Gary is an author, trial lawyer, Mequon-area resident and town of Cedarburg supervisor. He is a columnist for the News Graphic and writes for several Wisconsin area magazines and is a national columnist with The American Thinker and PJ Media. He lives with his wife, Lisa, and has three sons ages 18 to 28. Gary won Ozaukee County in his bid for the Wisconsin Assembly's 60th District in 2011, but came up just 58 votes short.
I have marvelled lately at the number of women - young and old - I have seen recently, riding lawn mowers, struggling with push mowers, or dragging large and heavy containers of trash and recycling to the curb. Is it just me, or is this growing phenomenon both alarming and quite telling about something running much deeper in our society.
Surely all of these women are not widowed or divorced. It may well be that some of them actually enjoy this activity – a possibility I suggest only after some deliberation. And by no means do I intend to suggest that women are not capable of such physical tasks. It is just that I was brought up to believe that there are some things that a woman shouldn’t have to do if she doesn’t want to – that there is virtue in being a gentleman – characterized by honor, by selfless love, and by courtesy toward women, especially one you love. It is called chivalry, and I don’t see it much anymore.
Historically, chivalry began with knights in the middle ages, and was the belief and practice of men who had been influenced and transformed by Christianity. They held dearly ideals such as courtesy, loyalty, protection, gentleness and honor to all, including enemies. A knight sought love and glory, but not selfish love and glory - love and glory for his lady and king first. Since knights devoted themselves to the Virgin Mary, this is probably where their worshipful attitudes toward women originated. Women were literally treated as queens by chivalric men. Knights were respectful, worshipful, and reverent toward women. A knight’s love for a lady was known as “courtly love”. To a knight, both love and war constituted the ultimate sacrifice – they upheld their lady’s honor and her every whim or desire no matter the cost, even if it meant death. It is the stuff of Braveheart.
This is not to suggest that things were better back then. Nor am I suggesting that women were better off in the Middle Ages. To the contrary, they had very few rights, could not own property, and their participation in public and political discourse was often prohibited or discouraged. Yet there was something very right about the practice of chivalry - something that transcends the politically incorrect or sexist labels that our modern society feels compelled to place on such attitudes. The 1960s and 1970s witnessed many changes in the attitude and practices of American society concerning male and female roles in life. These changes have robbed us of one of the most beautiful and ingenious gifts we have been given – the relationship between a man and a woman. They have robbed us of chivalry.
As a Christian, I try not to force God’s will upon the world – only to influence it by my witness in word and deed. Yet, it should come as no surprise that the one responsible for creating man and woman, also left us a manual on how they should function together. This manual was the origin of chivalry many years ago. Regardless of your religious persuasion – even if you have none – I would submit that one possible formula for success in any relationship is found in that manual – the Bible. It is there – in a verse in Ephesians often seen as sexist, chauvenistic, and antiquated - that women are told to submit themselves to their husbands. And before women turn the page in bra-burning disgust and before men point the ‘I told you so’ finger at their wives, understand that this is only half of the formula. The manual goes on to say that men are to love their wives “like Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her.” That’s a lot of love. It means the husband should serve the wife, and sacrifice everything – even his own selfish interests – to show her that love. It means never dominating or forcing his will upon his wife. It is chivalry in its purest form, and we desperately need it back. And while the formula seems pretty one-sided, chances are, faced with chivalric love in its purest form, women will return their love with all of those little things many men complain are missing in their marriage.
The burden is on our shoulders, men. Employ chivalry in your relationship – to the point where it feels akward and hurts - and see what happens. Complimenting your spouse on how nice they look on a Friday evening is a simple gift worth more than you know. Doing dishwork or housework even though you’re exhausted from a busy day will never be taken for granted. I am certainly no saint, and I fail all too often as a role model for chivalry. But I do try to make it a point to open the car door for my wife, order flowers for her regularly, and in all things treat her like the princess she is. Chivalric love and sacrifice is unconditional and not easy to give, but you’ll be amazed at what you get in return. Even in our crazy, mixed-up society, simple truths are timeless, and the value of becoming a true knight serving his wife will emerge clearly. The secret and wonder of the gift of a relationship between a man and a woman becomes self-evident only when the knight is chivalrous. Chivalry takes many forms, and if your wife would feel patronized or uncomfortable with some of the more traditional forms of chivalry, there are better ways to serve her. Few woman will turn down offers for more help around the house or an opportunity to watch her favorite television show instead of yours.
The principles of chivalry are not culturally conditioned and are as applicable today as they were in the days of knights in shining armor – we have just allowed them to go dormant. Chivalry may have fallen out of practice in our society, but it needn’t disappear from your marriage. The absolutely marvelous and wonderful truth is that it takes only one person to bring it back into a relationship. And it is very contagious. Try opening a car door for your wife when you’re in a group – and watch all the other husbands scramble to do the same. You might be surprised at the woman you married when she suddenly discovers she is married to a knight who practices the code of chivalry. You might pleasantly surprised.