You’ve had the weekend to recover from the candy or booze induced hangover, morning after of regret, disappointment following dates unplanned and less than ideal gifts…or perhaps you reflected fondly on happy memories or indulged in an extended celebration of what is now one of the more polarizing holidays, Valentine’s Day. While the symbolic roses, cards, chocolates and pressure for a special date have come and gone, the ideology behind the day and its significance remains. Despite recent traditions, the origin of the Feast of Saint Valentine was to honor the namesake for his martyrdom following defiance of the Roman rule through the performance of forbidden weddings or ministering to Christians. It was not until the 15th century that this holiday became associated with romantic love due to the works of Geoffery Chaucer and his cohorts during the period responsible for the tradition of courtly love “a medieval European conception of nobly and chivalrously expressing love and admiration.”
Historically speaking, this ritual required the male to embark on a series of tasks or tests to prove his love to the woman of his desire. Today, the idea of chivalry and courtship has proven to be controversial due to the ideology that a woman is an object to be obtained or a prize to be won and the perception that she is in needing of being saved or without the authority to change her own situation. Simultaneously, despite the positive developments women have gained over the years with regard to their rights and independence, there has been a noticeably negative shift in the way women have been treated in society. This has become especially apparent with regard to dating convention and has caused women to wonder if it is perhaps a bad thing that chivalry or courtship may be extinct.
In the December edition of The Atlantic, Emily Esfahani Smith appeals to women and men alike to “give chivalry another chance.” In it, she claims that “chivalry as a social idea, was about respecting and aggrandizing women, and recognizing that their attention was worth seeking, competing for, and holding.” Yet, the conception of chivalry and courtly love was born out of “an idealized sort of relationship that could not exist within the context of ‘real life’ medieval marriages.” As elaborated upon in the response by Jezebel, a pop culture site targeted at women, the arguments that the article makes in order to end up at an agreeable conclusion are misplaced. The reasonable conclusion states that what we are longing for is simply civility and politeness to one another (man or woman). However, that doesn’t necessarily require the term or concept of “chivalry” be ascribed to get there.
In the same vein, last month an article appeared in the New York Times entitled The End of Courtship? The piece describes the shift from traditional courtship in the form of a man asking a woman out on a “proper date” through a phone call or in person to the “hookup culture” defined by last minute or late night text messages, Facebook interactions, post-bar hangouts and group dates. In some ways as technology has advanced this should be no surprise, people often take the easy way out. As the article puts it, “picking up the telephone and asking someone on a date — required courage, strategic planning and a considerable investment of ego (by telephone, rejection stings).” And to further complicate issue, the online dating phenomenon has been hypothesized to be contributing to a lower level of commitment or investment in relationships and an increase in the desire to commodify people as customizable objects.
All these articles bring up some important points with regard to both the convention of dating and the treatment and perception of women in particular. Semantics aside, it boils down to the fact that respect for women (for other people) has been lost to a degree today in an age where we are an increasingly global society, where our use and exposure to media and technology is constantly on the rise and where we can suffice our need for instant gratification more easily. Furthermore, the tendency to objectify women is rising not falling as exhibited through the current dating paradigm and most starkly in the media. While women’s beauty and grace may have been a focus in the past, women are now denigrated to being hot or simply a body part.
A cleverly arranged 4 minute musical case in point-
But, we cannot put the onus on men alone for the shift in social and cultural interactions between the sexes or perceptions of women. In fact, women themselves have not only condoned this shift, but in some instances have embraced it. Perhaps one of the more blatant mainstream examples to explore and challenge the changing dynamic between the sexes and complacency with the new status quo is the HBO series Girls. The show follows in the tradition of Sex in the City with four women battling the terrain of New York City along with the current sexual landscape but from a grittier perspective. As Frank Bruni points out in his article on the subject, the show “amplifies a growing chorus of laments over what’s happening on the sexual frontier, a state of befuddlement reflective in part of post-feminist power dynamics and in part of our digital culture and virtual fixations.” Anyone who has seen the show is sure to feel a sense of unease, frustration and perhaps empathy when watching the main characters’ sexual interactions over the first season into the most current, which often involve the women engaged in less than ideal dating arrangements or experiences.
In Bruni’s interview with the show’s creator, Lena Dunham, she provides context in pointing out, “I heard so many of my friends saying, ‘Why can’t I have sex and feel nothing?’ It was amazing: that this was the new goal.” Is this what we should aspire to- disposability and sexual disillusionment? Or should we all (men and women alike) expect and demand more? More as in honesty with ourselves and the other person about what we want, taking the time to truly get to know the other person and the understanding that sexual interactions may carry some significance. So, in re-assessing the current dating convention perhaps the focus should not be on the fancy restaurant, a dozen roses, or every door being opened, but in the words of Aretha Franklin, “All I’m asking, is for a little respect.”