Thursday, April 19, 2012

An Offbeat and a Gentleman

Now that's what I call gentlemanly behavior.

Pride and Prejudice

This picture just popped up on Facebook the other day, and it's caused me to ponder some things that have been bouncing around abstractly in my head for a while now.

These musings may betray my truly abiding ignorance of the male mind, or at least my abiding ignorance of modern courtship. But here's my thought process:

This woman decided to wear four-inch heels on this particular night. I assume she owns flats, but she weighed the pros and cons and decided that the heels were the way to go.

The heels proved difficult and/or painful to walk in. She knew this would happen, unless she's never worn heels before (in which case this is a pretty ambitious pair of starter shoes).

Seeing her discomfort, her date removed his sensible slip-on sneakers and graciously offered them to her.

Date walked home in his socks.

This is, indeed, a chivalrous move on the part of this man. (For those of you who are going to get after me for it, I'm using 'chivalrous' in the Victorian sense here, not the medieval sense. If he were chivalrous in the medieval sense, her shoes would be the least of her problems.) How very kind and self-sacrificing of him.

But what was she thinking?

This woman . . . a competent, modern adult woman . . . chose her shoes of her own free will. She knew the shoes came with consequences. Perhaps she thought, "It'll be okay. I'm tough. I can handle it." In which case, her date's insistence on proffering his own shoes implies: Those shoes were a stupid decision. You've gotten yourself into a situation you can't handle. You are not tough enough to cope with this, no matter what you think. And she has to walk home feeling like an idiot for 'making' him go shoe-less for her comfort.

Maybe what she was thinking was: "He's such a nice guy. I'm sure that, when my feet get tired, he'll lend me his shoes/call me a cab/carry me." This is just manipulative. She's going to make this guy walk all over town in his stocking feet, wrecking a pair of socks, because she wanted to wear cute heels? She expects this level of pampering from her date? In this situation, the question is: why is such a nice guy dating such a self-absorbed priss?

To be fair, maybe the walking wasn't part of the plan when she picked out her shoes. Perhaps one of those things happened . . . keys locked in a car or the Trax skipping their stop or some other act of God . . . that necessitated this unexpected cross-town hike. If this is what happened, then it is a cute picture. Yaay for chivalry!

So this guy could be thinking I saved the day! and actually did save the day, or could be thinking I saved the day! when the day was not in need of any saving, or could be thinking This is really uncomfortable, and probably dangerous . . . why didn't she wear something actually designed for walking in? I don't know which it is . . . I wasn't there, and I'm not a guy. Maybe a guy would never think such a thing. Beats me.

So what I might be getting at is that I'm uncomfortable with both ends of the 'chivalry' spectrum . . . men saving women who didn't particularly need or want saving, and women deliberately putting themselves in circumstances that will necessitate rescue.

Let's look at another example: luggage. I'm a pretty light packer. My honored parents taught me never to travel with more than I could carry for a block at a dead run. So when I was on my mission in Korea, I brought a superbackpack, a wheeled regular backpack, and my shoulder bag. A lot, but not too much for me to carry competently for a mile or more.

Elders were always trying to carry my bags, and it kind of annoyed me, particularly when I had to physically beat them off of my stuff. I assume their motivation was the desire to be gentlemanly, like the photo above, but somehow all I could think was "Hey, I know how much I can carry and I packed accordingly. I'm not dumb enough to overpack by accident, and I'm not manipulative enough to overpack on the assumption that I can make the elders carry all my crap." What made it worse was that I did know both kinds of sisters: ones who couldn't fathom reducing their luggage load, never considering that it would have to be carried, and ones who didn't bother to reduce the luggage load because 'that's what elders are for'."

Sometimes elders would ask, "Do you need a hand with any of that?" and I could say "No, thanks, I've got it," and everything was fine. They were polite and considerate, I was a competent adult, everybody was happy.

And on one memorable occasion, I did need help. A combination of transfers and moves meant that I and several other sisters had to hike a mile with more baggage than could reasonably be carried by four human beings. (For the record: I was carrying my own crap and then some, so this situation was not my fault. Point of pride.) And when the elders called to ask, "Hey, it's getting late, the bus will be leaving soon . . . do you sisters need some help?" I could tell them, "Yes, actually, we do need some help. Please come rescue us." And they did. They got to ride in and save the day, because that day genuinely needed saving. Nobody had to be condescending, and nobody had to be manipulative. And we all made it to the bus on time.

I know there are some things, like opening car doors and offering jackets, that are sort of expected of men in my culture. But I've never been comfortable with them. I can open my own doors, and if I wanted a jacket, I should have brought one. These gestures, however well-meant, convey to me either the implication that I'm not competent to handle my own life, or that I'm so high-maintenance that I expect others to do for me what I can do for myself. Neither assumption is particularly flattering. Does this make me a rabid crazy feminist? I don't know. Maybe.

But what about when I'm stranded by the side of the freeway in the middle of a cold snowy night because my parents' car has died? The man who crawls out of his nice warm bed to come get me and take me home is a gentleman indeed. (Thanks again, Brother Stokes.) What about when I have to move four big heavy wooden benches from Beaux Arts down to the plage? The man who asks "Need a hand?" and grabs the other end of the bench . . . not the whole thing, but the other end . . . is a man I'm pleased and proud to know. (All my Y-chromosome-bearing Lac du Bois colleagues . . . you know who you are.)

I'm sure I don't speak for Womankind at large with any of these musings . . . I just felt like I needed to articulate something that's been nagging at me, personally, for a long time. Maybe I'm misjudging my fellow women. Maybe I'm misjudging men. Maybe I'm way out of line, and am being way too touchy about common courtesy. But that's what went spiraling through my brain when that picture popped up on my Facebook feed.

Thanks for listening.


  1. My question is...
    Why is he wearing slip-on sneakers and white socks on a date? A date to which HIS date is wearing heels and a skirt?

    True gentleman? Doesn't dress like one!

  2. Seems on the money to me. We're in that awkward transition phase between an era when women were made helpless by culture (and fashion- hello corsets and hoop skirts), and a new era when we are trying to be equals. If we are supposed to be as competent as men, we can't rely on traditions that treat us like glass. Without putting a value on either one, it's still contradictory to want it both ways.

  3. Two comments:
    1) Her legs are long. Giving her his shoes, while 'chivalrous' insofar as he's tolerating the foot pain that she isn't, he gets the added benefit of now being taller than, or at least as tall as his date. Judging from her legs and those heels, she was CERTAINLY taller than him before.
    2) Are we confident that the girl is female? I mean, she probably is considering hip breadth and all. But let's be frank (or picky), the subtitle says "True gentleMEN" not "True gentleMAN". But that just introduces a whole a whole weird gender-bending perspective, and it may just be incorrect grammar. MAYBE.