In high school I was always kind of a skinny kid. In fact, a good description of me then would be tall and lanky with more skeletal definition than muscular definition. For most women these days this is a desirable appearance and they spend countless dollars at gyms and on diet plans to achieve this. However, for men this type of physique is not necessarily known for getting dates to the high school homecoming dance or to the prom. I was always somewhat baffled because guys that had no problem achieving this seemingly impossible task appeared to me to be unworthy of the company they kept. Hearing these men talk in the locker room and seeing the way they treated our female classmates usually presented me with two emotions—anger and sadness. I was angry because I knew these young ladies should be treated better and should in fact demand it. I was saddened because so many of these women who as little girls had always dreamed of their prince charming were instead finding that they were really still kissing a frog.
When I came to college I found that two things had not changed—my physique and the way that men were still treating women. Deciding to investigate these two mysteries I wrote the first off as a lightning quick metabolism, which I am told I will miss when I am older. The second one, however, seemed to be much more complicated. I decided that I wanted to learn how things used to be when men acted like gentlemen. One day such an opportunity presented itself in the form of a class entitled "The History of Marriage and Courtship."
On the first day of class I arrived early and to my surprise I found that the class was overwhelmingly composed of females. Being of the opposite sex I was not one to complain, however, as the weeks passed I began to realize something rather profound that explained this unusual phenomenon. A majority of young women today are unhappy with the available male candidates from which they must choose in order to find a suitable mate. As I began realizing this I would often joke that these women took the class hoping that "the perfect man" came on the shelf next to the class textbooks in the bookstore. Much to their dismay such was not the case.
Of course there is no such thing as the perfect man, and as society has changed even what used to called a gentleman, known for his good manners, morals and intentions, is becoming harder to find. Back when courtship was still fashionable women could find suitable companions much more easily. At this time women were trained from a very young age to care for the home, and men were supposed to go out into the world to make a living for the family. In these days women and men were put into separate spheres. The "female world" was the home and the "male world" was outside of the home working for the family on the farm and in the cities. These separate "worlds" ultimately led to the formality of courtship.
Courtship was a system that was designed for females to insure that they would be married to men who would be worthy of them. Courtship took place in the home, which was the "woman’s world" and everything about these encounters were on the woman’s terms. If a man wanted to have the company of a woman, he first needed to be invited to the home by a lady’s parents. He then needed to dress up, and endure much nervousness and discomfort as he walked up to the door of her home, knocked upon it, and waited for an answer. Men would have to engage in polite conversation with the family who would be present for the duration of his visit. Men respected a woman in her home, and having her parents around at all times insured that each man’s intentions and actions were honorable. At this time courting a young lady had one goal—marriage.
However, change was inevitable and by the 1920’s courtship was beginning to succumb to extinction only to be replaced by dating. Courtship was seen as old-fashioned, boring, and simple while dating was new and exciting. The ownership of cars, the emergence of city culture, and the development of motion pictures quickly facilitated this change. Suddenly the tables had turned and women were abandoning the institution of courtship in rapidly moving cars that left the home and all of its protective qualities behind.
Women were taken from their world into the world that young men were familiar with, and at this time men were using the earnings from their jobs to pay for these "dates." Instead of good manners and good intentions earning him an invitation to a lady’s home, access to money was made directly contingent on access to women. In this way dating began to change the balance of power within relationships between men and women. When activities were centered in the home, women held the power. Once dating took the relationship outside of the home the balance of power shifted to the man. He dictated when, where and how these "dates" were to take place because he was the one paying for them.
Unlike courtship, dating was not a guarantee that relations between a man and a woman were headed toward marriage. The institution of courtship allowed a lady’s parents a chance to see each man’s intentions and if a man’s intentions were not marriage he was not invited back to the home. Each woman and her family held power because they allowed the relationship to begin and they could end it at any time if a man’s intentions were proved false. However, with the institution of dating many times men did not have to meet the family, and as men were the ones paying for the dates they had the power of decision to continue or end the relationship. With no requirements for marriage, dating has much to be desired because it leaves women powerless, unsatisfied, angry, and unfulfilled.
From this class I learned many things that I had suspected all along. Women are angry that they have lost the power that they once had in a courting relationship. Almost unanimously each woman in class seemed to agree that they would not be too upset if courtship were to return to replace modern dating. It seems that women want two major things from a relationship; they want to be loved and they want to be treated like a lady. But sometimes women today seem to get impatient and settle for one or maybe neither of these requirements instead of waiting and demanding both of them. Deep down in their hearts women hope that chivalry is not dead and that their fairy tale prince charming does indeed exist.
Women today have more freedoms and liberties than ever before and the idea that the "woman’s world" is the home has rightfully fallen with the advances in women’s rights movement. Courtship is a dinosaur in a modern age and it has disappeared from popular culture. However, just as we study dinosaur bones to learn lessons about the past so too can women learn something from the institution of courtship. The lesson that women should discover from courtship is to have patience and wait for someone that is worthy of them. So often women in their quest to find someone to love them look in the swamps and chase a few frogs when they should be content with who they are and wait for the real prince charming to come riding up to sweep them off their feet.
Of course by now everyone has pretty much adapted to the changes that took place long ago. For someone to practice courtship now would be as strange as a caveman coming out of his cave after centuries of slumber. However, just as the scientific community would be intrigued if a live caveman were to suddenly appear I suspect that women might be just as intrigued if a man were to attempt to apply the courtship defined concept of a gentleman, with his old-fashioned manners, morals and intentions to modern day dating. I guess there might be hope for skinny kids after all.
Brinton Brafford is a senior from Mansfield, Ohio, majoring in Political Science and minoring in History and Business