The term ‘chauvinism’ is thrown around a lot these days. It justifiably refers to anything from demeaning, gender focussed comments, to the pay gap, to sexual harassment. However, as modern feminism has evolved, other forms of conduct have crept into the definition. Things like a man giving up his seat for a woman on the train. Or opening doors for her. Or paying for her meal. Pre-1970, this behaviour would have been classed as chivalry (or even good manners). Nowadays, women consider it chauvinistic.
The argument in favour of including this behaviour under the chauvinism umbrella is sound. In an age where women are still trying to assert their financial independence, of course we might bristle if a man wants to pay for us. Of course the little voice in our heads screams “patriarchy!” when a man opens a door for us, or gives up his seat. Aren’t our own abilities sufficient? This all seems like a no-brainer – at least on the surface.
Here’s the thing: when I am standing on the train, I get irritated if a guy doesn’t at least offer me his seat, especially if he’s younger than me. When I’m in the company of male friends, I expect them to open doors for me (which, invariably, they do, because my guy friends are awesome). And if a guy has asked me out (I realise I may be shooting myself in the foot here), I get very offended if he doesn’t pay for my meal, coffee, movie ticket, fro-yo, whatever.
This isn’t because I’m old fashioned, or because I expect men to take care of me. It’s certainly not because I have a superiority complex. It’s because men have a wonderful primal instinct to protect and to provide. I’ve observed it many times. According to author, actor, and television host Steve Harvey in his book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man: “Remember what drives a man; real men do what they have to do to make sure their people are taken care of, clothed, housed, and reasonably satisfied, and if they’re doing anything less than that, they’re not men.” This statement may seem a little extreme, but Harvey has a point. Men who care for you will act on this primal instinct; men who don’t, won’t.
I have a huge amount of faith in the male species. I thrive in the company of men. I would not be the person I am today were it not for all the wonderful men in my life. I see the way they act around women. If they want to impress a girl, they’re always helping her with her coat, or buying her things, or opening the car door for her; anything to make her existence that little bit more pleasant. It’s not because they’re manipulating her, or don’t think she can do all those things for herself. It’s because, well – that’s just what they do. They wouldn’t consider doing anything else. They are surrendering to their base mentality; to protect and to provide.
This is not to say that women should expect men to bend over backwards for their every need. However, if you’re out with a guy and he is INSISTING on doing all those old-school chivalrous things, let him. He’ll get a kick out of it. It’s a sign that he’s trying really, really, REALLY hard. Don’t cut him down or make him feel stupid for offering. Don’t insist that you’re an independent woman who can pay her own damn way. Let’s set chauvinism aside and consider chivalry a sign of care, rather than an insult.
Image via Executivestyle.com.au