I was on the tube last week – rush hour, Northern Line, hot day – as I’m sure you can imagine, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. I was standing, and holding on while the train threw everyone around (I used to be a total pro at balancing on a moving tube, but I’m out of practice these days.) A man nearby caught my eye and gestured towards the seat he was sitting on. “Would you like to sit down?” he said. I smiled and said “No, thank you. I’m fine!”
What a nice man!
Except, it annoyed me. Why? Because he didn’t offer it to either of the men who were standing next to me, both of whom had wobbled as much as I had, as we gripped a nearby pole. No, he offered the seat to me, because I’m a woman.
This might sound utterly bonkers to you, but men being kind to women because they’re women really bothers me. Please don’t allow me to walk through a door before you because I’m a woman. Please don’t open my car door for me because I’m a woman. Please don’t offer to carry a heavy bag for me because I’m a woman.
It’s NICE to be NICE. Of course it is – we probably need a bit more kindness in the world. We’re all so busy going about our day, that we often don’t take opportunities to help others. But let’s be kind to people because they need our kindness. Not because of their gender.
That older gentleman on the tube, for example, give him a seat, because standing on a moving train is tricky enough, never mind having a bad back/arthritis/less energy. That woman on crutches – let her walk through the door before you, because she might find it harder to navigate through than most. That older lady with heavy bags at the train station – or that lady with a buggy, two kids and a big bag – help them down the steps because you can tell they’re genuinely struggling.
But don’t help them because of their gender.
Ah, I hear you say, but good old-fashioned chivalry is dying and it’s such a shame. Us women love to be looked after by our men-folk, don’t we?
Except, we either want equality for women or we don’t. In my opinion, we can’t pick and choose which situations we want to be considered equal in, and which we don’t. We can’t expect equal pay, the right to wear flat shoes at work like men do, equal opportunities for our daughters and sons, or feel angry that currently 62 million girls worldwide aren’t in education – but then welcome chivalry because, you know, it’s nice, isn’t it.
Small gestures of sexism (let’s call it what it is) that are accepted by women pave the way for the huge gestures – did you know that women are paid £300,000 less than men over the course of a 52 year working life?
I should mention here that I’ve had this conversation with many women over the past few years and I’ve only ever come across two women who agree with me. Everyone else thinks I’m a crazy feminist just looking to pick a fight.
So tell me, what do you think? Harmless chivalry or are we damaging the efforts to achieve equality for everyone, and doing ourselves a huge disservice?
I think chivalry is completely harmless. I would never expect a man to hold a door open for me etc but when they do, I can’t help but find it nice. Saying that, I’m the sort of person who opens doors for people myself too so it’s not just a man/woman thing for me. I just think it’s nice to be nice. I can’t help but feel sorry for men when it comes to these things – I bet they feel that they can’t do right for doing wrong!
I knew you’d be one of the first to comment! 😉 I love that we can debate these things. I think my point here is that people viewing it as harmless is the problem. It seems harmless, but paves the way for much darker inequality.
I’m just not sure that there is a darker side to this. Maybe they are just doing a nice thing? And would be just as quick to offer up their seat to say an elderly person or man on crutches? We’re never going to agree on this one! It’s a good job we know each other so well! Ha!
I think the problem is in exactly what you’ve just said here – an elderly man or someone on crutches actually may *need* help or are perceived as having some sort of deficit. Women do not. It sure is nice to be nice, but I think the point is made pretty clearly that if men feel they need to be chivalrous because they perceive that women need their help then it reeks of an attitude that is pro-patriarchy and inequality, no? It’s an attitude or spirit thing – and I suppose more often than not in those situations we will never know what the intentions were, but it’s always good to challenge these things because the small inequalities often lead to bigger ones.
It’s nice to see some-one speaking sense on this sensitive subject. We’ve been in the 21st century for a while now and we need to start thinking that way. Personally, and correct me if i’m wrong but i think your article concurs with this view, i believe gender equality isn’t about trying to pamper one gender over the other it’s about treating all people the same, regardless of their biological differences.
