A look inside St. Francis’s Chivalry’s Not Dead Club

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Natalie Oktanyan

According to their mission statement, “the Chivalry’s Not Dead Club (CNDC) serves to promote the virtues of loyalty, generosity, and respect. The club engages in conversations regarding authentic, Christ-like masculinity, and how to practically build habits that reflect knighthood. The club hopes to foster strong men by developing their awareness and understanding of relationships, both intra- and interpersonal.”

When you think of the word “chivalry,” there’s a good chance King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table come to mind. The Arthurian legend has spilled over from the quill pens of medieval writers and emerged in modern culture in various forms, from politics (the Kennedy Camelot era) to the silver screen (“Monty Python and the Holy Grail”) and even cuisine (King Arthur’s Flour Company). 

The enduring tale of King Arthur, the rockstar ruler who took Albion by storm, is in part reinforced by the myth of Arthur’s messianic return — that one day, the legendary king will resurrect to rule over Britain. The odds are against old Arthur’s reanimation, however, as historians have found no proof that he existed in the first place. Nevertheless, many sentimentalists look wistfully upon the ideals of chivalric honor that King Arthur symbolizes — and long for their revival. 

In medieval times, chivalry was a knightly code of conduct that stressed the values of generosity and courage with an emphasis on protecting the weak, which often included women. In recent times, chivalry has become more synonymous with masculine courtesy — holding the door open, picking up the check and offering a letterman jacket to that special someone when it’s cold out (perhaps with a “M’lady” thrown in for maximum effect). 

With the rising tide of fourth-wave feminism and the new, more flexible conceptions of gender in its wake, many view the nostalgia for chivalry as a vestige of an outdated patriarchal system. Chivalry today exists as a confused amalgamation of different ideals, simultaneously diminishing women and putting them on a pedestal. In order to make change, the feminist movement requires the support of men, and some of the values of the chivalric code, such as a commitment to justice, fit under the umbrella of allyship. Even so, many of the ideals of chivalry infantilize women and promote binary gender roles, and this conflict leads skeptics to wonder if a chivalry revival is desirable, or even relevant, in 2021. 

As it turns out, a group of knights down the hill from Flintridge Sacred Heart argue that chivalry can be reimagined for the contemporary world, a world in which Kamala Harrises and Greta Thunbergs are making the damsel-in-distress paradigm obsolete. These young men are not knights in the King Arthur sense. They prefer football to jousting, don khaki pants rather than chainmail chausses, carry Axe Body Spray in place of a sword and are much more likely to say “les gooo” than “huzzah!” 

These are St. Francis Golden Knights, and this is the tale of their crusade to resuscitate and redefine chivalry through a school club, aptly named the Chivalry’s Not Dead Club.

In March of 2019, a group of students began the process of forming the club and getting it approved by the school. 

“Having a single mom, I kind of wanted to learn how to treat a female properly, if that makes sense, to truly become a better husband, a better man, in the future,” Co-President Matthew Gurlekian ’21 said of his desire to help found the club.

The club became official during the 2019-2020 school year and quickly gained popularity, with many meetings attracting around 30 to 40 students. (As a reference, the St. Francis Surfing Club attracts 15 students per meeting on a good day). Two teachers, Ms. Anna Clipperton and Mr. Michael Perkins, supervise the club, but club meetings are run primarily by Ms. Clipperton.

“Last year, when we were on campus, we would be in Mr. Perkins’ room, who teaches U.S. History at St. Francis, and it’s a pretty big classroom, and it would be full. Kids would be on the floor,” Co-President Jack Burns ’21 said. 

According to the club’s mission statement, “the Chivalry’s Not Dead Club (CNDC) serves to promote the virtues of loyalty, generosity, and respect. The club engages in conversations regarding authentic, Christ-like masculinity, and how to practically build habits that reflect knighthood.”

When I inquired about the meaning of Christ-like masculinity, many club members did not have an answer. Ms. Clipperton, however, was happy to provide a definition. 

“In simplest terms: self-sacrificial love, as modeled by Jesus in his ministry and passion,” Ms. Clipperton said.

