Saturday, June 9, 2007

Common Courtesy or Gender-Specific Chivalry?

Not too long ago when in the mall parking lot, I observed a couple heading to the car with their purchases. The man was loaded down with several large bags, while the woman walked unencumbered, except for a tiny purse. When they arrived at their car, the woman walked to the passenger side of the car and stood waiting for the man to unlock and open the car door for her -- while still loaded down with shopping bags -- after which he closed the car door for her.

I sneered at the sight of this. Who did she think she was -- a princess? And I was embarrassed to see a man so well trained and domesticated.

For one thing, she should have been carrying a couple of the bags to give him a hand. Secondly, she should have gone to the trunk with the man and helped stow the packages. And while it may have been valid for him to unlock the car doors if he had the only key, she certainly could have waited until the packages were stowed and then opened and closed the unlocked door herself.

I've also seen couples arriving at a public place, where the woman waits in the car for the man to come around and open the door for her, rather than simply clicking the locks so she can open it herself.

Don't get me wrong; I think common courtesy is a great thing. That is, I'm all for it when it is applied equally to everyone regardless of who they are. But I've got no use for the old-fashioned "chivalry" type of manners that a "gentleman" is expected to display to a "lady", simply because she is a woman. Some examples of this gender-specific etiquette include:

1. The aforementioned opening and closing of car doors. There are, of course, some exceptions to this that make sense: If the woman is struggling with packages, babies or small children, or is handicapped or elderly, then, of course, one should assist with the doors. This would be equally true if the sexes were reversed. But doing this for an unencumbered, able-bodied woman simply because she is female. No way.

2. Opening doors for women entering/exiting a building. It would seem to me that it's good manners to simply open the door for whomever is behind you -- there's no need to check their gender first and let the door slam in their face, if it's a man.

3. Helping a woman on with her coat. Again, unless she's elderly or handicapped, what's the point of pretending she actually needs help doing this?

4. Assisting a woman to get seated at the dinner table; pulling out the chair for her and helping her push it up to the table. Once again, what's the need? I'm also guessing that many women might feel distinctly uncomfortable with all this hovering.

5. Standing when a woman enters the room. What for? Good manners means you respect everyone equally -- don't respect a woman simply for being female. It would seem as if a polite greeting would do in this instance.

6. Giving up your seat to a woman on public conveyances. Again, this should be done for anyone, regardless of sex, if they are struggling with packages or children, or are elderly or handicapped. If it's an able-bodied woman with her hands free, my ass is staying seated.

At root, the entire point of courtesy is to treat others as one would wish to be treated. Good manners should be the same for everyone, regardless of who or what they are.

I understand that some of the women here might not agree with me, but we'll just have to agree to disagree.


1 comment:

Bethany said...

I agree wholeheartedly. Common courtesy is a wonderful thing, and I try to practice it, without regard for the gender/age/whatever of the person.

But chivalry? I'll be happy to see it die.