You’re standing on the bus. A man taps you on the shoulder and offers you his seat. Do you:
a.) kick him in the groin. How dare he patronise you – and in a public place?
b.) Politely decline. You’re just as capable of him as standing.
c.) Say ‘thank-you’ and sit. You feel a bit guilty, but it’s rude not to after he’s offered.
d.) Demand to know why he didn’t offer earlier. Can’t he see that you’re a LADY?
Chivalry. Good – or bad? Patronising – or inspirational? A remnant of a bygone era? Or exactly what our culture needs?
I don’t have an answer. But as with most things, I reckon it’s a question of definition. An excuse to keep us within limiting gender roles? Or something deeper? A way of loving – and protecting each other?
I don’t need you to open the door for me, or spread your coat across a puddle. But when you do, I quite like it. It makes me feel special. But – uncomfortable too.
Are you putting me on a pedestal? Do you expect me to be fragrant and gentle and burp roses?
Leaving aside the fact that I am actually half your size and carrying some extremely heavy cases – are you looking down on me? Do you think I’m weaker or inferior to you?
Here’s something I’m beginning to suspect. Maybe my instinctive dislike of chivalry is less about how men see women. Maybe it’s about how I see myself. Because actually, I don’t see myself either as an exquisite flower or as an amazonian warrior. I dislike both caricatures and would rather deflect the attention any way I can. It may be that my love-hate relationship with chivalry has less to do with misogyny and a whole lot more to do with masochism. So how should I handle that?
When we look at Jesus, we see the perfect Man: not just laying down His coat for his bride, but laying down His life. He shows us a gentleness and strength that goes beyond mere courtesy; a rejection of social norms for a deeper reality, where each person is valued – independent of their own worthiness. This is wonderful- but quite honestly, it’s something that I also find difficult to accept.
Jesus loves me more than I love myself. He acts like I’m a princess, when I feel like a tramp. Everything that He has He gives to me: because, in His eyes, I am unutterably lovely. I don’t understand it and I don’t deserve it. It breaks me and brings me to my knees. But it – He – brings me life. And from the ruins of myself, I am remade into the woman I long to be.
What has this to do with giving up your seat on the bus? Nothing: but everything too. A willing surrender of my rights. A grateful acceptance of grace. A fragment of the gospel in the everyday.