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Rant: Whatever happened to chivalry?
Or for that matter, plain old civility?
Really, what did happen to chivalry?* And it’s not just during these unrelenting Covid days, but I’ve been noticing it before that too. Although, I do think that the pandemic has brought a new feeling of “you can’t see me” and “I’m in my own awareness bubble” into our everyday lives.
And I’m not talking about the chivalry from the days of King Arthur and medieval knights in shining suits. I don’t want some random man throwing his coat down in a puddle so I can daintily step on it and not get my feet wet. Nor do I want him to slay a dragon for me, especially one that I’ve befriended and is only just minding his own business….
Who am I kidding? I’m waaaay too old for that to happen anyway. I remember the days of being whistled at or ogled on the street, or even smiled at for gosh sake. I’m not talking about that. And maybe chivalry is the wrong way to frame it because no woman I know wants to be treated like a damsel in distress.
I’m talking about basic consideration and it can be shown equally, by both men and women. But to be honest, it seems to me that many more men than women these days have forgotten how to behave in a civilized way.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been walking, either with Scoutie along a narrow snowy path or a wider sidewalk, when I’ve converged with a person of the opposite sex and it’s been moi who’s had to quickly step off to the side or worse, into the deep snow to let His Majesty by. It happened to me again the other morning. And he was coming towards us so quickly, with clearly no intention of stopping (no mask as we were outdoors, in the relative “wilds”), stepping away or giving us a wide berth, that I barely had time to get out of the way. And then, to add insult to injury, no “thank you”. What the heck is going on?
I have long felt that my fuse is getting shorter and shorter when I am met with such lack of consideration — to the point where I am <this far> from stopping the car, putting it in park, going over to the guy who’s been tailgating me for blocks (or just cut me off in the middle of an intersection) to say, “Excuse me. Is there some reason why you must sit on my bumper? Are you that intent on getting to where you’re going two seconds before anyone else, or do you drive this way ordinarily?” But I’ve done this already once and it did not end well so I know, logically, that it is not a good idea.
I have to say, that I’ve also been guilty of pulling aside on a narrow street, made narrower by giant snowbanks, to let an oncoming car pass by and then waved frantically as they go past me — as they aren’t even making eye contact let alone mouthing a “thank you” — yelling “YOU’RE WELCOME!” to the point where Scoutie is wondering what-the-hecko-is-going-on. I’ll try to use my inner voice next time, if just for her mental health alone.
First let me say, I know a lot of men who are civilized and who do behave considerately toward other human beings, male and female alike. But I am surprised by the sheer number of times I have been on the receiving end of this kind of inconsiderate male behaviour.
I am reminded of something I read about fairly recently about a woman’s experience with “man-spreading” on the subway. You can read it here. (And if you really want to be amused, you can watch a video that has men answer on the spot for their spatial narcissism as they ride on an actual subway here.) Both are actually quite funny. But you know what I mean: men sitting with legs spread out on a seat meant for two or three, so that someone who might be able to sit comfortably next to them instead has to squeeze in the space left or simply stand. A number of male commenters explained that it was not because of “male patriarchy” or “sexual dominance” that men do this, and they were quite indignant about it, but rather because of their sensitive private parts that apparently need space to be comfortable. Ok, I hear that. But do their private parts also need space on paths? And if we stayed with that explanation, then wouldn’t they want to also give their car (in which their private parts ride) space from my car, as in, not tailgate?
But let’s get real. The men I’ve experienced behaving this way are not young and inexperienced in the ways of the world. They have predominantly been older, and when I say that, I mean older than 35, often older than 45 and more. Old enough to know better. Why are they behaving this way?
