Tell Me How It’s Fair

Chivalry is dead. Actually it’s not, but I kind of wish it were. Don’t get me wrong – I think being kind to someone is a good thing. And I think helping someone out who is weaker than you or who needs help is a wonderful thing. I just don’t like the assumption that in any pairing, the woman is the default one who needs things done for her.

I’ve had this discussion with many people and they always argue that the man is just being a gentleman. He’s trying to be nice. And I’m sure the particular man in question is. But I feel like the cultural underpinning, the long forgotten motivations behind it are actually harmful to women on the whole. And I wish people would spend more time thinking about it.

I don’t mind someone holding the door open for me if they get there first and I’m close behind. What I don’t like is someone rushing past me to get the door, actually impeding my progress, just so they can hold it open for me, as if I am incapable.

I don’t mind someone helping carry something heavy either. But when I’m already competently carrying it and a bent over man thirty years my senior shuffles over to try to take it from me, I’m baffled. What crazy societal rules dictate that he should struggle to carry something for a young, strong woman?

I also don’t mind someone opening a car door for me. As long as I’m not sitting captive in the car while I wait for him to run around the car and open it for me. Unless I happen to be wearing something that would make it difficult for me to get out without assistance, that is. But who are we kidding? I’m never dressed like that.

On a recent school day, as Hal and I exited the preschool and approached our car, another mom was opening the back door of her SUV so her two kids could climb in. There was a little boy and a slightly older little girl. I’m guessing he was four and she was perhaps six.

I’m not sure who was initially closer to the door. I wasn’t paying that much attention until the woman grabbed the boy by the arm and yanked him out of the car that he was already halfway into.

She hissed angrily at him, “You don’t get in the car first! She’s a girl! You let her go first. I don’t want to have to tell you this again!”

I was befuddled. And more than a little heartbroken for the poor little boy. The problem, according to her remarks, was not that he had shoved his way past his sister, which would universally be considered rude, but that he should have known to always let her go first.


Seriously. WHY?

Ladies first? Why should his sister get to get in the car first simply because she lacks a penis? Huh?

I mean, there are logical, sensible ways to determine who gets in the car first. Whoever was standing by the door would be a good criteria. Or, since they were both piling in from the same side, whoever was expected to sit on the far side would make sense. Or, even, the youngest gets in first because the older is more capable of being patient or remaining safe while outside the car. But simply because one was a girl?

How is that fair for the boy?

Women have fought to gain equal rights for so long. Equal rights isn’t just about gaining what the men get. It’s about being equal. That means we don’t get to be placed on a pedestal and pampered simply because we are women. The whole reason women have been treated like that over the years is because we are viewed as the weaker sex. People that need to be cared for and protected.

I’m not a fool. I know that women are, on average, physically weaker than men… on average. With the added tool of rape, I recognize that women have more vulnerabilities than men. I know all that.

But we can open a door. We can carry stuff. We can wait our turn to get in a car.

That poor little boy is being taught a cultural standard that really doesn’t make any sense. Which is probably why he’s having such a hard time remembering it. If I were him, I’d be thinking, how come she always gets to get in the car first? And quite frankly, the only way it’s fair is if he gets some sort of special thing that she doesn’t.

Which, in the archaic society in which so many of these gentlemanly acts came from, he does. He gets to be in charge when he grows up. He gets educated. He gets to make the rules. He gets to basically own the woman.

But wait. He doesn’t get to do all that anymore. She can be in charge. She can make the rules. She can outpace his education. So any way you slice it, one of these kids is getting robbed. Either she’s being held back because she’s the weaker one who needs to be allowed into the car first but from whom little is expected. Or she’s fully equal to him and he still has to wait for her to get in.

How’s that fair to either of them?

7 thoughts on “Tell Me How It’s Fair

  1. Your eloquence on this particular subject is remarkable. I wholeheartedly agree with you. The only thing I would add is that the mother in question would serve both her children well if she maintained a standard wherein the children are expected to be equally courteous to each other, I.e. the first to reach the door holds it open for the other, etc. I, too, am baffled by these outmoded and oddly patriarchal practices which serve no useful purpose. And I hate when I have to practically get in an argument with a stranger over who will hold the door for whom when I get there first and he is, as you said, actually impeding my progress by insisting on “helping” me when I clearly don’t need it. Meanwhile, I very often see a woman ignore another woman who might appreciate some help when she is juggling a toddler in a stroller and a preschooler by the hand as she attempts to get through a doorway at a store! Common courtesy all around, regardless of gender, would be so much more preferable than this archane practice.

    • Thank you! Yes, I often get very anxious approaching doors, especially when I’m walking with a man – which is fairly frequent at work. We are equals at work so he shouldn’t be opening the door for me, right? But what if he expects it? Nine times out of ten, if he gets there first, he opens, steps back, and lets me walk through. So when we reach the next door, I open it, step back, and let make him walk through. 🙂

      Interesting comment on women not helping out other women who obviously need help. There’s truth in that observation. But I guess I was raised better than that because the women in my family always jump to help out anyone! lol

  2. My husband is extremely chivalrous, as is my stepson (who was only 5 when I met him 15 years ago). Being extremely independent, I’ve had a very difficult time adjusting to opened doors, ladies first, him walking on the outer side of the sidewalk to protect me, etc. I’m a faster walker than my husband and if I make it to the door first, I’m certainly going to open it myself, rather than look like a wilting flower just waiting for my man to open it for me! Life-long habits are hard to break, and I’ve finally given in to him. My stepson still continues to hold doors and let me go first, as well, even though I’ve many times excused him of his gentlemanly duties. Personally, I wouldn’t teach “Ladies First” to a boy either–just mutual respect and kindness no matter what the gender. Great post!

    • Thanks! Yes, there are definitely people who have chivalry so deeply ingrained in them that they truly can’t let it go. It is a part of who they are. And while it irritates me, I let it go (the best I can). (Like the old men trying to carry stuff for me). But I was dismayed to see a woman forcing it on her son in the manner that she was.

      • I think the Army sort of shaped my husband’s chivalrous nature, and my stepson’s mom is from the south. The poor kid was forced to do cotillion and learn all of the ways of a southern gentleman from her. He’s an amazing kid and as his stepmom, I sure never had any complaints about his sweet behavior. However, like you, I don’t want him to feel like he has to acquiesce to his step sisters because they’re the “gentler” sex. I raised them to be tough, well-educated and independent. Fortunately, he does know that–his manners are just ingrained!

        • I live in the South too, although I doubt it’s quite as strict around here as what your stepson’s mom taught. My daughter is in the local flavor of cotillion. She loves it but I do find parts of it remarkably antiquated. Like the dance cards. Really… when will she ever be someplace that uses dance cards?! That said, learning some table manners and basic etiquette rules can’t hurt. As long as they understand that when they are taught that the boy shouldn’t honk his horn and expect the girl to run out to the car, the same is true if she’s the one picking up the boy for the date. 😉

          • The etiquette part of cotillion is great. I was sent to “charm school” when I was twelve. Apparently, my mom was afraid I’d grow up to be a barbarian because she constantly complained about my table manners!

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