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The eye of the beholder.

2004-06-25 - 3:21 p.m.

There was a comment on this recent post of Sparkler’s:

There is a very fine line between chivalry and misogyny.

My initial reaction was to say no, there wasn’t and it was a disservice to the former word to associate it with the latter. But it got me thinking and I decided to explore it a bit deeper than a simple comment would allow.

First let me say that this was the first time the word “chivalry” had popped up. Prior to that comment it had been about “manners” and “gracious” and “courteous” behaviour. To me, much of what this person might call “chivalry” is what I call “being polite”. I’m not quite sure why I make this distinction but maybe it’s because I think of “chivalry” as being tied exclusively to how men act towards women, whereas I tend to think of things along this line as being more encompassing. My comment prior to this one had stated “I … make an effort to get doors and give up my seat on the bus for people who are older, pregnant, etc.” so it was, for some reason, a bit jarring to see “chivalry and misogyny” trotted out.

Giving that statement a bit more consideration, I think maybe there is indeed a line (though “fine” would be up for debate in my mind) and that might be more in the motive behind behaviour than in behaviour itself. If a man does, or offers to do, something for a woman because he doesn’t believe she can do it for herself, despite evidence to the contrary, is that misogyny? I concede a maybe on that one. What about the effect of perception; if a woman is offended by such an offer, no matter the motive behind it, is that what makes the difference and the scales tip towards misogyny? I’m a bit less convinced.

Look at door-holding. A man gets there first, the door is heavy, he thinks the woman behind him would struggle with it so he holds it for her. The woman is offended that the man would presume she couldn’t open a door for herself. Is this a true instance of the man acting misogynistically? I don’t know the answer to that, though I do know that some people would say ‘yes’ and others ‘no’.

What I do know is that, in my world, it’s polite if the one that gets to the door first holds it for the next person and doesn’t let it shut in his or her face. People should cede seats on the bus to pregnant women, offer to carry bags for the elderly or even to anyone who’s struggling under an obviously too-heavy burden, etc.

I once had a mechanic tighten my fan belt and turn down payment when I offered it to him. When I asked if he was sure, he looked me up and down and said with a shrug, “Sure. You’re good looking. I wouldn’t do it for an ugly guy.”

I grinned a thanks and put my wallet away (there’s a bit more to it like the fact that I was pretty young and not making much money, we’d done some chatting under the hood and I’d mentioned some repairs I’d done myself on my car which seemed to impress him, etc.). My roommate was horrified when I told her about it and said she would have been offended and insisted on paying for it.

Was the mechanic being misogynistic? Not in my mind. It was less than 10 minutes work for him and didn’t involve any parts replacement, he felt he was paying me a compliment (and I actually believe he was just joking and would too have done it “for an ugly guy”), and he won my repeat business when I did need a major repair. I also think that the intention behind behaviour or words should be weighed before crying foul.

Was he being misogynistic in my roommate’s mind? You bet.

But I contend that women have fewer natural/social advantages in this world than men (I’m lucky that in Canada I experience fewer social disadvantages than I would elsewhere, but there is very little I can do about biology - no matter how much I exercise I will never be as strong as many men who don’t) and I see nothing wrong with using any advantages life hands you, so long as nobody else is hard done by as a result.

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