Before I start writing this piece, I must confess that I am extremely nervous about treading into “dangerous” territory. However, I must also accept that I just can’t stop myself from writing on this topic and would therefore have to take the risk, knowing very well that I might have to face dire consequences! Talking about this “sensitive” issue is no less than opening a Pandora’s Box, where so many controversies just overshadow simple and basic facts.
It so happened that the other day, I was traveling by a DTC bus which stopped at a bus stand and there, I saw a lady enter the bus. I instantly got up and offered my seat to her. She smiled at me as she graciously took the seat. My chest swelled up at the very thought of being so chivalrous and pleasing a lady.
However, on another day, I was forced to vacate a seat because I was sitting in the Women’s Section of the bus. This was where my confusion started. Firstly, I didn’t know whether it was chivalry, because chivalry means men having a courteous behaviour towards women which is not forced upon, but is more like a sign of showing respect. I definitely respected her right to that seat but I am not sure if I had the same level of respect for that lady after that incident.
This brings me to my second point, if it wasn’t chivalry, then was it feminism? Before I build up on my discussion (or confusion), I would want to delve into the true meaning of the term “feminism”(for my sake or the reader’s). To put it very simply, feminism is the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men. This means that women should be treated equal to men in all aspects of life.
This makes me even more confused because when that lady demanded that seat, did she already assume that she was the “weaker sex” and thus needed that “reservation”? If she were a feminist (which all women are!!), then she would have believed in the “equal rights theory” and wouldn’t have demanded that seat since by doing so she is also respecting my right to that seat. So what feminism has actually done here is that it has not only proclaimed women as the “weaker sex” but has also killed that sense of chivalry in me, because it was imposed (or maybe she just wanted the seat because it was reserved and she had an opportunity to it, and that I’m just overanalyzing the whole situation since I have nothing better to do).
When chivalry becomes compulsory because of feminism, the entire notion of the former dies out. While some feminists believe that chivalry is a part of feminism, because you can’t uphold women’s rights without showing respect to them. I, however, believe that it is a bit ironical if it is forced upon. As I said earlier, you can force me to respect her rights, but through this act you can’t force me to respect her. So isn’t the entire concept of feminism a bit flawed? Having made this statement, I believe I have placed my life in jeopardy.
It seems our “attempts” to be chivalrous can be interpreted as attempts to assert superiority and drive women to an inferior position in our polity and society, which again goes against the entire notion of feminism. To offer acts of chivalry, men must consider women to be a “weaker sex”, at least this is what a few women think.
Coming back to my confusion, are chivalry and feminism mutually exclusive or is chivalry a subset of feminism? Even after putting so much thought into it, staring at this computer for nearly two hours collecting facts, I fail to come up with a convincing answer. Some women find it nice to have the car door opened for them, some are offended by it, and some expect it.
Having said all this, I would want to make another “perplexing” statement – I am a feminist. After reading this, some people might think that I’m either really confused or this is a dire attempt to save my life which I earlier placed in jeopardy. However, I’m a feminist who believes that women should get equal rights in society, which they haven’t received in the past. I believe that because of the existing structure in society even if women need certain reservations, it is justified. What I don’t believe in is that women should exploit this opportunity to degrade men by taking advantage of situations in the name of feminism.
What each and every man or woman needs to do is to search for the true meaning of feminism and not follow a warped idea of it, where respect comes not from fear, but from the heart, where the rights of a woman are upheld without compromising the rights of a man.
I personally feel that these offers of courtesy should not be seen as degrading and that gender equality should have no influence on our use of common courtesy. Chivalry is not in direct conflict with woman’s equality as long as equality represents equal opportunities and not physical equivalency. If reservations are required to provide equal opportunities to women, then so be it. Would accepting this “help” render women inferior to men? This brings us back to where we started.
But even in the midst of all this confusion, I will still be that chivalrous boy that my parents brought up. I will still open a door, vacate a seat, help the ladies with their luggage, pay for the first date (only the first one mind you!!), stand up when a lady enters a room, irrespective of what the other sex thinks of it. Chivalry is definitely not dead, but it’s hidden somewhere in the midst of all these controversies. In the end I have to say that I cannot rest my case. I want to, but cannot.
Samarjit Singh Khanna
[image by quinn.anya]