There are many things that make me mad: getting woken up before my alarm the day I am supposed to be awake at 8 am on a Sunday (who else would ever want to wake up that early anyways?), missing the bus because it got there early, when someone tells me I eat too much (to which I would respond, I could eat so much more!), and the list goes on. Yesterday, gendered chivalry climbed to the top of my list after several instances of “chivalry” throughout the day.
Yesterday was also one of those rare days in which I had stand apart clarity. You know, when you are a participant of a situation, but can also stand apart and see it for what it is with unusual clarity. And yesterday, such clarity came to me as I stood behind the bar of my restaurant job, thinking how I would write this article about chivalry. I knew what my personal thoughts were on the matter; that chivalry in the traditional medieval sense was outdated and a modern approach to chivalry transcended gender. Chivalry was simply being a human being. Yet, the events of the day made me question if my personal definition of chivalry was as prevalent as I hoped. It also made me question whether accepting help was a way of propagating the traditional concept of chivalry.
It all started (as you guessed it), yesterday at 3pm. I was attempting to procrastinate setting up and stocking the bar – there was one beer in the main cooler; one out of 50 that should be in the freezer. But I was immediately reminded of my duties by the manager and went downstairs into the basement to start bringing up boxes. The other bartender, who is of a the male persuasion, insisted that he helped me. I wasn’t going to say no; I had a lot of boxes of beer, wine and liquor to bring up a steep flight of stairs. But then, as I made the second trip upstairs, I thought, well, would he have offered to help if I had been a dude? Most definitely not. That made me wonder, was I a damsel in distress?
– I bet she is thinking “I hope he doesn’t poke himself with that sword”
A distressed damsel is a terribly antiquated way of putting it, but I would imagine that is how people (and in this case, guys) would see it. A chance to be a shining knight and help the poor weak damsel in dismay. Chivalry in a modern setting.
Anyways, as I put down the boxes, sweating from the effort, I had a mini argument in my head. To be helped or to prove how bad ass I was by carrying all the boxes myself? Was it really bad ass to not accept help? Did I really want to carry all those boxes? I figured I would accept the assistance and then help my fellow bartender put away anything he had to stock in the upstairs bar. Problem solved. But then my manager noticed that the soda machine was out of sprite. He said to get one of the bus boys or the other bartender to carry a case of the sprite concentrate upstairs for me, because it was monstrously heavy.
Again, I was presented with the situation that I was not strong enough to carry a box on my own. Except in this case, I remembered that the box of sprite actually weighed over 50lbs and did I really want to struggle up the stairs when I had more boxes of beer to carry up? The answer again was to be helped, but I was resolved to do any other carrying on my own…how else could I build up my strength?
– think this much beer to stock, times a hundred…or something like that
Fast forward seemingly endless hours of boredom at the downstairs bar where I work, and where no one wanted to hang out because the upstairs bar was on a rooftop and therefore so much cooler. Whatever. But now it was time to close. As I was gathering my things, a coworker who normally walks in my direction said that he could not walk me to my door and that someone else should, else I could be raped and murdered. A quick note: I love getting walked to my door; I have company and it is safer to be two people at two in the morning when most of these walks occur. And I would be lying if I said I was completely sober because most likely a prelude to walking home would be stopping at a local bar to get a drink or two. But again, I had a moment apart of the situation and saw it for what it was, another chivalrous moment in which I, the damsel, would be harmed if I were allowed to walk on my own, aka without a protector.
Naturally, I protested. I am a New Yorker, and thus not only am I as paranoid as a person could be, but I was also raised to walk alertly on dark city streets since I was old enough to walk. I knew it was well within my ability to walk five blocks to my apartment building. However, I was paid no heed and after volunteering two people, one of my other coworkers finally offered to walk home with me. Oh and I had to text when I was safely home. It was at this moment that I was seriously thinking that my abilities to take care of myself were being questioned only because I am a woman. And these are my friends who, I suppose, have my well being at heart but also should know that I am a capable human being.
Now it may seem as if I am blowing these situations out of proportion, but isn’t life made up with the little things? And all these little instances were beginning to weigh on my mind. The most pressing concern to me was not whether the help offered was a reflection of myself, but really whether by accepting help, I was doing nothing to destroy stereotypes about defenseless women and only prolonging sexist measures of strength.
Then that moment of clarity came to me, the one that usually comes in times of duress. I would be exhausted if I constantly needed to prove myself to men that I was a capable person. And why should I need to prove myself if I knew I was capable? My grandmother was one of the most wise and experienced people on the face of the planet and the breadth of the universe. She was the matriarch of my family for most of my life and she taught me many things before she passed away a few years ago. One of which was this:
There will be many instances in which the strength of women will be called to question, and there will be many times when no one, except yourself, will raise a finger to push back at those questions. When it comes to accepting help from another, take it, especially from friends, because it is a sign of respect that they want to take part in your burdens. And then return it, because then not only are you paying forward the aid you received but you are also gaining them as supporters to your cause of equal treatment. If the aid is negatively given, as in it is meant to be a sign of offense, take it anyways. It will make the other person too weak and out of breath to speak against you when you explain the wrongs of the situation and you will have gotten them to lighten your load anyways.
– helping hands, help each other
Here it was, the answer to all the misgivings and questioning I had gone through all day. I was looking for false conceptions of friendship, respect and help in a situation where there was none. It IS as bad ass to give help as it is to receive it. And it IS sometimes harder to acknowledge that help is needed and that that help is just that, help and not a personal statement of your abilities. Giving and taking is a part of life. Offering to help friends, despite their gender, is just what human beings (as Kate has masterfully told us) should do. By helping each other, we don’t prolong chivalry as an act of a knight in shining armor but as a part of the DNA of all people. To help or not to help changes from a question of ability to a symbol of compassion and an affirmation that chivalry has nothing to do with gender and everything to do with respect.