Monday, September 19, 2011

In defense of chivalry

I like things to have names. I like things that might not ordinarily have names to be named, because then they cease to be just things. Like my wallet is always named Wally, because any thing that spends such an extensive relationship in my close care deserves a little consideration, don't you think? So my car obviously has a name. Her name is Midge. She's quite a broad. Large, gruff, and don't mess with her. She's a Dodge Magnum, wide enough to hold three car seats and fast enough to feel good to drive.
So my Midge, my beloved, sweet, paid-off Midge, she's got a little growl in the bottom of her usual thrum. If she were a human woman, we'd wonder if she's suffering from fall allergies, because she's sounding a little husky. She's either feeling playfully seductive or threatening to drop her transmission in the middle of New Hampshire Avenue; I don't know...I can't tell about these things.

So Midge's huskiness leads me to thinking of the lovely husband, because I know he'll call the mechanic for me. This is a good thing about the lovely husband: he is willing to use the telephone.

The thing about that is, that's good old-fashioned chivalry. It might not look like it, but he's being kind for the sake of kindness towards me because he know I have, ahem, let's call it a strong aversion to the telephone. True fact #1: we switched to voicemail about six months ago and I still don't know the call-in number or the password. True fact #2: my iPhone is mildly broken. It doesn't ring when I get a call. I don't care because I, ahem, am averse to incoming calls. No warning? No, thank you. But I don't think I can text the mechanic.

I have been thinking about chivalry recently, and how I'm trying to re-orient my thinking on the subject. I thought of it for a long time as quaint but unnecessary; it's so nice that you want to make a point to open the door for me, I guess, but I really can open it myself. And what's so strange to me is how it exists as a one-sided institution. The man makes a point of being kind to the woman. Where have we ever made a woman's kindness toward a man into a whole societal value like that? Nowhere, of course. Because history doesn't support it.

I realized this watching little G wrestle with his big sisters. In reality, he's only about three pounds less than L, and he's a brute (he takes after Midge). We'll have to teach him to be gentle with women, beginning with his sisters. We'll have to teach him to be kind towards women, particularly because he's big and strong and could hurt them. And that's the real point of chivalry, isn't it? It's some nonverbal language: I'm shaped like a brute, but by my actions I'm telling you that you're safe with me.

I was so wrapped up in partly-formed concerns about the conflict between chivalry and feminism. I think women have a pact to uphold in acceptance of chivalry, if we're going to recognize it as a kindness and not a revocation of feminism: I'll accept your kindness gratefully, as long as you know and I know that I could do the thing you're doing for me. I could, and can, open my own door. I could, and have, change(d) a tire. I could, and have, take(n) out the garbage.

But I'll admit that it is quite nice when I don't have to do those things for myself. And I do have a tendency to over-complicate things. Luckily we don't have to worry about me teaching these concepts to G. He can learn them by watching his daddy.

And they can have their first lesson by calling the mechanic for me.



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