I have often heard it said that women are born to accommodate. And they do. They accommodate fetuses that turn into children (of course not all women accommodate fetuses; I can only imagine what it’s like having a life growing inside of you … as I’ve only experienced a meal that feels like it’s growing inside of me, that I wish I hadn’t eaten…but that’s another kind of thing — no human children here). Your life is not entirely your own while you’re pregnant, nor is it after you’ve given birth. I imagine there is usually a strong impulse to protect, enrich and accommodate that life in everything one does. And then, beyond children, women have traditionally been the ones to accommodate men — in all ways. So we’re used to stepping aside, to putting ourselves on hold, to being secondary or to provide the support — and even if that support is what allows that man to succeed beyond us, it is not recognized as such. This is not new.
Is my experience on the path or in the car a symptom of a darker truth? The feeling of intimidation, invisibility, of my very existence being inconsequential…that I must move or else I’ll be run over. Or that I will simply be pushed forward, pushed aside or run down. The minimizing and trivializing of women has been something that has been fed throughout centuries, mainly by powerful men, and then adopted by most men, in order to keep women in their place. That place being one of subordination and silence. And, as a consequence of this inequality, there have been innumerable champions of women’s power for as long as time itself.
I thank my sister for drawing Mary Beard to my attention and as a result I listened to her lecture entitled Women in Power, on the London Review of Books Youtube channel. Do you know the story of Medusa? If you google her, you will find a lot of details about her, but only after she has become a snake-haired monster. What had transpired to make her this way is often left out, because really, who the heck cares? (WE do!) But further googling might allow you to find this information:
Medusa was one of the three Gorgons, daughters of Phorcys and Ceto, sisters of the Graeae, Echidna, and Ladon – all dreadful and fearsome beasts. A beautiful mortal, Medusa was the exception in the family, until she incurred the wrath of Athena, either due to her boastfulness or because of an ill-fated love affair with Poseidon. Transformed into a vicious monster with snakes for hair, she was killed by Perseus, who afterward used her still potent head as a weapon, before gifting it to Athena.
Wait? “Her boastfulness” or “Ill-fated love affair with Poseidon”? How about this instead, from Ovid’s own hand in his Metamorphoses:
Medusa once had charms; to gain her love
A rival crowd of envious lovers strove.
They, who have seen her, own, they ne'er did trace
More moving features in a sweeter face.
Yet above all, her length of hair, they own,
In golden ringlets wav'd, and graceful shone.
Her Neptune saw, and with such beauties fir'd,
Resolv'd to compass, what his soul desir'd.
In chaste Minerva's fane, he, lustful, stay'd,
And seiz'd, and rifled the young, blushing maid.
The bashful Goddess turn'd her eyes away,
Nor durst such bold impurity survey;
But on the ravish'd virgin vengeance takes,
Her shining hair is chang'd to hissing snakes.
These in her Aegis Pallas joys to bear,
The hissing snakes her foes more sure ensnare,
Than they did lovers once, when shining hair.
As Beard rightly says Medusa was raped by Neptune/Poseidon in Athena/Minerva’s “fane”/temple, as he was tempted by her youthful beauty (her fault), and then as punishment, the sexually ambiguous and chaste (male concoction here) Athena turned the “ravished virgin” Medusa into a monster (her fault), with snakes as hair, able to kill anyone who should even look at her. How unfair is that?
And did you even know this was a thing before the 2016 election?
Of course I won’t go down any further into this rabbit hole for now (read more about the Medusa and Hilary/Pelosi/Merkel/et al comparison here - it’s absolutely fascinating) but I do find it interesting how the power women may weld, filtered through how they are viewed by men, needs to be squelched by said men at all costs. Even if that means the victim needs to be punished. And this isn’t ancient history.
So next time I’m walking down a narrow path, and a man expects me to step away, I will steady my gaze, imagine my hair is full of snakes, and walk straight toward him. I will not step aside — he will.
* I am keenly aware that there are a lot of terrible, life-threatening and genuinely grievous things happening in our world today and in the scheme of things, and my giving up the path for an oncoming man is not one of them. But I do believe that treating others with consideration is one of the small things that we can do to: a) make sure we build enough good karma for ourselves so that we don’t end up coming back as a toaster; b) contribute to the atmosphere of positive ions in the air; and c) to make someone else’s day not suck. So, I hope you don’t mind indulging me.