Wednesday, January 18, 2006
After our big long discussion from yesterday, and listening to Kat and W. talk about their work-place experiences, it suddenly dawns on me that there's a way that chivalry plays in that I haven't heard anyone talk about. So, I'm going to. If necessary, we can come back to the ways in which chivalry is oppressive, but let's skip over that for a moment. Instead, let's acknowledge that most men who, in their every day lives, treat women differently than men do so, not out of a hatred of women, but out of a deep caring for women. Chivalrous behavior--like paying for everything, being protective of us, opening doors for us, lifting heavy things for us, etc.--is not consciously a way of reminding us of all the things we don't do that men do (make shit-tons of money, move safely out in the world, have great upper-body strength)*, but instead are perceived as courteous ways of anticipating the ways the world is perceived as being unfair to women**. If you look closely, you can see that these are almost identical positions, the only difference being that one is ass-hole behavior and the other is attempting a deep kindness**. It seems to me that one point we're at in the bigger discussion of what it means that women are supposed to just be a regular part of the workplace is that a lot of us are conflating those two positions and a few of us are exploiting that conflation. Okay, let's see if I can explain that better. Feminism is, in general, about equality for men and women and changing everyone's attitudes so that can happen. A lot of men (and some women), I suspect, think that feminism is about assuming that all men are assholes and punishing them for it. Maybe I'm wrong, but thinking of it this way, suddenly the complaint that "women want to be treated special; they want special protections; they want all this pampering that men don't get" makes perfect sense. Can we use math to illustrate my point? Sure, what's one more chance to fail spectacularly? Let's say that men figure they start out with no extra privileges in life. They assign themselves a "0". They see that "nature" is unfair to women; that women already start out at "-1" and so they are chivalrous towards women, because they care about women and want to even things up and get women to a fair "0". But, if women insist on being treated equally, insist that the world is no longer unfair to us, I can't help but wonder if some of y'all feel like this actually gets us to "+1" because y'all have never considered that you can stop being chivalrous to every woman you encounter. You think we're demanding "special" rights because it hasn't occurred to you that one of the side benefits of equality will be that you can change your behavior. You don't have to be chivalrous to every woman. You can save that for someone special... Like a dear aunt you love to spoil. *Folks, if I even have to point out the ways these are broad generalizations, I'm going to be very disappointed. **And, I'm sure that you can see how hard it is for women, even feminists, to always judge which position a man is taking when he behaves certain ways.