1940s - coinciding with the time women entered the workforce in larger numbers.

tim lockwood
6.3.04 @ 12:13p

>>Jael is right - chivalry is machismo and it's based on the idea that women are too fragile to fend for themselves.<<

Which goes back to my original assertion that chivalry is phony, any man who uses chivalry is probably phony, and the woman who falls for it is gullible. Women are not fragile, and it's a fiction to say they are. That's part of the reason those chivalrous gestures go by the wayside pretty quickly - they're cheesy, unnecessary, and superficial. An honest person never bothers with them in the first place.

Manners and courtesy, however, go deep into one's character, because such things usually go hand in hand with teaching a child to be polite and considerate of others. And any child who is taught how to be polite and considerate at an early age stands a better chance of becoming an adult who is regarded as "quite a catch".

dan gonzalez
6.3.04 @ 11:16p

My good sir, I've seen polite people, with very refined manners, who are totally full of bunk.

But I agree that manners and politeness, as stepping stones used to raise kids with some sense of humility, will make them adults of a better character. Thank you for reading this. ;-)

robert melos
6.4.04 @ 12:09a

Well then, if manners and courtesy go hand in hand with teaching children to be polite and considerate of others, I think people have fallen very far short of this aspect. I'm not saying everyone has ill-mannered brats, but go to any shopping mall or public venue and watch not only how the children behave (think wild animals but not as cute), but the behavior of their parents as well. Bearing in mind that this all is now falling back on a third generation, we are looking at the lack of training by grandparents upon their children.

I tend to agree more with the theory that chivalry is more or less something used to keep women submissive to men. Courtesy is not chivalry.

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