Thursday, 4 September 2014

Is chivalry dead? Should it be?

Chivalry is a Medieval idea - the set of values that knights signed up to. What we mean by chivalry derives from courtly love, an aspect of chivalry which involved stuff like writing poems about how much you loved an important woman, even if you didn't care for her all that much. It was just what you did, circa Medieval times.

These days it's all about opening car doors, carrying her luggage and laying your cloak down over the mud so that the lady won't get muddy toes (OK, that one was a while ago).

Is chivalry OK?
So if a bloke offers to carry a bag for you, when you're not overloaded, or offers you a seat on a train because you're a girl and so shouldn't have to stand up, is he being nice, or is he like totally dissing your status as a strong and independent woman. Is it an act of respect or disrespect?

'Chivalric' behaviour such as paying the bill and giving up seats on public transport is well-meant. Blokes do it because they want to be nice. They see it as showing 'respect to the ladies'.

But this kind of behaviour derives from the false assumption that we are the less capable sex. As such, it is inherently disrespectful. We may not be able to lift equally heavy weights as men can, but we are no less capable of standing up on public transport. OK there is still a gender pay gap, but there's no reason to assume most of us can't pay our way, thank you very much (in fact letting men pay for us in restaurants etc could reinforce the idea that there should be a gender pay gap, because it makes it so darn expensive to be a man).

How it should be
You have to feel sorry for men (no, wait, you don't) - it's really confusing out there. How are they supposed to behave?

A bloke in my gym a while ago told me: "I was going to offer to help you with that, but then I realised how ridiculous that would be." His point was that if I need help to move weights around, I should probably have picked a different hobby. I liked that he told me this and therefore managed to look good both as a chivalrous man having the impulse to help, and as a fellow human being respecting my capabilities. Clever.

If I'm standing up on a train, a man shouldn't give his seat up for me unless I'm pregnant, ill, or struggling to transport an extremely heavy life-sized, framed portrait of David Tennant (this last hasn't actually happened yet).

They should, by now, respect us as their equals. This means that, if we're struggling with a heavy bag, then yes please, offer to help up. But not because we're weak and feeble women - because we're human beings struggling with heavy bags, and hopefully they'd do that for a man as well.

Treading carefully
All this brings us to the question of how to behave when a man displays chivalrous behaviour, AKA suggests you're a weak and feeble woman through a kind but ultimately undermining action.

And this is the tricky one.

If you're a rude, nasty girl then you can point out the error of his ways, thus helping to spread the feminist cause and royally pissing him off. If we all did this, all the time, then pretty quickly the message would get through.

If you're not a rude, nasty girl, but a polite, nice one, then you can still do your bit. If a man offers you a seat just because you're a girl, then decline it. If he tries to carry your bag for no good reason, ask him firmly but politely to return it. Etcetera.

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