Several days ago, as I was arriving at work and just about to step into the elevator, a man who works in another office in my building arrived at the exact same moment. We each did a couple of fits and starts, trying to negotiate through body language who should go first. Then, he graciously stepped back, threw open his arm toward the elevator, and said, “You go first.”
Chivalry is not dead, I started thinking to myself as I climbed on board the elevator.
Then he added, “It’s the woman’s burden. You always have to go first.”
I laughed, mostly because I wasn’t sure how else to respond to such a nonchivalrous comment. And then I said something polite and demure, like “yes, I suppose you’re right.”
But the comment stuck with me throughout the day, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized how NOT right he was. In a world where gender roles are blurry to the point of confusion, these small social courtesies that allow for the very real differences between men and women are less a burden and more a necessity. A privilege even.
Issues of masculinity and femininity are becoming more and more newsworthy as women assume roles of leadership in politics, government, cultural and educational institutions, and religion. But the inclusion or exclusion of women from such roles does not change the definition of femininity. Or masculinity, for that matter. Who we are as men and women is something much deeper, more integral to our being.
In a time when messages about womanhood often try to persuade me to feel either exploited or empowered, and when my day to day activities as a single woman often leave me feeling genderless, I decided to be encouraged that a man would offer me a spot on the elevator first simply because I’m a lady.
Even if he didn’t actually say it that way.