Cross-posted on IFSHA here.
He held the door open for me and stood aside.
“Hmm, chivalry, huh?”
I smiled. He said,
“I thought you said that chivalry died with the 60s?”
“Chivalry dies with sex.”
Rude, rude, so very rude of me. But I felt I had to be flippant to cover up my embarrassment at not knowing how to behave in an archaic social ritual like that.
There is a whole new dimension to the social rituals that have been conducted so far. My mother thinks if I demand equality, then I shouldn’t expect a man to be chivalrous and offer me his seat on the bus. Fair enough, if we aren’t ‘delicate flowers’, we don’t need to be treated as such either.
But chivalry is really so ingrained in certain rituals that its difficult to do away with them altogether. And what’s worse, retaining them makes them even more obvious as artifacts of the old order and brings a degree of awkwardness to the situation.
Take for example, dating. Now the old question – who pays? Is it fair to demand equal opportunity, earn equally well and then expect the man to do all the spending? It isn’t fair of course and what’s more, it is slightly degrading to us. Some women try to rationalize it like a friend who said,
“Let him pay. His ego is assuaged and you aren’t burning money on a stupid man who anyway wants only one thing from you.”
Well, that’s an extremely practical, if not cynical point of view. The problem is that it broadens the awkward divide rather than bridge it. It isn’t the solution at all.
It is also a little uncomfortable to be picked up and dropped everywhere, ferried around like someone who needs protection all the time. Well, crimes against women are on the rise, to be sure. I’ve taken to leaving early if it means that I won’t need to depend on someone to drop me home. But that’s not it either, is it?
From the male perspective, I hear a lot of men saying things like,
“I am totally open to the idea of my wife earning more than I do.”
I don’t know whether to believe that or not. Personally I think my generation is still steeped in the premise of the man being more successful to be able to accept that easily.
My perception isn’t entirely rooted in cynicism. I notice a lot of these men are the very same ones who are rude and boorish, especially to women. And they defend themselves by saying that they are treating women the way they treat men. Ah, but that isn’t what we ask for. Equality in opportunity but not in behaviour. We are different after all and not just physically.
And whatever happened to respect? I am not anybody to draw the rules on chivalry but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say the root of true chivalry lies in respect. In being courteous and even accommodating, without making it seem like a favour. The reason these rituals seem awkward now is that we don’t need the favour anymore.
But what if it wasn’t a favour?
Hmm…I think women could be chivalrous too. It isn’t nice to keep someone waiting. And it is extremely bad form to be late and worse still to use one’s sexuality to get one’s way. More of us do it than we want to admit. I’d think its perfectly awful to treat half the world’s population with unrelenting, vigilant skepticism. We all play mind games and it looks like we’ll just be rooted in them, mired with archaic, awkward practices till we learn to be respectful of each other.
Its time we learnt to be ladies and gentlemen, not just ‘equal’ women and men.