Chivalry, sexism & androgyny

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I don't think of myself as sexist. Not that I thought of calling myself a feminist man until a gay guy told me I had considerable "feminine consciousness." But he was a moocher thanking me for giving him six cigarettes when he asked for one. Too long ago for me to discern if I have him extra fags (Brit.) out of ingrained politeness of indulging in noblesse oblige.

War of the Sexes

In earlier notes I've wondered aloud how much growing up in Savannah Georgia grafted into me, truly or delusionally, strong feelings about gentility, urbanity, politesse, chivalry - highfalutin words, chosen because anyone who invokes them must accept that they can easily swell up and pop in his face.

I was a na´ve kid. Steady economic decline or not in the back of my home city's mind was notions of itself as retaining the aristocratic qualities of the Old South. Pretty fancy feelings about the self-indulgences of slave owners. Child of just above white trash parents I may have absorbed some of those illusions. If I didn't get them from TV and movies.

On a crowded bus I'd always surrender my seat to an older person or a woman, never fail to open doors for either. My youth inculcated strong feelings that certain kinds of people merited special respect, treatment, homage. Even now I'll drop into Sir and M'am.

Not much to make a fuss about is it? You see, I had to unlearn some of it.

I was too unselfconscious a kid to be trying to be willful when I'd go up to a clerk and say, "Pardon me Miss, do you happen to know the time?" But a friend told me that I embarrassed him in doing that. In my late teens a female friend expressed surprise that I was always opening doors and letting her through first.

Perhaps through the kindness of social forces, my sense of distance from most of mankind, social blindness or simple clarity I never thought women were less capable than men, more prone to illogic or vanity. The difference was just biology. This is back in the day when self-respecting women who wanted to be allowed to have any job and at the same rate of compensation as men were often derided as "women's libbers."

Pretty androgynous boy

My female friends have never thought that courtesy required the man pay for a date. None of my straight friends have ever been a part of that nutty social space John Gray has found so profitable with his Mars and Venus business. I suspect his silly books have done more to make heterosexuals comfortable with their stereotyping of each other as help straight couples.

One of the joys of discovering feminine gay men was an outlet for that buried chivalry. Tote that box? Sure. And I can open doors and pay for things, and indulge in gestures that no woman I've ever been a friend of would tolerate.

In an unapologetic way with a few guys who've allowed and enjoyed it I found expression for a fragment of my psyche that ordinarily would be best left forgotten.

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I have had to unlearn ‘em, like you, for different reasons but perhaps to the same similar undercurrent. But I only unlearned it to be able to “pull away” when an objection was raised to allow the protester to have their way. To appreciate that some people can’t afford themselves courtesy or magnamimous gestures due to their hardline stances in life. But it didn’t stop me from doing these things at all.

I was “taught” manners if you will, usually spur-of-the-moment. Like a cuff on the head from dad if I didn’t offer my chair to a lady standing. Oddly enough, I learned yes sir and yes ma’am in school, but in Bavaria. I don’t know if they ever did that here. These days, I know it’s not a shock for a teacher to hear the word fuck throughout the day. It’s pathetic.

I also,in my adult life, have never really encountered objection over my getting the tab, even on first time dates. Objections usually came around the 6-month or longer mark when the concern was “you always get the tab.” Not anything leaning towards audacity or indignancy along the whole equal rights spectrum. Opening doors for the ladies, again, never been objected to but more often, reacted to with surprise that it happened or happens with consistency (versus once you get laid, all original gentlemanly courtesies drop off).

I would be perhaps somewhat surprised if an objection was raised to opening a door, offering up a seat, helping an old woman with her bags or cart or an old man across the street. But I would note the objection and retreat and allow the objector to have their way. With grace.

Depending on how - uhmm - unpleasant I felt about the objection with someone I was familiar with or knew, e.g. something like “think because I’m a woman I can’t afford the tab?” I would take additional note of this angle of aggravated opinion, however mild - and make a quick mental note as to my unavailability for future dates.

Now, I understand some women believe the male hetero may have expectations to physical reimbursement on the tab. I don’t blame them. I’ve know more than a person’s share of miscreants who hold to this sort of monkey wisdom.

Courtesy does not require a man to pay for a date. Your friends are right. Being enchanted or enjoying someone’s company makes paying for a date effortless. It’s almost an unconscious gesture when everything is natural. Friend, acquaintence or date.

On Savannah, I luuv the high falutin words, the gentility, the politesse, chivalry, urbanity, aristocracy…it’s all Savannah charm. Dare I say, darlin, I luuuv it all.

I went to an all-girls high school (oh the cliche) in Stellenbosch, South Africa. It was next door to an Afrikaans speaking all-girls school and a bilingual all-boys school. At one point, due to cuts in teacher funding, we started sharing classes for some of the smaller classes. This meant mixed classes for subjects like Latin, German and Computing.

This was when Louis joined our class. He was Afrikaans, the son of a pastor. If the cultural stereotypes don’t mean much, this is pretty much equivalent to the chivalrous background you describe … very Old South, just even further south ;-) I remember his being shocked that there were no men around to carry things, set chairs up, move desks, etc. I also remember the girls in the class being insulted that he thought there should be.

Unfortunately I think the link between chivalry and seeing women as “the weaker sex” is still too strong … or at least the memories are. Louis became my best friend and I found out that he just thought he was being polite — not that women were weak or defenceless. He’s just a very sweet boy with slightly outmoded politeness. He has grown up believing that women can have education and careers — but kept the respect for women that forces him to open doors for them etc. I hope he doesn’t lose it and that the world just rebounds back again to allow this sort of attitude.

Incidentally, Richard, I have the same sort of attitude and also get to express it .. but with pretty femme girls. They don’t mind if you open doors and buy them dinner, even if they’d object to a man doing the same ;-)

My straight friends either date ‘Dutch’ or alternate paying. Doing otherwise isn’t even thought of. Not sure why, just the sort of folks I unfailingly fall in with. It isn’t the old the man pays for his lays thing. There may be an element of disgust with the part of the culture where women still think men should pay for the date. Nothing we’ve ever talked about, just dimly noted out of the corner of my eye.

If I’m every forced to ride a Durham City bus I’d offer my seat to someone who looked like they were having trouble standing but never just because someone was female.

Savannah was one of the original colonial cities. Parts of its downtown are very old by American standards. The people with old money or pretensions to it reveled (probably still do) in the illusion that they were somehow finer than other folks. Even though I like some of the mental coloring I got from growing up there I’m glad I didn’t fall sucker to the illusions.

Savannah’s Historic District is well worth a quick tour but once you get outside of the old part of town it is all Suburbia, USA.


My notions of South Africa come from comic novelist Tom Sharpe. His picture made South Africa seem like a mix of the worst parts of the American Old South and a police state.

I’ve never felt my chivalrous gestures were really sexist. But one day I did wake up to the understanding that they were rooted in ideas about women that made their supposed privileges a trap. Possibly because my mother had always worked at a bank and was financially self-reliant.

Partly it a woman pointing out that there was nothing grounded in reason that I should be more likely to open a door for her than her for me. Mostly I learned about sexism from straight men that told me all the things that women weren’t capable of doing.

About that time the attempt to add an equal rights for women amendment to the constitution failed. The women’s liberation movement was in its first flower and the silly reactionary females were busy writing books about how the man should be the boss.

Happily I do my best to open doors for everybody.

From some of the books that have come in my shop I academically know that some gay women enjoy playing with gender color. I envy that.

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