Is chivalry an obsolete concept? “A few thousand years into civilisation and we still haven’t figured out how men and women should relate to each other” is Nighat’s first reaction as she rolls her eyes. A born and bred Pakistani now living independently in Canada, she feels that women really need to be very clear on what they need from men.

“Why expect all this door closing and door opening business from them? One needs to be intelligent — I can open and close doors myself, but if there is something that requires physical strength then I’d be quite happy to ask for help. But it wouldn’t be acceptable that a man changing my flat tyre (chivalry) could walk into a restaurant and order my food for me — (chauvinism).”

Where did chivalry originate? Way back in the days of knights and fair maidens. Hence the idea of chivalry is historically rooted in qualities expected of an ideal knight: honour, courage, justice, courtesy and readiness to help the weak. Is it an obsolete concept today? Seema feels we can apply modern meaning to this. “Today we can see chivalry as the courteous behaviour of a man towards women. If this courtesy comes from a belief that women are weak and need help, it can be offensive and derogatory. But if it is offered as an appreciation of a woman’s value and worth, then it is beautiful.”

Saira endorses this view with a philosophical air, “I believe that chivalry and chauvinism are totally different and chivalry can’t lead to chauvinism. If a man is a true gentleman he cannot turn into a chauvinist. However, these kind of men are really hard to find. Actually it’s not only men; we are degenerating as a people. Society has failed to produce good humans. Yes, I don’t want the label of equality; both genders need to be respected for their separate roles. I’m not an advocate of equal rights, I want the rights of a free individual who has the authority to take decisions and implement them. I want an organised and civilised society where everyone stands in a queue, but when I’m with someone close I’d love to be treated like a lady.”

And what do the gentlemen say? The views are mixed. “Ladies First’ is something we are brought up with, hence when we do any of the gentlemanly stuff it is out of respect, not a need to dominate,” says Hammad. Hashim however holds the opposite view. “If women ask for equal rights then there should be no jumping lines, or holding doors.”

“Of cloaks and puddles”, says a tongue-in-cheek Jamil, “it’s best to keep out of ‘puddling’ situations where you are testing the guy. What if that’s his only coat? Or he is saving the coat for his marriage and is really not interested in getting it all dirty?”

Iftikhar, holding a senior management position, feels that expecting any kind of special favour in the corporate world is a big no. “If women want equal pay then they need to learn to work shoulder to shoulder with men. I can understand a female colleague asking for support in something which is ‘but obvious’ like lifting something heavy or asking for my help if she fears for her security in some way; opening doors or pulling chairs is a thing of the past; I’d do it for an elderly person — male or female — but do not see why I need to do this for a female who is a peer.”

So how do women come to terms with this perplexing question? Can we demand equal rights on one hand and then expect men to still open doors for us and give up their seats for us? Does that mean we are confused and subservient?

Writer Noah Johnson sheds some logical light, “The argument that accepting a seat from a man is accepting subservience can be likened to the implication that taking a free sample at the grocery store means the customer is unable to afford his or her own food. The hard truth of the matter is that women are only as subjugated to men as they want to be. If gender equality is so frail that the very act of walking through a door held open by a man could bring about its total collapse, then it was never meant to be.”

Hence, painting everything in the light of gender discrimination — an idea propagated by pop culture feminists — is kind of getting boring. Thinking more in terms of ‘mutual’ common courtesy and kindness is a much better bet. So go ahead. Do something refreshing. Open that door. Doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman. Or whether the recipient of your courtesy is a man or woman. We are wired differently — physically, emotionally, and psychologically. That’s nothing to fight about. And courtesy and kindness will go a long way in easing the battle of the sexes and helping us celebrate the differences.

2 thoughts on “Powerful Women – Chivalry Vs Chauvinism

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