Yes. Exactly Max – equality isn’t about women being more important than men. It’s about everyone being treated equally.
So, the women with kids at the IT company where I work should do their fair share of the work at clients that insist they work on site & have to stay over? Currently they don’t. And they shouldn’t either. Not everything has to
be equal. Nor does that harm equality in the workplace.
YES! This. I would never expect a man to open a door or give me a seat just because I’m a women and I’m amazed that people do. As someone who’s been pregnant and regularly takes a pram and small child on public transport I really appreciate it when people help / give seats / are kind, but it’s not a gender thing (it’s often more women that help because they’ve been in a similar situation perhaps) P.S. If I’m ever offered a seat by someone now I automatically think ‘Do I look pregnant?’ 🙂
ha! I do this too. When I was pregnant and tired/in pain, I was SO grateful for anyone (male/female) to offer me a seat. (It didn’t happen that often though…)
This post makes me think of my husband – he is that man who will offer a lady his seat on the bus, as he will hold a door open for women and help her with a heavy bag is she is struggling but do you know what – I love that about him. He is a gentlemen – this is the way he has been brought up and I honestly think it can only be seen as a good thing.
I don’t expect Men to do it, they actually rarely do but on the rare occasion that they do I like it. If I had boys I think this is how I would raise them and I hope one day my girls find a gentleman just like their Dad – not because I see them as the weaker sex just simply because I think it is a kind and polite thing for a man to do.
I think if I had a boy, I would raise him to show kindness to people who need it, rather than to women because they are women. Men deserve kindness just as much as we do 🙂
Yes, I agree! It was nice of him to give up his seat, I regularly do too as (thankfully) I’m currently not pregnant, have walking kids, am reasonably young and fit (hmm) and able to stand, but he shouldn’t have only offered it to a woman (hope that makes sense)! It can be a minefield though trying to quickly sum up who is most needy of a seat on public transport and I think the invisible disability issue needs more discussion too, but I do find it worrying that anyone would think a woman was more in need of a seat than a man. Great post x
Yes, it can be hard to tell whether someone needs a seat or not, on public transport, if they have a disability which isn’t obvious. Oh and the number of times I’ve stared at a woman, trying to work out if she is pregnant or not.
Great post – and the fact it has people disagreeing and caring enough to comment shows its worth. I guess the problem is that you’ll never know for sure if a bloke’s offering you his seat (or holding the door etc) because he’s being genuinely nice – and would so for anyone – or because you’re (or I’m) a woman. That guy on the train, for example, may have just seen you wobbling around and thought he’d be nice and offer you his seat for that reason rather than the fact you’re a woman. I guess unless a man was standing next to you and was also wobbling around then we won’t ever know! For what it’s worth, I also like nice people who hold open doors, say thank you, are generally polite and courteous. But that’s nice PEOPLE – women and men, being nice regardless of the gender of the other person. I’d feel totally weird if a guy got out of the car and opened the door for me (HELLO 1920s!), for example. There’s still a LONG way to go when it comes to equality and it terrifies me that we’re in 2016 yet the stats still show we’re still very far from getting it right.
Agree. I’m terrified too at how far we have to go, to achieve equality. BTW I wasn’t wobbling around much – just that initial jolt you get when the train starts moving!
Lovely that he offered but I agree with you for declining. Thanks but no thanks. However it’s horrendous that some pregnant women have to wear an actual sign around their necks in order to be offered a seat.
I know, it’s depressing isn’t it? And often it doesn’t even work!
This is interesting as I agree with the poster above that this sounds like the sort of thing my husband would do. It’s certainly not because he is sexist towards women but is very kind and the fact you caught his eye may have made him think you were looking for a seat. My husband would equally do this for a man if he thought they needed a seat. I agree feminism is totally about equality. However there are still so many instances of outrageous sexism I prefer to direct my energies there. Out of interest if you were to get onto public transport with your husband and there was only one seat who would take it? I’m guessing most women would say their husbands would say for them to. Not saying it’s right just saying that’s probably the case in most relationships.
