Knights in Shiny Armor

Under all that metal, maile, and leather, this guy is really a 90-pound ball of rage with pasty skin and a creepy smile.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to the relationship type of the “Rescuer”.  We all know that I am by nature a bit odd in that I take in strays and try to do my best to help down-on-their-luck cases, but I can proudly say that recent years have mitigated this habit a great deal.  I only have two cats, no dogs, one roommate, and I’ve turned people away with regularity.  I’ve even learned to not offer help unless I feel really confident about the outcome.

In a certain sense, that did make me a “rescuer”, but in talking with other folks about that, I realized that there is a massive difference between the kind of rescuing that women like me do and the kind of rescuing that men do.  For women, we’re trying to fix someone up so that they might be motivated to be nice to us (in the most general terms), and that’s why we do most of our “fixing” on people who are more prone to be abusive, dismissive, or big meany-heads.  (This, too, I have changed in myself, I’m again proud to say.)

Men, on the other hand, have the Knight in Shiny Armor thing going on.  They travel the countryside, seeking Damsels in Distress, hoping to earn the love of the Fair Maiden by defeating the Evil Dragon.

Unfortunately, this archetype is inherently broken to the point of being useless.  Guys do it anyway, either because they have some fondness for ideals of chivalry or because they want to stand out from the crowd, but the underpinnings of the ideals are probably more destructive for them than they are for the ladies they’re trying to rescue.  Let’s look at some observations about the KISA problem:

1.  “Armor” is another word for “Shell”.  I won’t go so far as to say that all armor is “one-size-fits-all”, but it is pretty standardized.  The goal is to be as completely covered as possible so as to protect you from the dangers of the world, and there’s hundreds if not thousands of years of technology to tell us which of the tender bits need to be protected.  When you have all the bits – the helmet, visor, breast plate, gorget, besagues, gauntlets, greaves, cuisse, sabatons, tasset, fauld, etc. – you have essentially created an exterior image of yourself that bears absolutely no resemblance to who you are inside.  Even if you’re speaking clearly about who are you – about your dreams and aspirations, goals and philosophies, fantastic movie collection – if you’re wearing armor, everyone’s going to hear, “Wahn-wahn-wahn-dragon-wahn-wahn. Sword-wahn-wahn-wahn-wahn-tower-wahn-wahn-lady.”  And then you’re left saying, “But I rescued the Damsel, and she doesn’t even respect me enough to know that I’m allergic to mushrooms and she almost killed me last night, but I didn’t say anything because she’s been through so much with that whole being chained to a rock thing…”  You kinda signed up for that, man, because especially if your armor is really shiny, the Damsel can’t see past the shiny to notice the vulnerable, crunchy little guy inside.

The reason that this scenario is so common, I think, is because of the kinds of ladies that put themselves in a position to be “in Distress”.

2.  Damsels who look for Knights are definitely about the image, not the substance.  It’s the romantic notion perpetuated by poorly-explained fairy tales that the Damsel in Distress, after suffering some kind of horrific and terrible injustice, is powerless to rescue herself from circumstances of unspeakable tragedy.  In modern times, since we seem to be a little short on labyrinths and minotaurs, this manifests in very different ways, such as financial destitution, abusive relationships, isolation, or severe drama.  Because Damsels have bought into the romantic notions, and they really, really want the Knight to come along and rescue them, nine times out of ten they’ve put themselves in that crappy situation.  And what’s worse, because it’s a problem of their own design (albeit usually subconsciously), they are reluctant to change it, so it takes a lot of extra effort to get them properly “rescued”.

