I hadn’t been to a Renaissance Faire in a while. It had been my idea. I love costumes, and acting, and fantasy. I also used to be into the chivalrous ideal. In recent years, this changed to polite amusement at being “milady-ed.” This year, I’m less amused.
I know that the romantic ideal of the 1200s, resurrected as Victorian romance, the effects of which we have today, is utter crap. It’s misogynist. It’s compulsory heterosexuality. It’s a tool used to trick women into liking being submissive and disempowered. The sham is especially apparent at a Faire, where half the time women are ladies (men bow to them, kiss their hands in adoration, admire their beauty with poetry), and the other half of the time women are wenches (boob-on-a-platter corset display for ogling and catcalling, objects to be conquered in bawdy tavern songs). Anyway, even apart from the whole economic/political hierarchy problem, I can’t deal with the lords and ladies thing any more, from a gender point of view.
But I saw it coming. I saw the actor at the gate, for pre-entrance entertainment, chastising men for being poor gentlemen, for not properly escorting the ladies. I did not make eye contact. He approached a young man in my group. He instructed him to offer his arm to escort the lady. The young man turned to me. “Oh, ok. Can I escort you?” he asked. I thought about giving the actor a bit of an education. Maybe ask him what made him think that I wanted to be on a man’s arm? A “no thanks” and a look of disdain? Or more about heteronormativity? My brain couldn’t put an intelligent reply together in time.
Instead, I said, “Oh no, I’m already spoken for,” reached for my girlfriend a few steps behind me, and smugly led her by the hand away from the shocked actor without so much as a backward glance.
I know loving women (most blatantly political lesbianism) is a great big “Fuck you” to patriarchy, and as such punishment is possible. I felt safe among my friends, among families in a daytime festival, that punishment in this case was not a big fear. So I flaunted my rejection of heterosexuality in front of this actor. It was a “fuck you” that maybe only that one man heard. But it felt really good! Really good to be like, “I see the shitty offer you are making me [chivalry in exchange for my adherence to femininity], and I have something better.” Perhaps, for next time, I’ll file away some dead-serious retort about Queen Elizabeth, something thematically appropriate that won’t be rejected outright for angry feminism, something that they can’t ignore.
Also, the young man in my group didn’t know any better. But he also hasn’t been ruined yet, and I do want to explain to him why being “chivalrous” is not awesome.