The Fate of Modern Chivalry
I was in the process of moving into my new home when it happened...
I was carrying a load from the back of the car into the house. Easily. Swiftly. I’d packed well. It was late morning and there were several workmen digging around the exterior of the house, hired by me to replace the drainage system. One of them was passing by on the driveway, precariously pushing a wheelbarrow overflowing with heavy, muddy tools. Upon seeing me he dropped it with a hurried clatter, already moving towards me as he called out, “Here, let me help you with that!”
The absurdity rolled through me in a low wave like thunder and after a moment I responded with loving presence and cheer. “No thanks. Looks like you have your arms plenty full there. I’ve got this. I appreciate your offer!”
He reluctantly accepted my response and went back to his work, which I wouldn’t have traded for my own in the slightest.
He was so sincere. He was so driven. He was so not what I needed, yet he was everything he was conditioned to be.
A few months before I’d posted an inquiry to the Facebook hivemind, “Am I putting something off that is weak or manipulative? Why do men want to take care of me?” The response was abundant and clear: “You’re an attractive woman. Of course men want to take care of you!”
To me that was really unsatisfying. I was looking for what I was doing and could take ownership of and shift.
But suddenly here on this morning I could see it. Something about the absurdity of this man putting down his bulky task in order to assist me with my clearly manageable one. There was no time for thought behind his compulsive action. It was clear and base.
This had nothing to do with me.
The actual truth was that this wasn’t at all personal. The man was programmed. He saw me with my little load and it was unfathomable to him to not offer to help the lady. Bless ‘im. Bless ‘is mother. Bless the lineage that led to him, desperately, compulsively, doing his duty as a male being.
For the first time that part of my ego that is identified with being self sufficient and in the feminist fight for recognition relaxed instead of tightened and I was able to recognize the situation for what it
I lay down my sword.
I saw this man with complete compassion.
There was nothing here for me to fight, though fight I had felt before.
Even now I can feel the familiar tightness and fire in my chest as I think of other times the subject of helplessness was inadvertently broached, “What do you think is wrong with me that you think I need help? How insulting is that? How dare you! Can’t you see how capable I am?”
What’s wrong with you that you don’t recognize how capable I am?!!
What’s wrong here that I reject an offer of help with violence?
Now is the opportunity for compassion. I am nudging the wedge in between the offense and the truth.
It’s not about me. It’s not about him.
It’s much greater than us both.
Yes, women, it’s hard to not react when a man (or anyone) addresses you as though you are less capable than them. But it’s what they’ve been trained to do. Not out of conscious disempowering, but out of support. And there are enough women out there continuing to milk the helpless maiden angle that that dynamic isn’t going away any time soon. So what we have is a bunch of very confused and frustrated men.
Should they hold the door open? Should they pull out the chair? Should they offer to carry the thing for you? Should they insist on emptying the rat trap? (True story from my old bartending job.)
Women, take a moment and picture one of those situations, like the one I describe. Close your eyes, take a breath, and gather yourself into the present moment, allowing your thoughts to dissolve into blackness, just for a minute. Feel the earth cradling you with vast security. Breathe. As long as you need to to reset.
Then, in a gruff, masculine voice, hear the words, “Here, let me get that for you.”
What happens inside? Is there annoyance? Is there a tightness? Or is there relief? Is there pleasure? Perhaps there’s all of it.
Can you feel any distinction as far as what part of you it is that feels which? Because no matter how you slice it, each of us (feminine creatures) will experience different reactions to masculine efforts.
Do you see what the problem is here? To condemn a man because he doesn’t know your preference when you aren’t even sure of it yourself creates quite a disorienting stance. Do you want to be seen as self sufficient and capable (big values for me!), or do you want to be confidently held and supported (sounds so nice!)?
Every time your heart skips a beat because a man steps into chivalry, match that with your fight. I call your feminine to notice the pampering she embraces AND the way your teeth bare around the fight for “equality”. I’m not knocking either desire. In fact, they can co-exist. But not with unconsciousness. The co-existence comes from acknowledging it all- the softness and the strength, and most importantly, the programming that we’ve all been subjected to.
I am all for gender equality and releasing the adversarial stance. And that begins with owning all the desires in each of us. The desire to be strong and self sufficient. The desire to be honored as such. And the desire to be supported and adored. No shame in either, only a resonant enriching harmony to be found and a unifying compassion for who you’ve called adversary.
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