Viewpoint: Chivalry's whip

By Eli Cahan, Editorial Board Member
Published February 7, 2013

All too often we hear from those with gray hair that “chivalry is dead.” Well, whether or not that is fact or fiction depends on how chivalry is defined.

If by “chivalry” they mean there are no more gentlemen knights to defend royal princesses, then perhaps I don’t have an argument; there just aren’t any, unless you go to a park in New Jersey on some Saturday mornings.

But, if our elders mean that there are no more gentlemen, then I’d have to disagree. The issue is not whether or not knights and princesses exist in the student body. It’s whether they’d ever be brave enough to don their shining armor while living on campus. And that’s the thing we ought to consider.

So, this is all a little abstract — let’s bring it back to reality, specifically to the memories from my time in middle and high school. There’s a funny term I’ve heard since Bar Mitzvah season in seventh grade, when we all first started talking about girls: “whipped.” I’ve never gotten a clear definition, but I’ll discuss my interpretation.

“Whipped” is the idea that doing nice things for women is more of an act of desperation than anything else. It’s “laying all your cards on the table,” presumably because getting laid just isn’t in the cards for you. It’s putting out far too much effort because nobody puts out for you.

Since when did “trying hard” become “trying too hard?” When did any semblance of “effort made” become “too much effort?” Being a knight is incompatible in a world of whips; rather than a horse chomping at the bit to prove your worth to someone who’s worth it, being whipped makes you into an ass.

So let’s go back to that original statement: chivalry is dead.

I think if anything, the problem is more systematic issue than individual. In a world networked communicators and information, what is there to prove? I suppose, since the first thing we look at when we hear a new name is their pictures, it matters more where they’ve been than where they’re going. Perhaps the absence of chivalry is due to a change in perspective; the question is not “will he sweep me off my feet,” but rather, “has he swept people off their feet before?” The anticipatory excitement in not knowing has been replaced with our compulsion to evaluate by online. “Proving himself” has become more passive than active. The death of chivalry is born out of the basic idea that “if he were really like this, he’d have done it before.”

Maybe in that sense, the idea of the phrase “whipped” is not so far off. It’s the belief that you have met someone who has changed you; they control you and they have somehow transformed you. But is that really such a bad thing?

In the movies, when someone says “you complete me,” what does that mean? Is it to say that they’ve found that single piece that beautifully fits into the puzzle that was already almost finished? Or does it indicate that what the puzzle means to show is completely incomprehensible without that piece — that there’s no identity, there’s no picture, without that one little bit extra. This begs the question, when I flirt with anyone and everyone, am I really trying to prove “me” to them, or am I trying to prove “us?” Because, according to the latter jigsaw analogy, there isn’t a “me” that’s significant without that last little part.

Perhaps chivalry has died out of our own narcissism. In a constant world of comparisons, relativity and self-identification, is trying to establish a relationship really about “me,” or can it be about “us?”

There’s an expression we all know that supports this sort of realization: “you’ll find your Prince Charming.” There’s no definitive person with first name Prince, last name Charming. It’s about “us,” not about “him.” The knight in shining armor doesn’t exist without the princess. But undoubtedly, Mr. Knight was riding around for a good long while in the stifling heat without Gatorades or Clif Bars before he found his princess out there in that forest — that sounds like he was trying pretty hard to me.

So I should ask: am I “whipped” for really taking the time and effort to see if this girl I met is my princess? And even if I am, am I okay humiliating “me” in front of all of my friends for the prospect of “us?”

Eli Cahan is a Business sophomore.