In a previous post I introduced the term cartoonish chivalry. Today I want to explain it a bit further, and at the same time explain why we see so much of it. There are three primary roots of cartoonish chivalry, and they are all intertwined.
1. Feminism, with a side of romantic gesture.
Cartoonish chivalry comes in two main forms. In my previous post I offered an example from Pastor Chandler of what you might call a “Hulk Smash!” form of chivalry. In that example one young boy repeatedly punches another young boy in the face until adults eventually take notice and are able to restrain the boy from further violence. This is however the less common of the two forms. The much more common form more closely resembles Wile E Coyote holding a sign that reads “Yikes!”
In the first form of cartoonish chivalry a man or boy metes out ruthless punishment on another man or boy who has somehow offended a woman. In the second form instead of focusing on meting out violence on behalf of women, the focus is on the man absorbing punishment on behalf of women. As different as this would seem to make them, both forms of chivalry are focused on gestures in service of women over prudent and practical actions in defense of others. In this way both focus on maximizing romantic appeal while minimizing offense to feminist sensibilities.
In Co-ed Combat and Cultural Cowardice Pastor John Piper offers a beloved hypothetical scenario where a young man and woman are suddenly threatened by a man with a knife:
Suppose, I said, a couple of you students, Jason and Sarah, were walking to McDonald’s after dark. And suppose a man with a knife jumped out of the bushes and threatened you. And suppose Jason knows that Sarah has a black belt in karate and could probably disarm the assailant better than he could. Should he step back and tell her to do it? No. He should step in front of her and be ready to lay down his life to protect her, irrespective of competency. It is written on his soul. That is what manhood does.
In another telling* by Piper of the same hypothetical, Jason heroically declares “Over my dead body!” Then (presumably after the knife wielding man accommodates Jason’s romantic declaration) Sarah repeatedly karate kicks the assailant and wins the day!
Note the absurd feminist character of Sarah the black belt; in cartoon land women are very often braver and tougher than men. Also note that in cartoon land men have an obligation to step into the knife so that Sarah can have both her feminist empowerment and her romantic gesture. The focus is on Jason laying down his life, not ordering Sarah to run while he distracts the assailant, or even on using force to stop the attack. The former would certainly cramp Sarah’s feminist style. The latter would stoke her feminist envy. There really is no choice; Jason must die. In the event that we must settle for second best, he must at least be seriously wounded in his romantic gesture.
Some would no doubt suspect I’m reading too much into a (repeatedly) poorly framed hypothetical, but Piper is clear that the focus on martyrdom in this hypothetical is not a fluke. Moreover, this pattern is very common when it comes to complementarian chivalry.
If you are building a stone Church or home, you need to carefully shape the stones to the specification of the Architect. A bit of mortar (chivalry) can not only be pleasing to the eye, it can also help bind the stones together and even help smooth out minor imperfections. However, instead of using a thin layer of chivalry to level out minor imperfections, it is being used to permit modern Christians to go entirely off script with regard to shaping the stones (men and women). Once you create a mental model where women are perfect (except for their flaw of not seeing themselves as perfect), you create a mismatch that has to be filled by something. You are going to need more mortar. Likewise when you declare that rebellion is submission and leading means following, you may as well dispense with the wheelbarrow and back up a truck filled with mortar. This is what complementarians are doing. After you finish cheering for Hollywood’s latest incarnation of Xena: Warrior Princess, how do you recover and try to sound traditional? You follow up with a loud declaration that while women are surely wise, valiant, and just as good as men at combat, you are eager to die to prevent one of these delicate-yet-tough-as-nails champions from having to step foot on the field of battle.
3. Arrested development.
Cartoons are for children, and cartoonish chivalry is for young boys. Young boys are prone to romanticize combat and have a tendency to foolishly watch a scene in a movie full of death, gore, and suffering, and wish they could be there:
Think of the movies we like to watch. We want the fight. We want our lives to matter. We want to lay it down. We love Saving Private Ryan, everybody getting shot up on the beach. We want to run up on that beach with them. It’s in us.
Brothers, you’ve been called to this. Anything less than this is outside of design and purpose.
This is childishness, but it is expected for a child. As a boy grows up the men around him will teach him that we don’t relish the pain and sacrifice of other men. The men who had their guts shot out on Normandy, and their buddies who watched them die didn’t want to be there. They weren’t there to cut a heroic picture; they were there to get a dangerous, difficult, and necessary job done. There is also the problem of using another man’s sacrifice to puff yourself up. All of this has the effect of minimizing the noble sacrifice other men have made. Lastly, cartoonish chivalry is the result of childishly seeking women’s approval.
I would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for you meddling kids!
Every cartoon needs a catchphrase, and cartoonish chivalry is no exception. As you might expect, the catchphrase for cartoonish chivalry captures all three of the elements explained above. It offers a side of non threatening chivalry to complement a main course of feminism. It compensates for going off script, and is used in lieu of biblical teaching which would offend the feminists in the pews. Lastly, it offers a boy’s view of chivalry, with the accompanying vulgar diminishment of the sacrifice of other men. The catchphrase for cartoonish chivalry comes courtesy of former CBMW President Randy Stinson, and is well loved by current CBMW President Owen Strachan. It is also a favorite of Pastor Matt Chandler (catchphrase in bold):
All three of these young men under the age of 30 grabbed their girlfriends (not wives and mothers), threw them down on the floor, and threw their bodies on top of their girlfriends. All three were shot and killed. All three of the girlfriends were wounded. They were wounded when bullets passed through their boyfriends and struck their bodies. Throughout the world, these men were heralded as heroes.
Why does it matter? Do you want me to tell you why it matters? Because we all know this sentence in our gut: the boy goes down, and the girl goes free.
*H/T Darwinian American. Alternate link here.