I’m a big fan of directing energies at the small, almost subliminal acts of sexism (even if it’s not intended as such) like this, or the blue/pink toy debate. I think until we nail the small stuff, how can we tackle the big stuff?
But how would you tackle this if it were to happen again? Would you say “no thanks I don’t need a seat just because I’m a woman”?
I’d tackle it in the same way – smile and say no thank you.
Don’t get me wrong I would say no thank you too but my point is that isn’t addressing the sexism behind the question.
No but my blog post is 😉
I hear you, I don’t need additional care and attention because I’m I woman, and I don’t expect to be treated unequally in other aspects of life/work because I am a woman. I appreciate there are differences between the genders that should be appreciated and respected, for me that isn’t about having a door opened. ‘Chivalry’ dates from the middle ages, related to the conduct of knights; bravery, piety and courtesy towards woman. As a society/culture we have an understanding of ‘chivalry’ and the vested meaning behind it, we know it applies to women as the weaker sex and so men (the stronger sex) need to be ‘chivalrous’/ courteous towards women. There is a lot of implied meaning in that, that still needs to be let go of. Until we let go of some of those attitudes we don’t move on. We stay with the idea that, while women need seats and doors opening, they also can’t do certain jobs or hold certain positions.
I agree, we need to be kinder to each other, more considerate and treat one another with respect and equally. When we do that everyone benefits.
The roots of chivalry make me shudder a bit! Thanks for this comment Gemma – you expanded on my thoughts and put it far better than I did!
You assume you were offered the seat because you’re a woman – maybe it was because he thought you were old…You’re pushing 40 now, Alison!
ha! I’ll have you know I’m a spring chicken at 37 😉
But what if he was just being nice to women because he likes women as a whole and wanted to be kind to a woman? As in, maybe he’s a feminist in that he feels like women have had a pretty shit deal and therefore he’s re-addressing the balance in whatever small way he knows how??
I dunno. My husband is terribly chivalrous and I love it about him. I plan to raise my boys the same way…I see chivalry towards women going hand in hand with respect for women…surely that’s not a bad thing? It doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘oh you poor weak little woman, here let me hold the door for you…’??
I’d love to think it’s a weird feminist double bluff, but I doubt it! 🙂 I direct you to Gemma’s comment a few above yours – she has said it far more eloquently than I could. It’s the implied meaning, rather than the conscious thought from the man doing the offering of the seat.
I can see your point. I can. But, I think it’s nice to be offered a seat – although I would often decline, I think I’d be flattered. I’d always offer my seat to old people or pregnant women and I think a lot o other women would and obviously that is just being nice, nothing to do with gender. It’s sad really that a man offering a woman a seat is automatically picked up as an issue about gender. Maybe he just saw you as a person being thrown around, the men were baring up better and so he offered you the seat? Maybe it wasn’t about gender at all and really he was just being nice too? x
I think you (and lots of others here) are focusing on this specific example when my post is actually about the wider issue (although I can honestly say I didn’t look like a person in need of a seat!) The tricky thing is, a lot of the time, we don’t know whether a woman is offered help/ a seat because of gender or because that man would offer the same to a man. But we still can’t ignore the fact that as a society, we encourage men to treat women differently – and that has a knock-on effect in a much bigger (and uglier) way.
I think that there are bigger fights to fight and get angry about on the equality front than this.
I spend every day of my working life trying to break through that glass ceiling, but, when I get offered a seat, I take it without a whimper of being offended… not cos I think I have been perceived as a weaker woman, but because I got up at 6am, breast fed a small human to, y’know, keep her alive, got into the office for before 8am, and am now rushing home to do bedtime with my baby. I’m knackered, and I would love to think that those man standing either side of me are beacons of equality and have been looking after a child like I have but, sadly, they probably aren’t. In this case, I *am* the weaker sex because I am physically weaker through tiredness. That seat is mine.