They don’t actually want to be rescued, they want to a Knight.  They want a protector so that they don’t have to protect themselves.  They want a provider so that they don’t have to provide for themselves.  They want someone who also buys into the romantic ideas and might therefore miss their flaws.  Damsels who look for Knights will only know a “good man” by the armor he wears, and they will not give two hoots about the man inside the armor.  It’s all about the rescuing, really, and to hell with “happily ever after” – especially after they discover that HEA takes work.  (But that’s another article altogether…)

3.  Armor requires polishing, but after a long day of slaying monsters, the Knight would be so appreciative if he didn’t have to do it himself.  If a Damsel (or other not-so-damsely lady) does find herself rescued, another major peril thereafter is that the armor of the Knight requires maintenance.  See, the “armor” in question is, of course, a contrived shell of ego that the man in question creates usually because he somehow does not believe that his true self is worthy of receiving unconditional love.  And egos, as you probably already know, are very delicate fragile things despite their hardened steel appearance.  A Damsel now owes it to her Knight to keep that armor shiny, to “fluff the ego” as much as possible, and in the meantime, this whole process interferes greatly with either side actually learning a damn thing about the other.

A remarkable number of modern relationships emulate this “buying the relationship without the emotional connection” routine.  You know those guys that go to work and bring home a paycheck to pay the bills, spend all their free time with the “boys” or doing some other non-family thing, and then wonder why their wives are vacant and disinterested during the two or three times a month they wanna get busy?  That’s a Knight.  He thinks he’s earned his fluffing in perpetuity, but the Damsel has realized that armor doesn’t make the man, and that’s going to end up messy.  In a certain sense, though, the particular Knight is lucky…

4.  Armor can act as an excellent cooking container when facing real dragons.  You’ve heard of “dragon ladies”, right?  Those impossibly sexy Asian women who can topple the strongest man with a flick of a cigarette holder?  There are lots and lots of Western equivalents to them, except that we call them “man-eaters”, “ball-busters”, and occasionally “feminists”.  Gods help you all if you mistake a Dragon with a Damsel while wearing your armor because you will most definitely get roasted alive.  These ladies are not necessarily in the business of roasting Knights (not all of them, anyway), but they won’t mind visiting the pain upon your fragile little ego if you step over their boundaries.  They don’t mind stepping out together or taking care of problems together, but they will not be relying on you until you’ve proven that you are reliable – and in this context, “reliable” refers to respect, responsibility, maturity, emotional stability, etc.

The problem is that not all women fall into either the Damsel or the Dragon category.  Many women are neither, and some women will masquerade as one while truly being the other.  I would launch into a nice little speech about how to track game and read the signs, but that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

5.  Chivalry was invented because a bunch of guys couldn’t figure out how to treat ladies nice all on their own.  Finally, we come to the crux of the whole “Knights are meant to be chivalrous” problem, and that is that chivalry was invented so that Big Dumb Boys could stop being Doodyheads to Fragile Little Girls.  It created a way for a grossly patriarchal (feminine-repressing) system to make the ladies feel like they were somehow getting the better end of the bargain in exchange for not being able to own land, ascend to the throne, elect for divorce, or operate their own businesses.  And you guys are buying into this why?!  Seriously, the main message that any woman gets from a man who adheres to closely to “chivalry” is that he doesn’t respect her own power to accomplish things for herself.

In my opinion, certain chivalrous acts are fantastic and wonderful, but I propose a radical rethinking.  If you believe that chivalry is a way to show your respect for a lady, why don’t you wait until after she’s earned your respect to show it?  Compulsively being chivalrous to any Thomasina, Dickette, and Harrier detracts from the value of being that kind to the Lady you truly desire.  Absolutely, yes, always treat your Lady as an equal, but when she’s really yours and you get that warm glow every time you see her, that’s when you break out the Really Nice Manners and trot out the Olde Schoole Romance-e.

I’m not saying that there’s no hope for Knights or Damsels or Dragons – they all can be repaired with a little bit of self-awareness.  (Well, except the Dragons, but that’s yet another story.)  It just takes a little work, but especially at this time of year, you’re going to be so glad to be out of that sweatbox and into a cool breeze.  Just remember:  Chivalry is what most people do when they don’t know how to respect boundaries all on their own.  Watch your step, for you are crunchy and taste good with ketchup.

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