Friday, March 29, 2013

In the Middle

Recently, in the process of writing I had to talk about genders and I recall stopping for a good five minutes only to contemplate whether assuming that there are two genders is politically correct or not. Google-ing it didn’t help either, and I never really got an answer to my question as to whether the transgender counts as a separate, third gender, I just had to go with my gut and say, two genders it is. Anyway, it only occurred to me now that the whole thing was unusual. The fact that there are only two genders should have been like an axiom to me, something as solid as the fact that the sun rises in the morning and sets at night, or the fact that if you throw a ball up in the air, gravity will pull it down. Now, if it were my mother or father writing, they wouldn’t even have given the thought another second. Perhaps, the thought wouldn’t even have occurred to them at all. And that, I think is one of the places where lies one of the biggest differences between our generations. Our fathers and mothers are a generation of black-and-white, where nobody would hardly ever need to think twice about an issue. In their world, there are no if’s. In their world, one is either rich or poor, smart or stupid, male or female, native or foreign, etc. We, on the other hand, are a generation that has been taught to accept, to adapt, to eradicate discrimination, and avoid assuming things about others without learning facts of their individual backgrounds. When we were in high school, most of our persuasive speeches were on defending rights of minority groups; in college most of our visiting lecturers come from a minority background. There are many times we have to think about whether what we say might offend somebody in the room. In short, we are slower to jump to conclusions about a stranger than our parents, but we are also not entirely non-judging, so we’re sort of a generation of in-the-middlers.   

On Chivalry

Feminism is definitely a topic that inspires a wide variety of opinions from both men and women. The most frequent one I’ve heard lately on the male side is, “You ladies want the society to treat both genders equally though you always complain that chivalry is dying!” Whether this is correct or wrong depends on how we define chivalry. If chivalry portrays women as weak and in need of help from men who, in turn, are portrayed as superior to the other gender, then I could see why the point is being made about eliminating this kind of behavior among other things.

Personally, I see chivalry as social etiquette rather than indication of inequality. And when it comes to etiquette, respect is the key word, not superiority. For example, men opening doors for women is a sign of respect or admiration (one could even say endearment), not a statement saying, “You are probably not strong enough to pull this door, so I’ll do it for you”. Men do it because they want to, and I believe women should respond accordingly. There have been numerous times I’ve witnessed females ignoring doors held for them and proceeding to open an adjacent door for themselves.

On the other hand, chivalry is part of a frequently depicted in novels and romantic movies process called courting. Since the purpose of courting is to win a woman over, some women might feel as if they are a trophy of sorts, an object as opposed to a one-of-a-kind human being. Meanwhile, chivalry has been one of the ways through which a man would declare interest in a woman. By attending to her needs and treating her as someone with a certain degree of fragility, in no way is his goal to belittle, but rather to deliver a message through behavior as opposed to words. And that message shouldn’t be perceived as, “You are fragile and weak, so let me take care of you,” but rather a plain: “Notice me, for these are my qualities: I am caring, attentive, protecting, etc.”

Many struggle to understand that we often and sometimes unintentionally compare things that ought not be compared. I believe males and females fall into this category. An idea that was thoroughly integrated into my judgment at age of fifteen due to a particular turn of life, a simple phrase, “Not better, not worse – just different” is one that serves perfectly to what I am trying to express here. Perhaps men and women are so different on various levels that it is not entirely possible to compare one group to the other? If you can’t compare one to another, then how would you distinguish them equal? What if, in the process of calling others to cease stereotyping (assigning generalized roles to) people according to their gender and taking measures to create absolute equality in all aspects of life, we are doing exactly what we’re fighting against? That is, try and assign a certain behavior to individuals, no matter how universal or neutral. Now, whether opportunities are provided equal for both is another question and I agree in every respect that no one should be limited to what he/she might desire to endeavor. This is a concern of justice and is a valid concern to tend to. But should it matter to the society how “masculine” or “feminine”, strong or weak each individual act, so long as all is fair, legal and harm-free?