Should 'ladies' be treated differently?

ANNABEL ROSS
Last updated 13:20 30/10/2012
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CONFUSING: Is it sexist if a man opens a door for a woman, or just polite?

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OPINION: There's been a lot of talk about misogyny in recent weeks - so much so, that following Julia Gillard's now-infamous spraying of Tony Abbott in the Australian Parliament, the Macquarie Dictionary announced that it would broaden the definition of the word. Formerly used to describe a pathological "hatred of women", the Macquarie definition will now encompass an "entrenched prejudice of women'.

The opposite of misogyny might be gallantry, though it's interesting to note that its definition as "the polite attention or respect given by men to women" is almost always listed second, after its primary definition: "courageous behavior, especially in battle: "outstanding gallantry during the raid".

Like its synonym, chivalry, gallantry is a medieval term. Chivalry, according to the Collins World Dictionary, is "the combination of qualities expected of an ideal knight, especially courage, honour, justice, and a readiness to help the weak." Collins' second definition is: "Courteous behaviour, especially towards women".

This got me thinking - is chivalry (in the secondary sense of the word) a medieval custom that should be confined to the history books? When women are clamouring for equal rights, equal pay and general equality across the board, does that mean we give up our "right" to be treated differently to men, and as "ladies"?

I recall the "Hun Mole" incident earlier this year, in which a Melbourne University student complained about sexist attitudes she allegedly encountered while undertaking her internship at the Herald Sun newspaper.

She wrote that men in the office were "continually and unnecessarily sexist, waiting for me to walk through doors and leave the elevator before them."

Perhaps, in some way, this behaviour is "discriminating"; presumably the men would not extend the same courtesy to other men. But is it something to take offence at, to feel prejudiced by? I experience the same thing on a regular basis in my own office (admittedly it happens more often with some of the older men in the building), but not once has it offended me. Call me old-fashioned, but I think it's rather nice.

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Similarly, when I'm at the bar, and have lined up at around the same time as a gentleman who might also be ordering a drink, I am usually pleased when, if served before me, he nods in my direction and says, "Ladies first". If the guy was there before me, I'll insist on waiting my turn, but if not, I'll thank him and order my drink.

Suddenly, I'm wondering if I'm doing the sisterhood a disservice in allowing myself to "go first". If we want equal pay, does that mean we should open our own doors, struggle with our own heavy shopping, change our own tyres and wait our turn, no matter what?

A friend recently told me how, when boarding the train in peak hour, she'd locked eyes with a guy who was getting on at the same time. They'd both seen the last remaining free seat at the same moment, but when their eyes met, she knew he wasn't about to give it up without a fight. "He literally bolted to the seat and sat down as quick as he could," she said. "Little s**t. I was carrying two big bags, I didn't stand a chance." My friend wasn't pregnant, or disabled in any way, but should he have allowed her to sit down on account of her heavy load (or merely because she was a woman)?

A while back, I was out to dinner with an ex-boyfriend, meeting some of his friends and their girlfriends for the first time. It wasn't an overly expensive meal, but when the bill came, I reached for my purse. "What are you DOING?!" the two other girlfriends hissed. "Er, paying for my meal?" I said, opening my wallet. "Put it away!" they shrieked. "The boys pay. The boys always pay." Neither my ex, nor I, was willing to argue the point that evening, but I certainly didn't expect him to "always pay" for me, and nor did he. That said, I think many women still appreciate getting spoiled or "shouted" occasionally, particularly at the start of a relationship or in the early stages of dating someone.

I particularly remember one first date. I'd already paid for a (very cheap) pub meal - maybe a $10 pizza - after he suggested splitting the bill, and we decided to catch a cab to a nearby bar for a drink. When we arrived and he suggested we "go halvies", it was all I could do to keep from telling the cab driver to take me straight home. The fare was $6. No one likes a tightass.

Where do we draw the line? Is it too much for women to want to be treated like men in some respects, and like "ladies" in others?

- Sydney Morning Herald

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