Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Of Men and Muppets

In Europe, chivalry is dead. It might even have rolled over in its grave. In North America it is dying a slow death. The boy taking your daughter out for dinner tonight does not have your daddy's manners.

Several weeks ago I was riding the tube, when an elderly man came on and stood in front of a young couple (mid twenties) who appeared to be on a date. Almost immediately the girl stood up to offer the man her seat and, brace yourself, as she was standing up her date grabbed her arm and tried to stop her from giving up her seat. The elderly gentleman politely declined the offer, saying he was getting off at the next stop. In the meantime this young man turned to his date (a lovely looking girl who had a Yorkshire accent) and said: "um.....we do NOT do that here." He then laughed a bit, as if he was embarrassed that his date was naive enough to offer an elderly man her seat on the tube. Hopefully that was their last date.

Today in London it is rather hot. My uneducated guess would be that it was 35C in the tube carriages this afternoon. They were a bit busier than normal due to a person under a train at one of the station. A man who appeared to be in his late eighties shuffled onto the tube and moved towards some seats, clearly hoping someone would give up theirs so he could sit down. A teen-aged couple sat nearest to him; the girl looked at the boy, the boy looked at the girl, then as if realizing that her boyfriend was useless - the girl jumped up and offered the man her seat. And there this boy sat, beside the elderly man his girlfriend had just given her seat to, while his girlfriend stood in front of him dripping with sweat.

When I was a teenager a local boy picked me up for a date. Like any good small-town woman my mother and one of her friends were spying from inside the house as we got in the car. However they revealed themselves when the boy did not open the car door for me, shouting out "hey what are you doing? Open the door!" This was in North America not so long ago. When I moved to the UK and started working in Canary Wharf grown men in suits were pushing me out of the way so they could get a seat and read the Financial Times on the Jubilee Line.

There was a time when not opening the door for a woman was a sign of very bad manners, when allowing your girlfriend to give up her seat would have been cause for embarrassment. Gender roles have been bended and twisted so much over the past 40 years that these traditional signs of decorum have all but ridden off into the sunset. As men become increasingly effeminate, and women increasingly masculine the traditional signs of courtesy and respect between the sexes disappear. Feminists have put the ultimate taboo on men opening doors for women, saying it implies women are not able to open the door themselves. My how insecure are these women?? When a man opens a door for me, or lets me off the elevator first, or offers me a seat - it is not an insult - it is a courteous sign of respect. I know (as does he) that I am perfectly capable of opening any door and equally capable of slamming that door in his face.

So what is the big deal? It is just a door. Except it is not just a door. Simple signs of courtesy towards women have long been a symbol of respect. It is a hint that this man has likely been taught to treat women with respect, that women have value, that they deserve a certain standard of treatment, that he is prepared to protect you. Spare me you guffs and guffaws - when push comes to shove (literally or figuratively) women want to know that a gentleman will protect them. I don't need someone to protect me, I just want to know that if some guy tries to feel me up in a bar the guy I'm with will step in (and join me in teaching the douchebag a lesson) and not cower in the corner or pretend like he didn't see it.

Men who show they value women through their actions are setting a clear and positive example, not just for boys but for little girls. (As are women who value men but that's another topic for another time). When little boys see men treating women with respect and courtesy they learn from example that women are to be valued. When a little girl sees the men in her life treating women with respect she learns that women are important and should be cherished - she learns a standard of treatment she should expect to be given.

Chivalry is puttering in North America but it is still around, particularly in rural areas where it tends to be en force. But this will change if people do not support the strong men in their life who value women, and if mothers do not raise daughters confident enough to have a man open the door for them without feeling insecure. Recently I was out for drinks with a friend from France who spent several semesters of her university career in Texas. She told me it was the first time in her life men, strangers, held the door open for her. Will Texas be the last place on earth where men hold the door open for a lady?

Of course the "door issue" is a symptom, not the cause, of a much greater problem. The Gender Bender: a society in which traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity are being eroded, where relationships are being devalued, and where the idea of valuing others over self is quickly disappearing.

Ladies, if someone opens the door for you today flash them a smile and say thank you.
If your boyfriend is a muppet who sits around doing nothing while you give up your seat for an elderly man/woman/pregnant woman: DUMP HIM. You can do so much better.