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February 27, 2011

Chivalry vs Feminism

I had an epiphany the other night as the cold sting of rejection attempted to ice down my otherwise hot streak. I realized the solution to balancing chivalry with equality in the modern age is simply a reversal of when chivalry applies. Modern employments of chivalric notions happen now only with permission and in some way this ruins the effect.

In the overly romanticized age of knights and ladies, unrequited love was the truest form of appreciation. A gentleman knew how to treat a lady. The average woman may have lived as a second-class citizen, as chattel, with few liberties, but the lady of prominence had much different expectations. She may not have been able to marry for love, but the customs of courtly love still allowed for romantic interactions.

A woman of sufficient station could expect many suitors. These were the days when you could open doors, write poetry, lavish gifts and make sacrifices for a lady even if she didn’t want it. Her scorn was part of the purity of the emotion; the pain of rejection proved the depth of the love.

In the twenty-first century, particularly in Texas, men can still practice the ancient forms of courtly love, but we balance equality and respect with the ideals of chivalry. Modern restrictions have changed the acceptable venues of courtesy without ending the traditions altogether. The average woman can now expect to have doors opened and preferential treatment in line placement. This much at least is acceptable in Southern culture for strangers, but going any farther can become offensive.

We no longer open car doors for friends or married women. We certainly don’t give gifts to them either. Instead, modern times call for permission to be chivalrous. At some point, a woman needs to indicate to man that courting is welcome. Then the mixed CDs and handwritten notes can flow freely. Unwanted gifts result in a scorn that carries no pride.

Modern men and women still know all too well about unrequited love; we just have to be cool about it. There’s no reciting poetry or declaring one’s intentions to a disinterested lover; that’s just creepy and now we have restraining orders. Unrequited love is as common as ever, but we’ve taken all the fun out of it. Still, for the rare individual, just as it would in antiquity, the pain may create art. Pain has always been the best muse.

Friends and I were talking the other day about the song “Brandy,” which is such a great story of unrequited love. “Brandy you’re a fine girl, what a good wife you would be, but my life, my love, and my lady is the sea.” Sometimes the reasons are hard to understand, and that makes the pain more evident. A knight’s well-intentioned efforts are silenced like “writing songs that voices would never share.” Actions are misinterpreted and they carry unfortunate consequences, “I never meant to hurt you, to hear that tears me up inside, and to see you cuts me like a knife.”

So now I long for the opportunity to practice some courtly love, to bring joy without direction or expectation. Most people carry some anxiety about where their lives are headed and the time it will take to reach their goals. I’m not a patient man by any standard, but I have finally moved beyond goals. I feel as free as ever; something I have sought for years. I thought the move to Houston would do it, but I was never truly free there. I wrote to friend, “Houston is just another trap” back in 2008, and I feel the truth of those words, as my life in the LBK truly is free.

Freedom has nothing to do with Houston, Ithaca, or the LBK or course, indeed I had a great deal of guidance in Houston for personal growth; instead, freedom is all about the thoughts floating around in my head. Returning to academia has allowed me the time and space needed for personal growth and to catch up with all the tutelage I received in Ithaca and Houston. Here in the LBK, I lack only some kind of freethinking bohemian beauty to permit me to express my chivalric tendencies in post-feminist America.

Song of the Month

I didn’t slack in my listening this month; I’ve heard a lot of new stuff that strikes a chord. I was mistakenly chastised for not liking the Black Keys (my readers know I love the Black Keys) and I still listen to Shooter Jennings and Steve Earle on Sirius Sunday nights. Even with all this, I’m going to reach back a bit to a song by Joe Henry from 2009 off the great album “Blood from Stars.” With its crisp piano, trumpet and sax solos, its lyrical mystery is all but forgotten as you give it a listen and then want to hear it again. I wonder, can a resident of Tir Na Nog really know Oisin?

"The Man I Keep Hid" Joe Henry
     Something startled you late last night
     A ghost from my dreams, leaning pale
     Moved in you and left a vapor trail.
     Nobody knows the man I keep hid.