The term “roundtable,” now used in many a corporate context to mean, according to Merriam-Webster, “a conference for discussion or deliberation by several participants,” has its origin in the Round Table of Arthurian legend. According to the myth, Arthur and his knights sat at a round table, indicating that each had an equal say in the deliberations at hand. To this day, though it’s unclear whether King Arthur and his knights ever really did exist, the term is still used with these valances, to indicate that every person at a round table gets to participate equally in the conversation. It’s odd to think about how many CEOs of major companies probably use the term without picturing themselves as a crowned king putting down his sword to drink mead with his battle companions.
People still think about King Arthur’s court all the time, though. For one thing, they love to say that chivalry is dead, or insist that it is not dead. For me, the term “chivalry” is inextricably linked to my undergraduate experience, where it most frequently took the form of men enthusiastically opening doors for me (sometimes running up from behind me to open doors while I was standing there, which was a meaningful gesture indicating that there are more important things than time efficiency, but also a bit melodramatic, in keeping with everything else I experienced at seventeen).
There’s a general sense that chivalry has something to do with the relationship between men and women. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling has Harry Potter reflect wryly on how “daring, nerve, and chivalry sets Gryffindors apart” when he is jumping into a frozen pool: “Where ‘chivalry’ entered into this, he thought ruefully, he was not entirely sure, unless it counted as chivalrous that he was not calling for Hermione to do it in his stead.”
Some modern-day thinkers, including my fellow Substack writer Jonathan Geltner, hold that the solution to a variety of troubles between the sexes today is to “bring back chivalry and courtly love.” Others insist that chivalry is merely veiled sexism. Some of these, including in this particular piece, go so far as to equate wolf whistling with paying for dinner—a bit of a reach, but so is the other option, which requires putting several genies back into bottles in order to achieve an ideal that may never strictly have existed.
Nonetheless, there is a perennial appeal to the idea that the dueling sexes once shared a clarity and peace in relationship with one another that they do not now enjoy. Still more compelling is the idea that this relationship still exists somewhere. This is the ethos of, say, a Bass Pro Shop or Neighbors Mercantile Co in Nappanee, Indiana.
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