Men who look out for women

Oh dear. How one’s perspective changes. I think I always used to have a certain affection for chivalry. Shining white knights riding to the rescue of damsels in distress. And don’t get me wrong: now that I’m this side of the fence I can see the attraction.

The idea of being able to lie back in the arms of some strong and gorgeous person: to let them take the strain emotionally, workwise, at least for a while. Although my shining white knight is more likely to look like Judith butler (sigh! Girl crush alert!) – though I’m not altogether sure what post-structuralism would have to say about the pile of dishes waiting for me in the kitchen.

Basic chivalry = control

Otherwise, though, blokes being “chivalrous” and looking out for us poor defenceless girlies is starting to get just a little tedious. Like the old joke (what IS the punch line?) involving the over-eager boy scout grabbing an old lady by the arm and rushing her across a crowded road, which she’d just crossed coming the other way.

As I posted a day or so ago, I think I first started to notice this when I was threatened by a guy because I might be “making his wife feel uncomfortable”. I’d had similar formulations (without the threat) from a couple of guys before, and it did strike me then as a bit odd: because I’m IN situations alongside women who are far from cowed by my presence and I am pretty sure if I offended in some way, they would make their views felt: either directly, or indirectly by complaining through official channels.

Men getting outraged on behalf of women

Then at the weekend, there was the stuff about Sandi Toksvig outraging the nation by referencing much-maligned Danish King Cnut before the watershed. At least, I think that’s what she was doing. Who was outraged – on behalf of womankind, natch? Er, a couple of blokes: a politician and a stuffy type who proudly proclaimed that he wasn’t a retired vicar from Cheltenham.

Shame! One of the nicest clerics I’ve ever known came from that neck of the woods. What’s wrong with Cheltenham?

And hence: sexualisation and modesty

And yesterday I was working on a piece for the Grauniad about the Bailey review which sort of was meant to look into commercial pressures on kids, but which we all knew was going to focus on sexualisation. Smut!

Except, it doesn’t. It focus on the sexualisation of girls. At so many places in the surrounding press and publicity we hear about the need for girls to be offered “modest” choices, as though the vast majority of girls aged 8 and above aren’t already acutely aware how clothes interact with the world.

Intriguing discussions about the appropriateness of various sorts of bras and crop tops, mostly from the perspective of moralising guys: how INAPPROPRIATE a padded bra is. As opposed to an interesting discussion I had later in the day with a female academic, who suggested it was a lot less clearcut.

Underwire is bad for growing boobs: sure! But padded bras might actually be a good option if a girl is sore, hitting puberty early and enduring early development of nipples or – hell! There’s a load of reasons why a padded bra MIGHT be a sensible option. But no: the debate is reduced instantly to one about sexualisation, with the focus almost exclusively on what girls wear (with little corresponding focus on boys).

And this report is shepherded by who? A leading female cleric? A well-known agony aunt? A female politician? Of course not: this load of utter tosh about female sexuality emanates from a review team headed by Reg Bailey, who may count as honorary woman in his current incarnation as head honcho at the Christian Mothers Union – but was previously chief at Danish Bacon, following a glittering career at Del Monte. So qualified. Not!

Bailey – the man who likes to say NO (to women!).

Creating a list

And here it is again: a bloke looking out for women’s interests by laying down the law as to how they can interact with the rest of society.

Spot the pattern? Well, from today, I am going to keep a little list. I think I’ll call it “blokes who look after women” – though I’m open to suggestions for catchier title.

And no: men added to the list need not puff themselves up and think they’ve done something to be proud of. Cause if you’re on there, its because you’re an interfering, politely controlling git. You may think you’re being chivalrous: but either you ain’t; or behind the mask of chivalry, you’re doing nothing other than continuing to exert male control over women.

Bailey: as of today, you’re on it!



7 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Paula said,

    Well spotted. You become aware of this nonsense from men when they start letting you go in front of them in a queue, or they hold a door for you (I will do both for somebody with a couple of items when I have a heap and I hold doors for everybody). There is a high horse to beware of though.. an important one. These men have one, they procrastinate and beat on about “womens rights” and how “young girls should dress” .. of course both are actually up to the individual to decide how happy they are in their role in life and how comfortable they are about what they are wearing.. and so on. Equality is about equality but it involved the perception of the individual about just how far they want or need to go. People are amazed that I’m happy to be a housewife, fitting the 50’s and 60’s stereotype of a housewife. That’s my choice and it’s not up to anybody (especially some man) to tell me whether my choice is right or wrong.

  2. 2

    Sadly, you are on the money with this one. I don’t expect there will be very much “debate” at all around the Bailey review; more a hyped-up discussion of whether porn should be banned outright or subjected to strict identity checks for access, and the odd sidelined educator here and there trying desperately to interject the dire need for sane and standardised sex ed in this country.

  3. 3

    Lucy Melford said,

    I thought it very odd that the person fronting the Mothers Union wasn’t a woman, and therefore most definitely not a mother. He might be a father, but that’s not the same thing at all.

    I absolutely agree with what you were saying, Jane. It gets me very annoyed when men pontificate on things like female best behaviour, abortion, and similar, when it’s no business of theirs.


  4. 4

    The usual line is that men have to protect women because women themselves are hopelessly naive about how vicious men are, whereas men have seen that nastiness full on.

    The problem here, of course, is that much of that male nastiness (including the infamous conversations that objectify women) is staged for the benefit of other men; their perspective is just as vulnerable to observer bias as a woman’s. Furthermore, if they claim to know what all men are like by virtue of being male, and claim women cannot possibly know, then they must allow that they cannot know what all women are really like, and therefore cannot rationally assume that all (or even most) women need to be defended.

    Do children need to be protected? Of course. Let’s start by protecting them from the fetishisation of ‘innocence’ which itself encourages adults to look at them in a sexual way. Let’s start by acknowledging that there is nothing a child can ever wear, say or do that can in any way make it more understandable or acceptable for an adult to assault them.

  5. 5

    Stace said,

    Hmm, I find myself not able to agree to this. And all down to one thing.

    To me there is the world of difference between being polite and and being a git. And the points you make do not sound like chivalry to me, they sound like someone being a git.

    Chivalry regarding opening doors, offering the last of something (the Red Dwarf joke of having only one After Eight mint, but everyone being too polite to take it is – I think – quite close to the truth…) and other things that make life that little bit more bearable is just politeness. I hold doors open for people (male and female) and just this evening some guy came to the queue in the supermarket with 2 loaves of bread whilst I had a conveyor belt full, so I let him go first. It has nothing to do with wanting to control them. It’s something that both of my parents instilled in me from when I was young – thinking of others. I like it when people do it for me as well.

    Using any excuse to cause someone harm – either physically, or emotionally – or trying to impose your views on someone, or telling them that what they are wearing is tantamount to saying that they are ‘asking’ for it is despicable. But I think that the label of ‘chivalry’ is wrong here. Sorry…

    Incidentally… I loved that the Daily Mail is big on this. Making such a big show of the things that are not suitable to be on TV, and how the kiddies should not be exposed to that type of thing. Putting stills of the TV shows on big two page spreads and the front cover of the paper to make their point. And not seeing the irony!


  6. 6

    bobette said,

    Make them wear burkhas. that’s what i say..

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