During meetings, the Knights discuss topics like the meaning of masculinity and read books about maintaining relationships with women. 

“Ms. Clipperton always talks about how, in society, men have to put on a tough face, and we don’t have to do that all the time,” Diego Robles ’22, a member of the club, said.

When I reached out to them, the boys seemed to have an earnest interest in promoting the values of their club. They responded quickly and enthusiastically to my emails, and not a single student was late for an interview. Indeed, according to my email notifications, many of them entered my Zoom meeting room five minutes early. Although, of course, like any journalist, I suspected I was receiving the best face of the club, there was no doubt that these young men were passionate about their message.

“A lot of [what we learn] is how to have a healthy relationship and identifying the differences between men and women,” club member Buckley DeJardin ’22 said. 

Ms. Clipperton starts meetings by giving a lecture to club members and then opens the floor for discussion. The boys confide in one another about relationship troubles, sometimes simply allowing their classmates to vent and other times offering advice.

“It’s nice to share my personal experiences, and it’s good to hear from other people just so I can learn from other people and, you know, not make the same mistakes that I’ve made and other people have made,” DeJardin said. 

At a recent club meeting, which the club made available via recording, Ms. Clipperton spoke about the book “Emotional Virtue: A Guide to Drama-Free Relationships,” which the knights are currently reading. 

“Generally speaking, women are more enamored with what they hear, meaning that they use their imaginations to put themselves in the place of a character,” Ms. Clipperton said to a group of students during a club meeting on Zoom. “Men are typically more visual and turned on more by what they see… Being able to recognize that complementarity we have as men and women can be helpful to know the other, right, but maybe even first and foremost to know ourselves.” 

Critics on the Hill feel that the club’s lessons on relationships and sexuality are overly simplistic. 

“I think the club is well intentioned, but I feel like, in execution, it comes off as heteronormative and slightly microaggressive,” Ava King ‘23 said. 

In response to this criticism, some club members claimed that the emphasis on traditional gender roles in these lessons stems largely from the conservative values of the administration at St. Francis rather than the club’s leadership.

“Being at a Catholic school, I can’t tell how much they can do in regards to nonbinary folk and queer representation, but my attitude towards it is kind of just I wanted to join the club because it was promoting respect to all individuals,” a club member who asked to remain anonymous said.

Some FSH students felt that there should not have to be a club with the premise of promoting respect. 

“When I first heard of the club, I thought it was a joke. I get the intention, but the fact that there is a club to learn how to respect women seems a little ridiculous. The idea of respecting women, or people in general, shouldn’t have to be singled out in a club; it should be inherent,” Isa Durand ‘21 said. 

Members insisted that the club’s message of equality is compatible with the contemporary feminist movement, many adding that, in the past, Ms. Clipperton has encouraged the boys to attend the Women’s March.

“Feminism is basically being equal. We all just want to be equal at the end of the day, and this club kind of helps us, you know, help that become a reality through teaching us how women think and how we should go about talking to them, communicating with them and how we should respect them,” Gurlekian said. 

In a time of rapidly changing social attitudes, navigating the landscape of gender and sexuality can be challenging, especially for adolescents. Though ideals are shifting, the remnants of bygone eras remain all around us. At Flintridge Sacred Heart, girls are implored to dive head-first into male-dominated fields like STEM. In school, we code websites, play vigorous games of basketball, write 10-page research papers and conduct scientific investigations regarding the fluorescence of different microbiomes. 

At the end of the day, to celebrate all these endeavors, we wear white ball gowns that look like wedding dresses — a tradition that traces back to when FSH was a finishing school. The tacitly implied expectation that we must maintain delicacy and purity while performing at a caliber equal to (and often higher than) our male counterparts leaves many girls feeling the pressure to strive for an unsustainable balance.

Indeed, the mixed messages are never-ending, and I imagine boys often feel the same way. We exist at a crossroads, in a tug-of-war between nostalgia for the convenient gender roles of the past and the desire for the liberated — yet daunting — uncertainty of the future.