A shocking admission for you: I love the whole ‘you’ve offended my lady wife and thus I will draw my sword and fight you’ thing, which has just been amply demonstrated by the episode of The Tudors I’m watching mindlessly whilst room-tidying. Once I was on a train and this group was getting all shifty and insolent with us, and my companion stood up and had a look to him as if he was going to punch the lot of them straight through the window. He didn’t, thankfully, but the fact that he was going to, I don’t know, fight for my honour or something…it made me go all melty inside.
But I ought to totally disapprove of that kind of thing. I’m a big strong girl. I can fight my own battles, thanks all the same. Like I ought to disapprove when a man insists on paying for a date, or deliberately walks on the outside of the pavement to protect me from danger (‘I don’t know what danger, just…danger’), or automatically takes whatever I’m carrying and carries it for me.
Which makes me actually question the whole chivalry thing. Are these sorts of conventions polite, acceptable and necessary parts of society? Or do their roots in male chauvinism, in the belief that women are mentally, emotionally and physically inferior to or weaker than men, make these social mores rather more sinister and undesirable in the 21st century? If a guy pays for dinner, you are then obligated to him in some way – and the obvious way to pay back such an obligation is sex. Should one feel that obligation? Is going dutch, splitting the bill, unromantic and wrong, or acceptable in this day and age?
People argue back that women are physically weaker, so of course men should fetch and carry for them and put up all the shelves. One man I know even suggested that because women have ‘childbirth – and periods – eugh!’ – these social conventions are the only way man has to make up for my being born a woman. But being born a woman isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a great misfortune. And those conventions don’t actually stem from a debt men owe to us because of our being women. They come from generations upon generations of men who had to believe themselves superior to women for their world to keep on working.
I don’t know where my argument is going here. I suppose I’m asking what place chivalry has today. Oddly, I don’t think it’s entirely misplaced. I just think it should be acceptable for me to say, at a restaurant, ‘well, actually, I’ve got a job and you’re a student, I’m paying for both of us, thank you’, and for that not to be entirely embarassing to both parties in a way it somehow wouldn’t be if I was a man taking a woman out to dinner. Or, better, for me not to even have to make that speech, but for it to be obvious that I should pay for the food and him the drinks or something because I’m not actually overdrawn yet. Chivalry can, and should, work both ways. And I can put up shelves with the best of them.