Thursday, January 26, 2012

Chivalry? Thanks, But No Thanks.

This issue has been cropping up for a long time, but it was brought freshly to mind today when an overeager teenage bagger swept up my two small bags of groceries and tried to make off with them. He certainly hadn’t done that for the four bags of the customer before me, in fact, he hadn’t even offered to take those bags out. I can only assume this is because the last customer was a man.
First let me say that I get that most of you are being gentlemen. I applaud the good manners and respect that we can show each other with a few standard phrases and actions, but it’s long past time for an update, and perhaps a few thoughts on why women say ‘thanks, but no thanks’.
I have often gotten disgruntled looks for refusing ‘help’ from men when lugging stuff up & down stairs, doing yard work, carrying groceries, etc.  I am surprised by how frequently am pressured by both men and women to get or submit to ‘help’ from men, and I am left feeling I’ve been rude not to take assistance I don’t want or need. Why turn away a friendly gesture?
  1. because I don’t actually need the assistance. I am healthy and in fairly good shape and doing things for myself helps me stay that way.
  2. the world being what it is today, any offer of help to a woman from an unknown male is going to be greeted with suspicion by any safety-conscious female. 
  3. many of the offers feel vaguely disparaging.
How can an offer of help be disparaging? Sometimes it is the context, after all, would you ask a man checking his oil or re-threading a weed-whacker if he needed help? It can be the tone, the manner, the words, but so many offers of or agreement to help sound an awful lot like ‘let someone more qualified handle that’, and then I am left ticked off by what should have been a friendly gesture, not a patronizing act of belittlement. If it seems like I’m being oversensitive, you might want to keep in mind that every single feminine word is used as an insult when men are speaking to each other. I gotta say, that doesn’t feel good.
On the occasions when I could use a hand with a two person job, I feel an awkward hesitation in asking men for help, especially in the workplace. Not only have my requests often met with boastful proclamations of superiority thinly frosted with humor, the ‘help’ too frequently turns into the man trying to take leadership of the task. Needing help to accomplish something doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t have the abilities or knowledge to carry it out, only that it requires more than one person to do so. Why is it that men can ‘pitch in’, ‘be a team player’, or ‘lend a hand’ for other men, but women are being ‘rescued’? I would dearly love to know, because though I have a thousand ways of politely saying ‘no thank you’,  ‘yes please’ can feel like a gender failure.
All that being said, please and thank you never go out of style, and I’ll keep letting you open doors for me, but don’t be surprised when I open them for you too.