Ramblings of a fledgling feminist

15May12

Victorian gentlemanOver the past 27 years, I’ve had a niggling feeling that gender equality is still a long way off. After a lot of reading and a lot of thinking back over my life experience, I want to start articulating some of my ideas – to share them, if nothing else.

A conversation I had on Twitter today started me thinking about the concept of ‘gentlemen’.  I have a tough time reconciling the idea, as it feels like an outdated concept.

Before I started to label my desire for gender equality this way, I think my drive to be taken seriously as a woman has led me to shy away from special treatment based on my gender. Let me cite some small, yet pervasive examples. As a disclaimer – I know to some of you – these examples sound petty and I will address that shortly.

Always 50/50 in relationships

A particular bug-bear of mine is a door-situation where a man, in his eagerness to be ‘gentlemanly’, will insist of letting me, a woman; go through it first, even if it would be significantly easier for both of us if the man had gone through first.

A second example involves the few occasions I’ve been offered a seat on the tube/bus/train by a man, despite his being at the seat first and being equally deserving of it (I am a woman, not disabled.) I never take the seat.

Another (silly) example is my boyfriend, who always insists on taking the curb side of the pavement to shield me from ‘splashes and dangerous drivers’ etc (he explains that’s what they did in the old days, when they had horses and carts). Frankly, I’m significantly less clumsy than him and therefore a much safer bet for the curb-side, but he simply won’t have it.

I can imagine droves of commenters (perhaps unlikely considering the average of 8 hits a day my blog receives) posting that I should appreciate this attitude from men when I’m exposed to it – but my reasoning is this: if I want to be treated equally to men, how can I accept (and appreciate) special treatment that I don’t deserve simply because I’m a woman?

I believe we should treat everyone we meet as we’d like to be treated. I know it’s an old adage, but wouldn’t the world be a better place if we treated each other with a little more respect and consideration?

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

I have difficultly reconciling these concepts because it sounds like I’m encouraging men to be less pleasant to women (I’m not – see above). But on a very subliminal level, I feel that the special treatment aimed at me as a result of my sex disempowers me. It implies that, as a woman, I’m not able to stand, walk through a door or protect myself from horses and carts as capably as a man.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m sure most men only have positive intentions – so this isn’t a dig at them. And I know that the notion of being a gentleman is positively reaffirmed constantly by our society and that, in fact, many women love a ‘gentleman’ type.

But do any of my examples or feelings resonate with you – both men and women? Could gentlemanly behaviour ever be considered subversive (even on the deepest, most unconscious levels) or should we be grateful for all politeness?



6 Responses to “Ramblings of a fledgling feminist”

  1. 1 Keef

    Everything you’ve said above makes sense, and I feel this whole concept of a gentleman is dying out with our generation. But much like my views on racism, homophobia, etc, I feel that we have a difficult time in that we have generations still alive (like my grandmother and, to a lesser extent, parents) to whom these concepts have very different meanings. The whole curb side walking and door holding thing for me is a direct teaching from my grandmother, but something I am unlikely to teach to younger generations and certainly not something my father taught me.

    Without being too horrid, we need these older generations to die off, and with them some of their now out dated views, so that true progress in attaining society equality can actually be reached.

    On a final note, however, if being a gentleman means being able to swan about in the outfit in the picture above, then sign me up.

    • Amazing – can I use that quote?

      Without being too horrid, we need these older generations to die off

      I guess the question is Keef – are these generations and their teachings really dying off? Even if they do, isn’t there a new generation of teachers telling our young men and women how men should behave (like teen dramas, rom-com movies, chat-shows, pointless celebrities etc)?

  2. I agree, what you say does make sense. I’ve thought about it before because, honestly speaking, I do like holding doors open/letting women walk through first.

    I think it’s been ingrained into me that it’s the way I should act, and while I know that it goes against equality, I continue doing it. It does help me to see how ingrained attitudes are so hard to change.

    Part of my reasoning is all the connotations of the word ‘gentleman’ to which I think a lot of men aspire. But it’s also partly because in not acting gentlemanly I run the risk of being labelled rude.

    So if I ever let you go through the door first, I apologise. I don’t want to disempower you, I just don’t want to seem impolite.

    • What a brilliant comment, it’s great to hear an opinion from a male perspective – thank you. You’ve articulated this better than I could; men are not only encouraged to act like gentlemen, but are considered impolite if they don’t.

      This is exactly the reason that I find the ‘gentlemen’ concept difficult to reconcile – I don’t want to encourage men to be ‘rude’ and I realise that many people WOULD consider my irritations to be basic politeness. But it still doesn’t feel like a positive step towards equality.

  3. 5 Bec

    Yes, men holding the door for me does, to a small extent, make me feel ‘silly’ and ‘weak’, despite their best intentions. I walk past them and wonder what is going through their heads (do they think they have just performed a heroic act, whilst looking at my pretty hair as I walk past?! – probably not!). hehe!

    As previous commenters have eluded to, this is ingrained behaviour and whilst nowadays there are women that would rather they didn’t, there are also quite a lot of women that argue that they like to be treated like a lady. For the record, I don’t agree with these women and think they are the types that tend to weaken our claims for equality. They are the ones that want to have their cakes and eat it too (be respected at work even though they wear dramatically plunging necklines)….

    It’s all very complicated and confusing, but what I do know, is that if a man is at a door ahead of me, I would expect him to hold it for me until I reach it. I can take it from there, thank you. This is no more or less than I would do for anyone following me, unless it was actually somebody who appeared to be frail, elderly or disabled (is that discrimation?) – then I would encourage them to pass through the door before me. It’s our role in society to take care of those that need looking after. I don’t believe women per se fall into that category.

  4. 6 Larry

    This is all very interesting, I do tend to walk on the outside and hold doors open etc(as taught to me by my parents). but not so much as I used to, for the very reasons cited above.

    Some conflict might arise when considering the courtship ritual, when a gentleman wants to show his potential partner that he thinks she is special by doing the ‘after you’ thing and taking his coat off to offer additional thermal protection(at risk of personal hypothermia) or covering an offending puddle lest the soles of her feet get wet. I guess this is a different thing all together.

    Generally speaking though I agree that there is no reason why a gentleman should pay any different attention to a strage lady as he does to another gentleman……..unless she is particullarly agreeable of course!!!


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