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Re: Escorting Ladies (long)

Poster: nachtanz@patriot.net (Susan and Ken Reed)

Greetings all,

First of all, thanks, Duchess Melisande, for your eloquent words on why you
do not wish for an escort. They are among my reasons as well.

When I joined the SCA, I was told that the organization had two rules for
participation: one must wear an attempt at period clothing and one must be
_courteous_ to all. Courtesy, in my mind and according to the OED, is the
consideration of other people's feelings, needs, wishes. Sir Xenophon said
that: "there are many Ladies who do not desire an escort, and in such cases
none are forced upon them." I beg to differ. Within the last 12 months in
Atlantian court, I was REQUIRED to have an escort into court--twice in the
same court. There was a man assigned to escort ladies into court, and when
I was called into court, this person jumped up to escort me. I said to him,
"No, thank you." He said that he "had to," and continued to walk with me
against my will. This is a case of the need to _appear_ courteous taking
the place of the true consideration of other's needs and desires on which
courtesy should be based. To offer assistance is considerate act, but to
force it upon someone unwilling violates the heart and soul of courtesy.

For those who say that "escorting ladies" is based on period ideals of
courtesy should think again and do some research. This "custom" had vexed
me enough that I was prompted to research period practices in this area. I
could learn to live with it, if I could find period justification for this
practice. However, courtesy literature and literature of the idealized
chivalry of the times tends not to support this behavior. There is too
often a reliance in the SCA on "conventional wisdom" rather than on solid
research into actual period practices. Concepts of "courtesy" and
"chivalry" in the SCA tend to come from the Victorian romanticization of
the Middle Ages (or the 20th century romantic ideas derived from the
Victorian ones) rather than any sense of what those concepts meant in

For the last two years, I have been researching period etiquette and
courtesy and its applications to real and ideal courtly behavior from
primary sources and very scholarly secondary sources. So far, I can find
*little* evidence of deferential behavior to women as a group. Courtly love
behavior appears to be directed to an *individual* woman and a chivalric
knight was expected to defend the *property* rights of widows and orphans.
It has become clear from this research that social rank and NOT gender was
the period organizing principle for "courteous" behavior. After reading
thousands of lines of period etiquette literature and, outside of
guidelines for what characteristics to look for in a wife, I found only one
instance of prescriptive behavior towards women per se: that a person
sitting at table with a lady should cut the meat for her. That's it, and
that only occurred in one manuscript. The only other vaguely related
material was on what rank a married woman had vis-a-vis her husband (if she
married higher, she took his rank; if she married lower, she retained her
original rank), again social status was paramount. Everything else either
prescribed or proscribed personal manners and mannerisms or appropriate
behaviors to people superior or inferior to you in rank. After reading
"yardages of verbiage" on how to behave to people of various ranks and
almost nothing on how to behave towards women, one gets a clue that gender
was not that important in the area of courteous behavior in the Middle Ages
and early Renaissance (I admit that I have not done as extensive research
in to the 16th century, but what I have seen so far does not contradict
what I have said about the Middle Ages).

There are several good books on this subject. I would like to recommend
Diane Bornstein's _The Lady in the Tower: Medieval Courtesy Literature for
Women._ (Hamden, Conn: Archon Books, 1983) for more information about how
courtliness, chivalry, and gender interacted. Also, although the main
subject matter is outside the SCA scope, Stephanie Coontz in _The Social
Origins of Private Life_ (New York: Verso, 1988) discusses the Victorian
origins of gender-specific courtesy behavior in Chapter 6. "Howard Pyle and
the Chivalric Order in America: King Arthur for Children" by Jeanne
Fox-Friedman (_Arthuriana_ 6, No. 1 (Spring 1996): 77-95) is a
thought-provoking article on how Arthurian literature was used to reinforce
the Victorian sense of morality. _The Matter of Courtesy : Medieval
Courtesy Books and the Gawain-Poet_ by Jonathon Nicholls is quite useful as
well. These are just the beginning...

I have also heard it argued that we should do and should accept acts of
deference to women because the Middle Ages were a sexist period of time.
Yes, the Middles Ages *were* a sexist period of time. However, the SCA is
not generally sexist. The SCA is ideally a meritocracy in which anyone,
male or female, has the unfettered opportunity to achieve the highest
honors by their own talents and efforts.

Even in a "sexist" society, the forms of courtesy and courtliness may not
be expressed in gender-organized ways, especially if there are other more
important social-organization guidelines. To repeat myself, I have done a
great deal of research in period courtly behavior and I have found that
status and social rank are the most important lines of social organization
for this period, not gender.

In SCA life, I believe that courtesy should apply equally to men and women
(why are men any less deserving?) and that there should be forms of
deference that are SCA-status based. Period courtesy appears to have
applied fairly equally to males and females of the same social status, but
differently across different social statuses. Applying a little
"presentmindedness," being male or female is an accident of conception; SCA
rank is *usually* conferred to persons who have worked very hard and
contributed greatly to the SCA. I would rather have deference directed
towards me based on my merits and my contributions to the Society than to
have it based on the fact that the genetic lottery provided me with XX
chromosomes. A system of status-based deference would more accurately
mirror period mentalities while at the same time satisfy a modern sense of
gender equality and the current structure of the SCA. From my researches
into period courtesy, the emphasis of etiquette is on social rank and
station, not gender. We can easily adapt these for SCA use.

If this custom is to persist, it should be as an *offer* of escort to *all*
persons going into court. If the offer is refused, the person offering
should gracefully withdraw. Those who feel very uncomfortable with an
escort should not feel obliged to accept. To those offering and are turned
down, do not feel insulted or take it personally. The other person may have
any number of valid reasons for turning you down, most of which have
nothing to do with you. Remember that it is discourteous to impose yourself
on other people against their wills.

As for the providing assistance for those who need help getting up from
kneeling or stumbling over garments, there should be someone among the
Crown's or Baron(ess)'s attendants to stand ready to offer assistance. This
is quite a different issue than that of insisting that women only receive
an escort into court.

Teleri Talgellawg

Susan and Ken Reed                 AFPOPA               nachtanz@patriot.net
   R K Architects, 900 S. Washington St., Falls Church VA 22046

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