Sunday, 7 July 2013

Men's chivalry

I am itching to do a series of posts that show pictures of what I saw while on holiday, but I'm not ready yet. So another topic entirely.

Ladies of a Certain Age (in my own case, sixty-one) have traditionally been regarded as physically vulnerable and mentally second-rate. Literally losing it, going ga-ga, persons to hush and tidy away. In reality, I know of no older female person like me who isn't something of a fearless and canny warrior if need arises, and would stand no nonsense whatever from anyone - young or old - male or female - who was inclined to mess her around, or dismiss her as a fussy old dear with fluff for a brain.

Maybe, somewhere, there is a secret army of pleasant, refined, but fluttery old ladies with flowery hats and flowery dresses who mentally inhabit a 1930s or 1940s world, when Respectable Women Of Education And Distinction daintily took tea and cakes on shady lawns, and discussed the Important Things That Young Girls Ought To Know And Care About, But Clearly Do Not.

Maybe, here and there, popping up at ghastly scenes of murder, a sharp-eyed but doddery Miss Marple attempts to assist the Police.

And I am certain that there are dreamy, starry-eyed women (probably of my generation) who would still like to go limp in the arms of a rough-mannered movie he-man; or be carried over the nuptual threshhold, with legs dangling helplessly, by a tall swaggering lusty chap with a gleam in his eye.

All these are stereotypes of what a woman should be, with the common element of ineffectuality and helplessness. The real-life women I come across are on another planet.

That said, social manners, conventions and expectations die hard. In some cases that's clearly standing in the way of practical equality between the sexes. In other cases it's totally charming, and I for one am unashamed in enjoying any old-fashioned chivalry and courtesy that comes my way.  

For men's deference to a woman is certainly not dead - at least not to a well-dressed, well-spoken, pleasant-seeming woman of some social status. I say this because men are polite to me, and did actually leap to my assistance several times while I was away on holiday.

Well, now, I do make damned sure that I am always neatly clad, that I speak well, and that I smile nicely; that I cultivate a vague air of educated authority, as if I were perhaps a retired headmistress - although I temper this with a slight ditsiness, to indicate that I Might Need Help (which may indeed be true); and I can often suggest status, or at least a comfortable family background, by having Fiona close by, or by letting the red dot of Leica show when holding my camera. I also make damned sure that even a man of modest height can look down into my face, by where and how I stand, or by my sitting if necessary, and in that way I can trigger the same responses in him that a cute little woman of five foot three can.

It really works. At any rate, chaps did, as I say, step up and offered their affable selves in a generations-old ritual, one in which I let them show what they can do in return for a charming thank-you, a dazzling smile, and as much pleasant conversation as they might feel advisable with their wives watching.

It's not about me, nor what I really am, nor what my true character is: it's about whom I seem to be, and whether I will play the game. Played properly, we both get a big feel-good glow. It's a social contract, duly fulfilled to the satisfaction of both sides.

But of course my role, no matter what I can actually accomplish on my own, is that of Feisty But Flimsy Solo Girl Who Needs A Man's Help. I usually acquiesce in this pantomime. But I can imagine lots of women who wouldn't stomach it, and would criticise me for perpetuating a subsidiary social position for women.

They have a point, don't they?

Which lets me conclude by asserting that I'm no capital-F feminist. I do claim complete equality of opportunity and legal status, and I want no position barred to me. But in my personal world-view men and women have different social roles, and different behaviour-patterns. What then is 'a typically feminine thing to do'? Impossible to define: but I think everyone knows it when they see it.

1 comment:

  1. What do you expect Lucy? After all you are a woman.....

    Shirley Anne x

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