Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Chivalry. Something which I think (some) men are lacking and to which, whenever I bring it up at dinner parties and the like, my male friends argue, I cannot have if women are to be equal to men. But I do not want women to be equal to men. We are very different and I wish to celebrate our differences. I see no reason why two people doing the same job should not be remunerated equally and I see no reason why (fatherhood excepted) women cannot do the same jobs as men. But jobs are not what define us, either as women, men or as equals. Who we are is what defines us, and, taken to the extreme, I accept that this can include career choices but it need not.

I am in favour of manners. Of treating each other politely, as we would expect to be treated ourselves. I am in favour of self-respect, of ourselves and of others. Manners, I would argue, extend to letting a woman sit down on the tube or bus. But manners also indicate that a woman sitting should not take precedent over an elderly or disabled or pregnant person. It is all about relativity. Manners need to be modern too. One of my male friends is so well mannered that he will stand when I leave the table. I think that this is lovely but it is not something which I expect any other males to do and I do not think any the less of them if they don't. I appreciate it when men steer clear of dominating the conversation but I do not hold it against those who engage in long discussions relating to the finer points of the beautiful game. What I cannot bear are people who behave entirely selfishly. Queue jumpers (such as the man in Cafe Nero this morning who slid into the queue in front of me, deliberately), people who talk inappropriately loudly or who break rules (such as no phones in the silent carriage - after all, there are plenty of other places on the train to stand and shout), people who don't say thank you.

This month's Vogue has an interesting article about Chivalry being dead. The writer suggests that perhaps modern men are no longer taught by their parents that they should walk on the outside of the road to prevent the female from being splashed with mud or water. I am not a man, but I clearly remember my father coming to walk me home from Brownies and always walking on the outside and explaining why, when I asked why he changed sides when we crossed the road. I thought it was such a lovely thing for him to do, even as a 7 year old girl, and when M first walked with me to my house 6 years ago in Exeter, I noticed that he too did the same thing. 6 years into our relationship he probably lets me walk on the outside now and then, but he still opens doors, carries heavy bags, holds my coat (when we are sober) and looks after me. This is not to say that I don't look after him. We share out the housework though, rather than me doing all of it as it might once have been, but we work equally long hours. He does the cooking, I do the washing, and so on. If he is tired or particularly busy, I have been even been known to cook.

I think perhaps chivalry needs updating. It needs to be more equal. It is nice when a man opens the door for us. It is even nicer when we say thank you rather than indicating that we feel he thinks we are too feeble to even open a door. It is only a door and he is being polite, thinking of others. If we all made each other's lives a little easier, the world might be a nicer place.


Cumbrian said...

You are being rather naughty here Rachel. You start by doing something which I always find rather bothersome - making the sweeping statement that all men are the same - in this case lacking in chivalry. Having condemned us all you then cite cases which prove that all men are not like this. I would never lump all women/men together in a blanket statement because we are all individuals and that is what makes life interesting. Having recently visited London for the first time in 23 years I really noticed how courtesy and good manners were evident everywhere. I assumed that this high profile good manners had been brought into the city by the influx of immigrants who still seem to value the idea of respecting others. One must also point out that there are still many women who are annoyed by chivalry and make this quite clear. Manners really have to do with custom and it is difficult to argue the case for something that you should do just because it's the thing to do - if you see what I mean. In reality a healthy women is as capable of standing on a moving vehicle as a man. I'm in favour of treating each other with respect but social customs I find are different and a law unto themselves. Where there are genuine differences between men and women then these should be valued and celebrated. I agree that equal pay for a particular job should be the norm.

Rachel said...

Thanks for your comments Cumbrian. I do see what you mean - such is the thing of blogging that I bashed out my thoughts and never spent the time developing the actual words on the page. I did of course mean that not all men lack chivalry rather that it can appear that way.

Londoners are perhaps more mannered than they used to be but every day people are rude. That said, I had a nice conversation with the ticket man at the underground station this morning.

However, when I was at home over Christmas (i.e. at my parents house where I grew up) I was taken ill whilst shopping and semi-collapsed on the floor of the ladies loo in a department shop. All of the ladies who came into the loo offered me assistance, one got me water, one helped me to gather up my shopping and waited with me until my sister arrived with her car. Every single person we met on the way to the car park offered me help in some fashion. That sort of thing never happens in London. I have been taken ill on the tube before and people simply ignore you and look the other way.

My computer is about to shut itself down so I will answer your other points shortly.

Rachel said...

I am perhaps, at heart, rather an old-fashioned girl, so I enjoy social customs and manners which I do agree with you go beyond mere respect for each other. For example, I am a firm believer in the person who invites the other to a meal or whatever to be the one to pay for it, not splitting the bill. However, I do not see that this should always be the man and I am happy to pay myself if I am the one doing the asking.

I suppose my views were summed up by my potential brother-in-law when he gave me my Christmas present (a Smythson address book) saying "you're just the kind of girl that would appreciate this as I know you still write and send hand-written letters".

I am not saying that everyone should embrace potentially rather out-dated manners if this makes them feel uncomfortable, rather that if everyone behaved how they would like others to behave then I think people would be happier.

Personally, I cannot understand how any female would find chivalry annoying. I can see the arguments that one might make against some things being rather outdated and no longer necessary in our modern lives but to find someone who is being polite annoying seems to me rather ungrateful and contradictory.

I would be interested to know people's actual thoughts on the subject of chivalry and whether there still is a place for such manners and whether people do behave in this manner.