During the last few days, something seemed to bother me. A few months ago, my cousin left for Japan to pursue her higher studies and left her NGO responsibilities with me. As a social science student, I was definitely more than eager to have gained the chance of actually contributing to the society, more so because the main agenda was about patriarchy and chivalry. I sure did come across different personalities but as an aware woman, I did notice that the men were nothing less than ‘chivalrous’. Whenever we walked on the streets, inevitably I would be pushed off toward the pavement or guarded by their masculine arms! Or they would snatch the placard right out of my hands when we were on a walk. As much as I wanted to believe that things were different in the organisation, I gradually understood that chivalry, however harmless, still exists.
But there is a difference. Chivalry, in its original term is far more intense. Originating in the medieval era, this was an ideal quality that was to be found in knights or princes. Presently, the effect of the word has faded considerably. It is more of a ‘courteous’ behaviour. So, it can be named as a more progressive concept. More to say, the times have changed. Women today have vast opportunities to prove themselves than they ever did, and if barred from that, there is no denying that that the concept of independence has been incorporated in us deeply. I do think of myself as an independent woman and so do most of us nowadays. But admittedly most of us don’t leave the chance of being felt special, for example, getting up on a bus and magically finding a seat or having the chair or door pulled out FOR us. But what needs to be cleared out is that there is NO binding obligation for men to do so anymore. For all you men out there, this should be a wakeup call for all of you. The generation is far more progressive and radical, and there is no need for behaving in that specific conduct. That being said, of course nobody minds simple acts of courtesy. But it should be for the sole reason that men do it out of genuine care or sincerity.
As for women, we must also be more tolerant in such occurrences. If we are always aggressively fighting for women’s rights and how their capability matters in the modern era, then why do such actions mean so much to us even now? I have a few friends who are actually quite radical in their approach toward women’s rights and I have always seen them to be fighting to be taken more seriously. Surprisingly, at the same time, they get quite agitated when they don’t find their doors being opened for them. Then starts their rambling about how there has been a severe slippage of respect towards women in the 21st Century. According to me, this is quite a contradicting attitude, especially considering the times that we live today. If as women we are capable of great things like being a mountaineer or a scientist or an actor or a singer, then standing on the bus with other men shouldn’t be an irritant.
So maybe the problem runs deeper than that. Chivalry, as I said earlier, is not a new concept. In fact, it is so deep rooted that today it has become more of an ‘innate’ quality rather than an acquired one. Men have been told so many times repeatedly about this conduct, that even though they believe in female’s rights, they would act chivalrous in front of their female companions. Maybe they mean it, maybe they don’t. Women too have become so cultured to the fact of being almost pampered that the absence of it seems to be an absence of respect. But the fact still remains that this harmless chivalry is nothing but inequality hiding behind the curtains because deep down there must have been a feeling felt by men that women NEED TO BE or REQUIRE TO BE catered by men. Why is there this feeling? Simply because women are still considered to be the fragile, weak and docile sex.
This again raises the question of whether we should completely do away with the concept of needing protection. Coming back to the discussion on medieval ages, the knights were primarily supposed to be in aid of women BECAUSE they needed that protection. Realistically, we have to admit, that women are more subjected to atrocious and heinous crimes like rape or domestic violence. In these areas, yes, there is a need for protection because the situation doesn’t remain in our hands anymore. It affects a far bigger society. But if there is no health or physical assistance required, then I find no reason of being helped without even asking. There is no need for the constant ringing of ‘women and children’ along all lines of dangers. As humans, our lives carry equal weight and an immediate danger does not favour the women any more than men. Had the demarcation been on the lines of age or special vulnerability, it would have made more sense. But here, the distinction appears to be on the lines of genders.
Finally, if we are commenting upon the simple gestures of courtesy, then opening a door for someone seems nothing but nice. But there is no hard and fast rule that women should always be at the receiving ends of such acts. If a man can pick up something I’ve dropped, then I CAN do the same. All of us are capable of doing nice things. It might be a hit on their masculinity but if women can work towards equal service, then men too can work on their attitude towards being helped by us women. A mutual understanding might help, if not improve, the situation that we are dealing with.