Also – this chipping away at chivalry is why I had to *ask* for a seat for the majority of my pregnancy. People have stopped looking up and asking. And where do you end this level of feminist stance? Getting an engagement ring is still considered the norm, taking your husband’s name or keeping your father’s is propping up the patriarchy. If anyone wants to live getting angry at things like this then, IMHO, they have to remove all levels of tradition and chivalry and anything perceived as patriachal from their lives.
I do struggle with the taking-your-husband’s name thing Sarah! Even the fact that your maiden name is your dad’s bothers me. I disagree about not sweating the small stuff – I’m sure you know of the broken windows theory where allowing the small things to go unfixed which then leads to the bigger problems. As a society, we still view men as stronger and “better” and I don’t apologise for being frustrated by that.
I know the theory, although the evidence suggests that “Roe v Wade” was most likely the cause of the crime reduction during Giuliani’s term; however, I am being facetious and understand the point you are trying to make. My point, however, is there are so many downright pernicious examples of everyday sexism that those are my focus. A good strategist knows that the path to their objective is not perfect and will be happy with 80:20. We cannot fight every single act of sexism every day so I will pick my battles and the misguided acts of, ultimately, kindness can go in the 20% bit and I’ll get angry at the 80%.
Facetious Sarah is my favourite 😉 The great thing is that if I stick with my strategy and you stick with yours, one of us might succeed and wouldn’t that be bloody marvellous.
DOWN WITH THE PATRIARCHY
Mulling over your comments this morning has made me realise how much I dislike my wedding/engagement rings. I often go for days/weeks without wearing them and hadn’t realised now that I do see it as a small act of defiance against the patriarchy.
You are braver than me. If I was offered the seat by a man I would probably think I must look old or pregnant, it wouldn’t occur to me to be sexist, but I do get your point. I think its hard for people to win these days as you could take it the way you have and someone else could say it was their first time on the tube and they were wobbling all over the place and we’re so grateful that a nice man offered them a seat or be disgruntled because nobody did, maybe through fear of being sexist. It’s a tough one but I’d much rather live in a world where people are courteous to others in any circumstances as everyone just seems so rude and selfish nowadays. I often get stuck carrying a heavy buggy up steps being watched by men which annoys me but maybe they are worried I may find the invitation of help sexist, that could explain it 🙂 I’m not debating your point in any way I just find it interesting how different minds work and how things can be perceived. I support the big issues regarding employment, pay etc obviously, but I love the traditions of marriage and being swept off my feet so to speak by a man and love it when people act like a ‘gentleman’ – who wants a door slammed in their face. Please don’t shoot me xx
Ha! No shooting here, I promise. I’m a confident lass so I know I don’t look old enough to be offered a seat (and I was looking pretty slender on that day!). Writing this (and replying to comments) has made me realise how many other “traditions” (read: ways the patriarchy has kept good women down over the years) bother me. I often go out without my wedding/engagement rings and I really do see them as a sign of being “owned” by a man. I’m not expecting many people to agree with me on that 😉
Oh larks. I’ve been the only guy stood in a carriage of seated women because I feel so completely awkward about beating a woman to a seat. In short, if a seat comes up and there’s a woman standing near me, I’ll let her have it. Why? A. Because I was brought up that way but mainly b. I know that if I did just take the seat id be fearful of being judged as rude. I’ve had times when I’ve been injured, sick, or carrying bags that I’ve still let the woman sit down. But I can 100 per cent say that it’s not out of thinking women are weaker or less able to stand. It’s just a thing, like standing on the right of the escalator or letting the passengers off the train.
