As wonderful and as necessary as the feminist movement has been, I often wonder how men feel about the change to their roles. I’m not talking about how they feel about feminism and women’s rights – I think most men are generally fine with that. (Obviously I am referring to westernized society. This discussion has not even begun in much of the third world. Don’t get me started on that!) – What I am talking about is how men have adjusted to the little things.
Do they struggle with how to treat a female colleague?
Do they constantly feel that they are walking on eggshells, wondering if a sexual harassment lawsuit is looming around the corner if they pulled a chair out for their female boss?
As a female, I am proud of the strides my sex has made in the equality of gender roles. I feel empowered that young women today have the option of post-secondary education; the choice of any career; the option to excel in that career while at the same time raising a family (or not) or the option to stay at home and raise their children (however economically, many families can’t afford the last option but that is another discussion).
Women are just as capable as men to hold corporate careers, own businesses and make a living in every field, however women are still fighting the battle for pay equity and equal representation from the lowest to the highest levels in roles traditionally thought of as male. There is still much work to do but in most sectors, the divide is gradually becoming narrower.
Did the rules need to change? Of course they did.
Feminism isn’t just for the boardroom though. Women expect to be treated with respect and equality in all aspects of their lives but do we want the same treatment from our life-mates as our cubicle-mates? If not, do men know that?
As we have marched ahead to our revised tune, the gents sometimes seem to struggle to keep in step, try though they might.
Take dating for instance; do men know how to act anymore? In a new relationship today, should a man pay the entire bill for a dinner out with his date? If he does pay, will she think he’s domineering and trying to take care of her because she is incapable of taking care of herself or will she think he is sweet and romantic? What about holding the door for her? Should he or shouldn’t he? Pulling out her chair? Standing when she enters the room? – does anyone do that anymore?
I feel sorry for men at times like these. They must feel like they are walking a tightrope of etiquette. Do the wrong thing and you are thought of as rude and insensitive – a Neanderthal of cultural behaviour.
But who determines what is right and wrong?
Some women would be offended if a man opened the car door for them and others would be offended if he did not.
What’s a boy to do?
Which brings up the question: Should we still teach our boys to be gentlemen?
I will generalize and say that we all teach our boys – and girls – basic manners: saying please and thank you; pardon me/excuse me; not interrupting etc, but what will the next generation of young women expect their young men to do beyond the basic niceties?
Will men stop walking on the outside of the sidewalk and offering their arm to a lady? Many already have.
Will holding a door go by the way of a kiss on the hand?
Some might argue that many of these gestures are fine in personal relationships but should not be brought into the workplace. Is that where the line should be drawn? Offering your arm to a female colleague in my mind would be an error for the man, but yet I would expect him to hold the door for her.
Learning to make the distinction between what is acceptable and what is not must have to be learned by trial and error; or trial by fire depending on the recipient.
The other day, as I was approaching a store, I witnessed a young boy of about five years of age struggle to hold a heavy door open for a ‘mature’ lady who with a smile thanked the young lad for being “quite a gentleman”. The boy beamed with pride, and his father did too.
For all of you men (and women) who are taking the time to teach your boys the traditional approach to the decorum of gentlemanly behaviour, I applaud you. In my opinion, etiquette should never go out of style and every gesture toward that end should be received in the manner in which it is bestowed.
For all of the strides my sisters before me and my daughters after have made and will make, I thank them for their struggles. It is in part because of them that I am respected for my intelligence, appreciated for my contribution and seen as an equal in my role.
And for all of the men in my life who have treated me with respect, appreciation and equality, I thank you too for your part and appreciate your efforts.
And for the record, I think there is a line and the office is where it should be defined. For me, it looks like this:
- At work: hold the door, and if you would like a coffee, make it yourself.
- Personally: pull out my chair, offer your arm, walk on the outside of the sidewalk, help me on with my coat, pay the bill, and hold the door. Oh, and if you’re getting yourself a coffee, I’d like mine double-double, please.
…Because for all of our advancements, I for one still enjoy and appreciate being made to feel like a lady, when it’s appropriate. After all, isn’t having the best of both worlds part of what the battle has been about?
Good luck, men. Keep up the good work.
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