[Update : French version here.]
Imagine that when you were a kid, there was this relative of yours that always gave you crappy presents for every birthday and every Christmas. (Well, imagine OR remember.) Every friggin time, it was a CD of a band you really didn’t care for, an ugly sweater or a book you already got. And there was that one time when you frowned and were like “oh…” when you opened it, and then your parents gave you that big lecture about you being ungrateful, and “they were really trying to be nice”, and you should make an effort and say thanks - and mean it too! So, from that day on, year after year, crappy present after crappy present, you put on a big fake smile, gave them a polite fake thank you and a good fake hug. And it made you feel like shit, because, although it wasn’t that big a deal to get a crappy present, you hated having to put on this hypocrite act.
Well, that’s how chivalry feels like from a woman’s perspective.
Actually, wait, no: it’s worse!
Chivalry has another name: it’s called benevolent sexism. It was coined by psychologists in 1996, and defined as “a paternalistic attitude towards women that idealizes them affectionately”. And you know what? It has more negative influence on women’s performance than hostile sexism. Yep. That’s right. I couldn’t believe it myself when I first read it, but then I realized it actually totally made sense. If someone says “hey bitch, go back to the kitchen and make me a sandwich!”, it’s gonna make me mad, sure, but it won’t make me doubt myself for one second. On the other hand, if they say “oh, wait, sweetheart, let me do that for you, I don’t want to see you get hurt, this is a man’s job”, and if I hear this type of thing over and over again (from men and women, because, yes, women can internalise sexism and pull the “man’s job" crap), I might end up thinking, that, well, that nice person may have a point - I might suck at that particular task, and why not let the big man handle it, he’ll probably do a better job than me. And if I do it myself nevertheless, I won’t be as confident as I was ; and if I let him help me or do it all by himself altogether, I won’t be trained to do it by myself for the next time.
I know, you’re doing that because you’re nice, because you’re polite, because you want to help, and it’s hard to admit that we fuck up, especially when it’s done with good intentions. But you know what they say about good intentions and the road to hell.
“So what can I do? Can’t I act nice without being accused of sexism? Do I have to ignore women and act like a jerk?”
Of course not. But before you put on your shiny armor and jump to the rescue, ask yourself a couple questions.
1.Would I do that, in the exact same situation, for a man? Switching places on the sidewalk to protect your girlfriend from a potential car crash, for example… would you do that for a male friend? If it’s obvious that they would go: “dude, WTF are you doing?!”, then let go. And if you think “yes, I would totally do that for a man too!”, be consistent and really do it for men too.
2.Does this person need and want my help? Sometimes, it can be obvious that they probably need it (a pregnant woman may need to sit down, an old lady might need a hand to cross the road, a girl carrying a suitcase bigger than herself could use your help to climb those stairs), and sometimes you can’t be sure. And, as to whether they want it or not, let me tell you that you can almost never be sure if you don’t do that simple thing: ask them. Because maybe that girl takes some pride in carrying her suitcase by herself, maybe that pregnant woman gets off at the next stop, and maybe that old lady is going to a marathon.
Never say “let me help you”, always ask “can I help you?” And if they say no, then, don’t help them. It’s that simple!
“Well, she says it’s OK, but I can tell she’d really like me to help. She’s only being polite.”
Well, maybe you’re right. You can insist just a little bit, with a warm smile - “Are you sure? I really don’t mind!" - and not in a patronizing manner - "I think you really should let me help you!" - but if they still say no, then by all means,take no for an answer. And please, don’t give them the “as you wish, ungrateful bitch" eye.
Because what sucks about the crappy-gifters, is that they don’t care about you, about what you like and what you want. They didn’t take the time to ask you. Their gifts are empty gestures (“He’s a teenager, I’m sure he’s a [insert the name of a band you hate] fan. That will do.”), and he probably gives crappy gifts to all the kids in the family, not just you. It sucks when people think they know what’s good for you better than you do. No matter how nice and well-intentioned they are. On the other hand, having what you want and what you need acknowledged and respected feels GREAT. And it’s the best way to be REALLY nice to people - not just women.
See? It’s not that complicated, and maybe you already act exactly like that. Then, congratulations, it’s not chivalry, it’s not benevolent sexism, it’s just common courtesy.
PS: I’m French, I wrote this in English because I wanted to answer to guys posting about chivalry on the feminist tag lately. I hope I didn’t make too many mistakes.
striking mine because you probably aren’t right and you have no place to insist, even gently. people seriously need to understand to respect ‘no’ the first time, every time, without prodding or attempting to convince you otherwise. that is coercion, the same as it would be in any other situation, and defeats the purpose of acknowledging their autonomy in deciding whether you help them. don’t pretend you know better what someone else wants or needs. period.
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