Chivalry

A new colleague was teasing me the other day.

“I don’t dare open the door for her,” he teased, “she’ll get mad at me.”

I wondered at first what he was talking about. Then I realized it had to do with a comment I had made earlier about my overnight bag. He had offered to carry it and, wanting to brag a little about my packing ability – something I am secretly quite vain about — I declined and declared I’d carry it myself, tossing off his help with, “I am a firm believer that a woman should never pack a bag that she can’t lift into the overhead bin on her own.”

This is a true statement. I have very little respect for women who overpack and then wait for a man to offer to lift their bag. If we want to be treated equally, we can’t expect men to take care of us when we do dumb things. (Exceptions granted for women on their way home with injuries that they received whilst traveling that prevent them from lifting bags they were able to lift on the trip out.)

On the subject of opening doors, I also believe that the person who holds the door should be the person that the door opens toward and/or the person who is carrying less stuff. So, if you’re standing on the sidewalk and the door opens toward you, unless your arms are full, you should be holding the door, regardless of gender. And if you arrive at the door at the same time as someone whose arms are full, you should open the door for them, regardless of gender. And if the other person is pushing a baby carriage, you should slip in front of them, open the door, and hold the door open for them. This is practical and helpful.

In truth, I have nothing against my colleague carrying my suitcase – provided he offers without my hinting about it, and provided that he is not already weighed down with his own suitcases. I have nothing against a man (or woman) offering to help put a bag into the overhead bin (again providing that the person to whom the bag belongs doesn’t pack such a heavy bag that it requires someone else’s help or endangers the safety of the person sitting below the bin when it inevitably falls on their head).

I do grow impatient when I offer an elderly man who is precarious on the subway my seat and he refuses with offense because I am a woman, requiring me to resort to subterfuge, such as pretending that my stop is imminent when it isn’t. I grown equally impatient when a man insists on carrying things for me that I don’t need him to, or praising me faintly when I don’t do as well as he does on a presentation because he’s afraid of hurting my feelings. Thanks, my emotions don’t need your protection – if you did better than me, it’s because you have more training and/or experience. Now that I know what right looks like, I’ll practice, stumble, right myself, and eventually get it right. But it has nothing to do with my feelings.

I read a book once where a mother had suffered the flu and hadn’t recovered as quickly as the doctor would like. Everyone fussed around her, her husband insisting that she go to bed early, her neighbors insisting on carrying things for her, her pastor chiding her for taking on too much. When her son came home, dumped his laundry in the middle of the living room for her to deal with, monopolized the landline (pre-cell) to gossip with friends, commandeered the best snacks from the kitchen, raided her pocketbook for spending money, and announced he was going to use the last of the hot water for his bath, it was to her great relief because finally, here was someone who wouldn’t treat her with kid gloves.

Does that mean that I’d like to be taken advantage of? No.

Equal treatment.

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