Gender Equality and Chivalry. What exactly are we striving for in the battle of the sexes?

Knights and Ladies
by A.A. Milne

There is in my old picture-book
A page at which I like to look,
Where knights and squires come riding down
The cobbles of some steep old town,
And ladies from beneath the eaves
Flutter their bravest handkerchiefs,
Or, smiling proudly, toss down gages…
But that was the Middle Ages.
It wouldn’t happen now; but still,
Whenever I look up the hill
Where, dark against the green and blue,
The firs come marching, two by two,
I wonder if perhaps I might
See suddenly a shining knight
Winding his way from blue to green-
Exactly as it would have been
Those many, many years ago…

Perhaps I might. You never know.

I used to perform this poem as a song when I was at school. I loved the poem as a child, loved it when I sang it, and still love it now. The meaning I draw from it has aged with me. OK….now you have visited a part of my literary upbringing, I will start getting to the point.

I remember one of the charming things I noticed about my husband when we first met, was that he opened doors for me ( and by that I mean in a literal sense). Noone had really done that for me before. No one had ever really treated me like a “lady”. Perhaps because I never felt like, acted like, or defined myself as one, or perhaps it was just because I had never met my “knight”.

At first I was suspicious. I thought he was doing it to make an impression. A good impression? Probably. A false impression? Possibly. Turns out I was wrong. It happens sometimes 🙂 ). We have now been together for fifteen and a half years, have been married for eleven and a half, and have two rambunctious beautiful kids. OK so my husband doesn’t always open doors for me now, as he’s often busy with the kids, but he does generally treat me with the same degree of reverence and respect he did then. I suppose he was brought up to be a gentleman, (whatever that actually means now), and I quietly hope that this will rub off on our son (and our daughter). Even if chivalry is dying, or out of fashion, it is, in my humble opinion a positive attribute to have, since in its essence it embodies courtesy, respect and consideration.

These days, I still don’t really define myself as a lady. I am just a person, trying to be the best person I can be, within the constructs of the society in which I live. I was brought up in a generation who were emerging from a “man’s world” and entering and exploring a brave new world of “gender equality”. I still remember a time when sexist advertising and sexist comedy were accepted and allowed on television (I even watched Benny Hill and the like). I am not so old that I remember women getting the vote or anything quite that significant. I do however remember when the words of the Australian National Anthem were changed from “Australian sons let us rejoice” to “Australians all, let us rejoice” when I was in primary school. More significantly I recall encountering / learning how to use “gender neutral” language in first year university (it was compulsory) and also when various religions, including the one I was brought up in, started ordaining women leaders.

Moving on to the present day though, I live in a world of supposed “equality” of the sexes. On closer inspection though, it still isn’t exactly an even playing field. OK so the current political climate probably doesn’t help matters, but no matter who is in power, it doesn’t seem to be women. Just look at what happened when we finally had a female Prime-minister (for 2 seconds). Yes…Not much really changed.

Is it taking us too long to move beyond the historical constructs of gender inequality (whatever that actually looked like)? How many generations will it take? How many of the current generations are still perpetuating male supremacy or female vulnerability? Is equality really an important thing to achieve? I don’t actually know the answer.

Is it unfair that in some places women are denied education? Absolutely. Is it ridiculous that men still get paid more for the same jobs in some contexts? Too right it is. Is it acceptable to gender stereotype jobs, kids, toys, colours (and so on)? Well I don’t think so, and yet it happens!  Should women have to be feminine and males masculine and dress accordingly or should they be subjected to ridicule for dressing how they like? No they should not.

But some other questions, are a bit stickier.

Is it fair that women can grow children and men can’t (at least not without medical interventions)? Is it fair that women have different bodies and body composition to men? Is it fair that some cultures accept that the genders have different (but “equally important”) roles? Can a man know what it is like to be in a woman’s shoes (and vice versa)? Are girl children and boy children just destined to like pink and dolls and blue and guns respectively (I use these examples simplistically) no matter how hard you try to bring them up exactly the same way?

And then there are more etiquette related questions like: Should men treat women with chivalry or should everyone just treat each other courteously and with respect? The age of chivalry is not yet quite dead, and I for one would strongly advocate for a gender neutralised version of its revival, before it dies out completely.

And let’s not forget humour: Should sexist humour be completely banned, or just contextually banned? Being the butt of jokes is not necessarily a lot of fun (unless perhaps you are making a joke about yourself). However, I personally, don’t like being made to feel like being a woman is somehow a disadvantage. Whilst in some circumstances, this may be the case (as in examples given above), within my frame of reference, it generally isn’t (or at least I don’t see it that way). In the company of friends I wouldn’t necessarily be rattled by a male friend telling a sexist joke. At work or in quasi professional circles, it doesn’t really feel so comfortable. When the joke implies that if I was a man I would somehow be superior to my current self, especially when told in a room full of men most of whom I don’t know (who politely laugh at the joke), I find myself a bit torn. I am not sure whether I should politely laugh with them or inwardly (or outwardly) laugh at the joker and at the absurdity of the “joke”.

So: Gender Equality and Chivalry. Do we need them? Can we have it both ways?

I used to consider myself, a bra burning feminist, (in the days where I actually needed a bra – haha…it’s ok to make fun of your own “bits” isn’t it???), but now I am caught; confused, and conflicted as to whether we should still be thinking about getting “even” or whether should just be embracing our differences and making use of them. And finally, whether we should be learning from each other to extend our current skill bases. We then wouldn’t need to fight for (or indeed about) supremacy or domination, or even about equality, but rather look for harmony and cooperation. This is a more yin and yang construct, if you will; two even but equally important parts which fit together exactly to complete the whole.

Face facts:  Fellas: you are never going to experience (first hand) what it is like to have PMS or to have a child kick inside you. I am never going to know what it feels like to get kicked in the nuts or to have the freedom to be able to urinate standing up (usually without having to wait in line to do so, even when in a public venue). Perhaps we all need to just accept this and move on.

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2 thoughts on “Gender Equality and Chivalry. What exactly are we striving for in the battle of the sexes?

  1. Yep, there has to be balance. The Y has two sets of doors, so what I do is if a gentleman (or even a lady) holds a door for me, I thank them, pass through, then return the favor by holding open the other set of doors as he or she passes through. Maybe every place should have two sets of doors 🙂 Great thoughts here, Rach!

    Liked by 1 person

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