I do feel sorry for men over this as they are kind of damned if they do, damned if they don’t. But I guess in the grand scheme of things, it’s not exactly having the rough end of the stick, considering men get paid so much more 😉
I think you’re saying that you don’t like (women) being viewed as weaker than men, and I get that, I do – I also feel the same about striving for equality. But I think he was just being nice on this occasion (because you fell a little). The problem is that by saying the seat should have gone to someone older, or pregnant or of poor health – surely that implies they are ‘weak’ and they could also take offence to this thinking? Isn’t it just easier to give no-one a seat and for us all to be utterly selfish for fear of upsetting someone? I’d rather not see that and instead have people offering such kind acts (even if they get it ‘wrong’ sometimes).
Honestly, me stumbling as the train left wasn’t enough to warrant being offered a seat (I only included that bit for comedy value – it doesn’t have a real link to the post!). I think it’s often pretty obvious when someone really needs a seat (unless they have an invisible disability) – my mum is 69 and as fit as a fiddle, but she does get tired travelling around so welcomes a seat if it’s offered to her. I’ll always offer a seat to older people (men or women) because I think of my mum and how tired she gets.
I agree with you whole heartedly! I recently heard my son saying ‘ladies first’ to his friend, which on one level is very sweet and kind. I congratulated him on his thoughtfulness, but couldn’t pass on the opportunity to discuss why it shouldn’t be because she’s female that he extends such a courtesy.
It is a minefield though: I feel my irritation at these kind of gender-based gestures is disproportionate, but at the same time subscribe to your broken-window analogy!
It’s definitely a complex issue, but what you said to your son is exactly what I would say to a son of mine – always show thoughtfulness and kindness to people who need it, rather than people who are of a certain gender 🙂
Everyone else thinks I’m a crazy feminist just looking to pick a fight.
Yes, I most definitely fall in that school of thought.
I may be a crazy feminist, but I’m a crazy feminist who welcomes debate on the matter! 😉
I have never met a self proclaimed feminist who doesn’t enjoy debate. At length.
Imagine the world without debate. What a scary place that would be! PS love the Lena Dunham quote: “I think women who reject the term don’t know what it means. It’s not a concept you reject. If you’re a feminist, you believe in equal opportunities.” (and who doesn’t want equality?)
You would bring your son up to show kindness to those who need it. Maybe the man who offered you his seat had a similar kind of mother? I’m not sure what you mean about your mention of your stumble being more for comedic effect – why mention it in this article if it’s not relevant? How are we to make a judgement to the thought process of the man who offered you a seat, if you are exaggerating the events?
I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the gender pay gap. As a ‘crazy feminist’ who doesn’t want a man to open a door for her, do you expect them to work for less money so that our pay matches over the long run?
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts.
Read a few more posts of my blog & you’ll see I’m always peppering them with little asides – it’s my writing style. But I can see now in hindsight that it has confused things somewhat! 🙂
Gender pay gap – I don’t think it’s as simple as lowering men’s salaries to match women’s (although if they are doing the same job and have the same skills, do you not think their salaries should be adjusted so that they match?). It’s also about improving paid paternity leave / parental leave, tackling the cost of childcare and ensuring women are treated fairly when they take maternity leave & want to return to work. All of that has an impact on women’s salaries.
You know I have been a very determined feminist for decades, more than I care to mention, but…… Here is something to consider. After puberty, there is a one in four chance that a woman is menstruating. Some women do not suffer very much but many feel feint when standing for long periods, excuse the pun. Women of a reproductive age also have a chance of being pregnant, even if it’s not obvious. Women of a certain age could be menopausal and struggling with the symptoms. Some women sail through all this but some really suffer but carry on regardless, working, taking care of children etc. Men suffer none of these problems and it is the price we pay for the precious chance of motherhood ultimately. I don’t feel we should feel it is implying we are incapable when someone shows consideration and I feel sorry for men when they show kindness and are refused. Just remember that your refusal will discourage them from offering in future, possibly to someone who would really appreciate it. We are equal, of course we are, but we are not the same. Consider those of our sisters who don’t have it as easy as you. That may seem presumptions but I know this from the fact that it hasn’t occurred to you.
