I got a lot of shit on this topic from a couple girls just before Christmas and I’m sure it’s not going to go over well with everyone here, but so be it. And so I’ll just jump right in. We often hear that “chivalry is dead”, and I say good riddance—at least in the sense that chivalry means protecting women as the “weaker sex”.
Though there are of course differences between the sexes, I think that men and women are equal. I also think that they should be treated equally, and treating a woman like a weaker being who can’t take care of herself and needs special treatment is in my opinion treating her as less equal.
And don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with being courteous, friendly or nice; I’m saying that expecting me to display these characteristics through my words and actions simply because someone is a female member of the human race is wrong. It sends the message that she needs me to be courteous because otherwise I in my superiority could be rude or uncivilized and she in her inferiority would simply have to deal with it.
But let me back up for a second and explain what got me thinking about this the week before Christmas. A bunch of us were out celebrating a friend’s graduation. The ceremony was in the morning so we started drinking Sekt early. Then we went for lunch and spent a few hours there before the six people remaining – three guys and three girls – decided to change locations. We uncorked a few Sekt bottles for the walk from the restaurant to the lounge where the party would continue. That was when chivalry came up for the first time that evening.
We were standing outside the hotel at the top of which the lounge was located and needed to finish up the last bottle of Sekt before we could head up. Two girls were off to the side talking and the one remaining girl – who was holding the bottle – and the three guys were standing in a circle talking. The one girl in the circle started to fill the first guy’s empty glass, but then she said that she should have started with the girls and promptly left the guys to attend to the two girls standing off to the side.
Never really able to resist playing the devil’s advocate, when she came back to our little group I asked her why, if men and women are equal, the women had to come first. “Ladies first,” she said with a shrug.
Since I was one of the guys who was skipped over to favor of the girls, I know it might come across as if I were annoyed at having to wait. But truth be told, I wouldn’t have had a problem waiting until everyone else – man or woman – had been given a refill before having my own glass refilled. And quite often it is indeed the case that I wait until everyone else has been served or gone through the door or been handed something or whatever. My question was motivated by curiosity alone.
At this point the conversation broadened out to other aspects of chivalry. The four of us talked about holding doors open for girls and I said that while I do hold the door open, I hold it for both men and women and feel no need to hold it open specifically because a woman is a woman since she is equally able to open the door as the man for whom I also hold the door open. The girl in the circle wasn’t amused and pulled the other two girls into the conversation to even the playing field.
“Of course a man should hold the door open for a woman,” said one of the other two once she had been brought up to speed. And the only answer I got when I asked why was “because he’s a man.” I was polite enough to resist the all-consuming urge to roll my eyes.
On occasion I’ve heard this same reasoning applied to first dates, where the man is expected to pay for the meal simply “because he’s a man.” Try as I might, I just can’t see the logic in that reasoning if both sexes are equal.
I don’t think that it’s possible to treat someone as an equal while simultaneously being expected to treat them like the damsel in distress, like a princess whose delicateness must be protected because her inherent weakness prevents her from fending for herself. I do, however, think that it is possible to treat someone like an equal and to simultaneously treat them like a lady.
I also think that men can be treated as equals and as gentlemen. I think the important thing is not to single out women as those in need of kindness, but to hope and expect that people handle people with kindness and compassion. If men and women are equal, then let the old style of chivalry die, and from its ashes let the phoenix of courtesy rise.
Later that night a few of us were standing outside smoking. It was cold despite the heater that had been placed on the balcony, and one guy was shivering. I had on my suit jacket and wasn’t really cold at all (I’m always one of the last to get cold), so I offered the guy my jacket. He graciously declined, but the offer was still made.
A little while after that I found myself outside again in a similar situation, this time with one of the girls. She accepted my offer and made much ado about how chivalrous I was, chiding another guy for not having offered his jacket (I mean wow, not only does she expect a jacket, she actively admonishes the man – whom she barely knew – for not providing her with one!). I politely informed her that I had made the same offer to one of the guys earlier (who happened to be standing there to confirm) and tried to make the point that it should be about being courteous to a woman not because she is a woman but because she is a person; the same should go for a man. But she didn’t want to hear it.
I remember once going with a girl into a building that had two sets of doors at the entry. I held open the first door and let her walk in. Rather than opening the second door she opted to stand to the side and wait for me to come through the first and open the second. I wanted to say, “what the fuck, do your arms not work? Open the fucking door,” but I was courteous enough to keep my thoughts to myself as I politely held open the second door for the pretty pretty princess.
In all fairness, this is also something some guys could work on. For example, I know several guys who will only hold the door open if there are girls in the group, who walk right in without a thought for those coming in after them when it’s just the guys.
I never expect anyone to hold the door or do something similar and am always gracious when people do such things. It’s just that it’s, well, courteous. And if the point is to encourage people to exhibit kindness and thoughtfulness toward others, then those characteristics should be applied across the board. We’d go a lot further toward the equality of the sexes if people showed kindness and compassion regardless of sex rather than because of it.