A few months ago, I went on a date with someone who, in my mom’s opinion, was one of the sweetest guys on the planet — and he was — but something about the experience didn’t sit well.
He opened the door for me, carried my coat, pulled out my chair, refused my offers to help pay for the meal, and had bought my movie ticket in advance.
All good things, right?
But they weren’t. It made the date feel like I was in the presence of an adult, not my friend. I even found myself sitting up stick straight in my seat for fear of being improper. I probably looked like a scarecrow being propped up with a pole.
I didn’t realize what it was that made me so uncomfortable until I thought back over the date later that night.
I don’t want to be treated differently simply because I am a girl. I don’t want men to open the door for me because I’m a girl, I don’t want men to constantly offer me their jacket because I’m a girl, I don’t want men to pull out my chair before I sit because I’m a girl.
If I go through the door first, I will hold it open for you even if you’re a man. If you want my jacket, I will give it to you. If you need me to help you carry your books, I will.
Chivalry should be a two way street. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it when people hold doors for me and help me carry my books, but girls should be willing to help out men too; it should be customary for everyone to be chivalrous to everyone. Gender shouldn’t even be a factor.
I’m not the first woman to find issue with the principles of chivalry, and I won’t be the last. The principles to which I object — the ones that represent the way negative in which our society views women — have been a point of contention for many decades.
I want to know that the reason people are polite to me is because they are polite people. If you do hold the door for me, I’m not going to feel offended and yell at you for thinking I’m a subservient woman who can’t open the door for myself; I’ll be grateful and smile in appreciation.
I just don’t want the reason you open the door for me to be because I played with Barbies as a kid.
The mentality that chivalry represents is one where women, with their historical role one of a caretaker to children, need to be protected from the world. At it’s heart, that means that the role which women have historically filled is less respectable and less powerful than that of men.
And, in today’s society where ever more women — though still not enough — are joining the workforce, the stereotypical gender roles are thankfully becoming increasingly obsolete.
While there is a biological basis in those gender roles, I can assure you that I am strong enough to put on my own coat. Holding a door open for a man isn’t going to use the whole of my physical capacity.
Our culture’s adherence to stereotypical gender roles isn’t going to be solved purely by modifying the definition of chivalry, but this simple alteration to our behavior would be a conscious step toward editing the perception that women are the weaker gender. It’s an opportunity for us to encourage everyone to be kind and courteous without basing that kindness in the fact that my favorite Disney character was Sleeping Beauty.
Our society’s inherent belief that femininity is secondary to masculinity is reinforced on a daily basis; the words we use, the advertising we see, and the way we act all reflect it. If we were to stop rooting our kindness in gender, we could rid ourselves of one avenue through which that precept is deepened.
Open that door because treating other people with compassion and kindness and humanity — regardless of mental or physical capacity, regardless of gender, regardless of race, regardless of age — is the decent thing to do.