Perhaps he offered you the seat because he saw you wobble and thought you were ill or something? Good grief poor blokes must feel on egg shells all the time nowadays!
Oooo interesting! The tube example…quite frankly if a man, woman or Martian offered me a seat EVER I’d be shocked. I remember being pregnant, with SPD and had Munch and a buggy. I was stood next to the priority seats and no one even looked up.
YES! I agree fully with this, and like you have only met a tiny number of women who agree with me. The (vast) office building I work in has lift etiquette thus:
Lift doors open. All men swivel eyes to one woman at back of lift. Woman stares back. It is less efficient for the woman to exit first, and the woman is angered by inefficiency. One man attempts to shoo woman out of the lift. Woman waits, patiently…. etc.
I have challenged lots of men who’ve done this, and all were “brought up to believe it was right”/”just assumed it was polite” to behave like that, despite the fact that I didn’t want them to do it, and that I’m at blimmin work! It does ENRAGE me though, perhaps because it’s so overtly sexist and most other stuff is more…insidious.
Thank you for your post!
I’m a sucker for chivalry and whilst I hate sexism and mistreating genders following stereotypes etc, I think it’s kinda sweet at times to be old fashioned.
It’s very easy to make an issue out of something if you want to. I personally believe that making things about gender is the worst thing we can possibly do when it comes to feminism. Good men are the biggest weapon in the fight against sexism. Making an issue out of the fact that somebody offered you a seat will make them think twice about doing it again, and it will make them think twice about taking feminists seriously. You said yourself that you were wobbling about on the tube, if this gent was an experienced tube traveller then he will have recognised that he’d be better suited to standing up than you – whatever your gender. I totally agree with you about the gender pay gap, but as females we don’t help ourselves sometimes by trying to make an issue about something like this rather than focussing on the big things like the gender pay gap and the very real prejudices that we do face every day.
I guess I’ll stop offering to help women when struggling with a heavy bag on a flight of stairs. I find it funny if it’s a guy so I’ll extend the same thought process to you ladies from now on. Just pack lighter.
Ignoring your stumbling around like a ‘novice’, did you consider that he may have thought you were cute? That he was being nice as he was attracted to you? Perhaps it was his way of starting a conversation? Yes, that’s also potentially gender related but for a very different reason.
I feel like you’ve missed my point entirely. Helping a person (regardless of gender) who is clearly struggling is a good thing! And your comment about him thinking I was cute seems a bit like clutching at straws.
We chatted about this on Saturday. I don’t really mind it. In fact I quite like it! Ha ha! As we don’t have tubes in Brum and people certainly don’t do that on buses I’ve never really experienced it. The men I work with never do anything other than treat me like one of the lads and I do enjoy that. Doors are never held open. If there’s a box I’m supposed to carry it and I can often be seen lugging a million books down to work whilst they skip happily down with their man bag. But if I asked they would help. I also have worked in industries where it is mainly women in power. PR and teaching. So I have never felt sexism at work. In fact if anything it is us hen pecking the men to death. They must hate us x
Love this and I totally agree, like you I think we should help people because they need it/are struggling etc, not based on gender. However, I do agree that men don’t seem to be able to do anything right! I don’t think we can pick and choose the parts of equality we like the most xx
Where I come from, it’s called manners. Personally, I think the world could do with a few more. But let’s face it women are never satisfied – experts at always wanting else. That’s life and we love them, but sometimes, you just want to twist their little heads off.
Thank you for the helpful post. Next time I see a woman, smaller and weaker than myself, struggling to carry a suitcase up the stairs at St Pancras I will let her get on with it. I would hate to find myself involved in a feminist issue.
Hi Peter! I think you’ve missed my point. If someone is struggling, help them. Like I said, we need more kindness in this world. But don’t help someone based on their gender 🙂