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.

Why?

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?

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Boys in Tutus

When I arrived at the preschool to pick up Hal this afternoon, a dad in the hallway informed me that Hal was wearing a pink tutu. Perhaps he thought this would faze me. It did not. I have a long history of little boys in frilly dress-up.

When I reached the half-door of the classroom, it looked like there had been a fabric explosion. A little boy, not Hal, was strutting about the room in a long gauzy green dress. Another boy was struggling with a hot pink tutu. Yet another was in a blue number.

A little girl in a pale pink dress and a cow head approached me at the door. She explained that her mom (who was not present) had let her wear her Halloween costume and patted the soft horns on her head.

“Are you a cow princess?” I asked her. She nodded and beamed with delight.

I hadn’t yet found Hal. The teacher was sitting against the wall, looking slightly apprehensive. “We are playing dress-up and they can wear whatever they want. That’s what he chose to wear.”

I followed her gaze and found Hal on the floor in a fairly unremarkable dress, looking worried.

“Hal, you look absolutely stunning but we need to go to church. Can you take it off and get your shoes back on, please?”

He smiled broadly and proceeded to talk to me about all the various dress-up options. I noticed that the only children wearing the boring “boy” dress-up uniforms were… girls. And if all the boys weren’t wearing dresses, I’m pretty sure it’s just because there wasn’t enough to go around.

Hal doesn’t have a lot of experience with dress-up dresses. Daryl, on the other hand, lived in them for quite some time at around the same age. His sister had a chest full of them. He coveted them, hoarded them, tried to sleep in them. He thought dresses were the best thing in the world.

One memorable Sunday before he was potty trained, he quickly dressed himself for church. Unbeknownst to me, he had taken off his diaper and donned a pair of ballet pantyhose instead. When I came to pick him up from the nursery after the service, the lady explaining his accident to me was looking at me very strangely. Since most kids his age couldn’t dress themselves, particularly not in something as difficult as pantyhose, she had assumed I had done it. That was a rather awkward moment.

As Hal and I left the school today, he told me how much fun it was to try on dresses and how much he’d like to have some at home. I agreed that it was fun to dress up. I’m not worried about my son and I am grateful that his school does not enforce strict gender stereotypes when it comes to playtime. Donning a fluffy dress doesn’t make a little boy confused or gay. It doesn’t necessarily mean he’s secretly a girl inside. It simply means that, let’s face it, the fluffy dress is a lot more fun than the police uniform. Unless the uniform comes with a gun. Or maybe a sword. Daryl took the best of both worlds when he infamously ran around my brother’s house in a Disney princess dress with a plastic sword shoved down the front. I believe he called himself a “Ninja Princess”.

“Mommy,” Hal said as we approached the car, “I want you to wear some dress-up. I mean real play dress-up, but not little. Big. For you. Not a real dress, a dress-up one. I would like that.”

“Ok, Hal. We’ll have to see about that.”