Coming from a pushy girls’ school, notions of feminism have always been ingrained in my psyche, without ever explicitly making their presence felt.
With no boys around, it was a non-issue if we wanted to study ‘traditionally male’ subjects – if you were good at physics and IT, off to the labs you scurried. Those of us more adept at winding up the Classics department with our utter failure to grasp the ablative absolute before achieving 100% in several A-level papers did so. We were always led to believe could do what the hell we liked, and bugger anyone else’s opinion, whether that’s winning Olympic medals; writing classic children’s books or being married with babies by the age of 25 (I went to a school for serious overachievers. Quite what they make of anomalous little me, I dread to think).
The point was that we should make whichever choice would make us happy. That’s the brand of feminism that’s stuck: women shouldn’t be held back from doing anything simply because they’re women, and if they choose to take on a more ‘traditional’ role, then that’s okay too. End of. Any ‘feminist’ view I would never, ever subscribe to would seek to belittle men at the expense of women’s equality, because that’s not what it’s about.
So when I was pointed in the direction of an article of frankly ludicrous perspective in The Daily Telegraph the other day, I was incited to fury.
Some utterly eejit authors at the Psychology of Women Quarterly have declared that men holding open a door, or carrying a heavy bag of shopping, are indulging in acts of “benevolent sexism”. We’re to be horrified, apparently, by having a chap offer to do the driving, or show us affection: these are things that are “helping to create a culture of women being seen as the vulnerable sex and encouraging inequality and injustice”.
Oh, are they fuck.
They’re a display of basic manners and human courtesy. As far as I’m aware, men do those sorts of things for other men too (or at least, the ones in my life do). Hell, women do them for other women. It’s less about men being chivalrous towards women, and more about people being nice to each other.
And, quite honestly, I can’t see how men doing well-mannered things is something to be offended by: I very much doubt there’s ever a sexist slur implied when someone holds open the door, a driver lets you cross the road, or a nice man offers to help you with your bag. And if you are offended by that sort of thing, then frankly you need to get over yourself.
“God, all over the world,” The Writer vented as we discussed the article whilst walking down Carnaby Street later that night, “are people with real problems. One would presume the millions of women having their genitals mutilated, being denied basic rights, and dying of things like obstetric fistula would love an open door.”
A point rather emphatically made, maybe, but spot on nonetheless. There’s enough truly ghastly stuff happening to women for us all – men and women alike – to be really, properly angry about.
You can take your pick from the current male-female pay gap; equality in the workplace and the number of women in senior business roles; or the criminally low rate of conviction in rape cases. In some countries, it’s the right to drive a car. Or you can choose from any one of the hundred issues that are rather more basic: the right to safe and legal abortions; access to property, or basic health care, or education; trafficking; sex slavery; rape as a weapon…
Suddenly having a chap open a door doesn’t look so serious, does it?
So whilst I’d absolutely identify myself as a feminist, if I have a door held open for me; a chair pulled out; a bunch of flowers proffered, I’m not going to get crabby and ridiculous, or harp on about notions of oppression and sexism. I’m going to enjoy the gesture in the spirit in which it was intended; smile, say thank you.
And I’m going to be grateful for the fact that there are men around who’re well-mannered, kind, courteous enough to treat me in a way I welcome. Sexism it ain’t – but benevolence it just might be.