Monday, 16 June 2008

Sam: Feminist or Gentleman?

The contradictions of the modern world throw us some interesting dilemmas, not the least of the question for men of whether to be a Feminist or a Gentleman.

I have a client who was brought up by a feminist mother. He was taught it is right to treat women equally, that women can look after themselves, that they should be respected, that men and women should carry the same load.

His partner is a powerful career woman. She works in a big company. She is very successful in her field and heads a large team.

Yet his partner loves to be treated like a lady. She loves having doors opened, him taking the seat out, him taking her hand as they walk across the road. It makes her feel loved and it makes her feel feminine.

My client and I had a long conversation about this very issue – because he finds it hard, and he finds it confusing. He was told to treat women equally, he was told that power should be shared, that being a gentleman was pretty much equivalent to being a male chauvinist pig – implying that it was the man in control, and reinforcing traditional and staid stereotypes. His values push him one way, while he feels that his partner pushes him in the opposite direction.

To him it seemed hypocritical, that a woman wanted to be treated equally, to have all the power of a man, but yet retain the old trappings of being a feminine woman. Can you have equal rights while still pining for traditional roles? In fact while pretty much demanding adherence traditional roles?

I reminded him of how some of the most successful religions of the world have embraced the new while retaining the old – Christianity kept many if not most pagan festivals and just stuck a new coat of paint over them – and maybe to be really successful it helps for feminism to do the same?

It took a while for him to get his head around the seeming hypocrisy of the situation, but now he is happier for it. And really who of us are really consistent to our beliefs all the time? I know that I believe it is crucial we reduce carbon pollution, but still get a huge buzz out of hitting the accelerator hard on the open road. Perhaps a bit of hypocrisy is human – now his partner feels more feminine and loved, he feels more like a man, and they both still share the cooking.


8 comments:

wishingstar342 said...

This is an interesting post, I've always suspected that humans are inherently hypocritical. Regarding, feminism vs femininity, I've never been a fan of the whole equality argument (shocking as I'm woman)but always believed instead that the different gender roles should be equally respected within a relationship.

Katyola said...

I'll bet she likes being treated like a lady on off-hours because she has to maintain a level of authority at work, which isn't the most relaxing state to be in. Because I'm constantly having to make decisions at work, I definitely like to relax and sometimes allow others to take the reins in my personal life, so this doesn't appear to be hypocrisy to me. Different needs at different times, that's all.

John said...

Well, let me give you another view of this whole feminist thing (and I am one, although male). Feminism is the notion that no-one should be denied what they desire on account of their gender . It doesn't speak to the rightness or wrongness of any activity except insofar as it relates to equal ACCESS to that activity.
So it is not hypocritical at all for someone to be committed to equality and to wish to be treated special BY THEIR SPECIAL PERSON. In a relationship, it strikes me that everything is negotiable (and my wife of 20+ years agrees with this); so I cook and she does the dishes, but I changed plenty of diapers etc etc. The important thing for us was that we didn't assign tasks based on gender, but on preference(s). She is as likely to hold the door for me, if she was to to arrive at the door first, as vice versa.
And Katyola hits another point: timing is everything: What works now, isn't a priori what works later.

rattenmaus said...

I don't think it's hyproctritical. I want to be treated equally, and I personally don't care for men opening car doors for me or stuff like that, but I don't think it's wrong for a feminist woman to want this from her partner, or to think that it's nice.
And there is nothing wrong in wanting special things from special persons in your life.

For me what's important is not being treated like "a lady" on default, by men I don't know. If it's something my boyfriend or somebody I'm flirting with does because he knows that I personally like it, it's a completely different thing than somebody doing it just because I'm female.

lilithgirl said...

"He was taught it is right to treat women equally, that women can look after themselves, that they should be respected, that men and women should carry the same load."

There is nothing in a feminist education that says women and men should be treated "the same", just equal. And there is the difference! Everybody, despite their sex or gender, is different. Could we please view people as individuals, instead of just men and women?

I do not see the mixture of "traditional" and "feminist" behaviours as hypocritical. The strict line between those two is artificial. Different people, and different combinations of people, want different things. In my case for instance, I love some men caring for me, holding doors, carrying bags, whatever. I like it because they enjoy to do this. Yet I hate it when a man does this because he thinks he should, or I need him to. And like this, there is a feminism for everyone.

Anonymous said...

As others pointed out, equal treatment between men and women means having the same opportunities, and not being denied those purely based on gender. It does not mean losing your feminine identity ('trappings??!") in the process in order to 'have all the power of a man'.

If you phrase equal treatment like that, you are creating your own problem.

His girlfriend is not asking him to open doors for every woman he works with, neither is she expecting every man she meets to do so for her.

She just likes this in this particular relationship because it apparently makes her feel good. If he is not comfortable with taking her hand, or opening the door, then don't feel obliged. You just may not want/like/need the same things. And that may or may not work. But don't phrase it in terms of equal treatment, as it has nothing to do with that.

Anonymous said...

I always look at it as "different but equal". And the fact that you think she's special enough to open doors for, is more of a reflection of the fact that you think she's something special worth that effort, rather than you doing it because you don't think she's capable of opening the door herself.

butterflywings said...

"For me what's important is not being treated like "a lady" on default, by men I don't know. If it's something my boyfriend or somebody I'm flirting with does because he knows that I personally like it, it's a completely different thing than somebody doing it just because I'm female."

That makes sense.
What people do in relationships is their business - yeah, personally I wouldn't be into that, but what makes people feel loved and appreciated is very personal and doesn't always conform to our political views. And why should it?
I loved that my ex bf took turns with cooking without complaint and always offered to bring me a drink if he got up to get a beer/ wine etc. - on the other hand, men who refill your drink or order for you without asking...I hate that. There *is* an element of the man being in control in chivalry, but I don't think individual women are at fault if they like it.

I am with you that men *assuming* what women want / like.