Good old Emma Watson: where she leads, many follow, and this time she has been helpfully explaining the rules of dating for the Harry Potter generation (as opposed to the 1950s). Watson is an ambassador for the United Nation’s HeForShe campaign – a movement to remind us all that feminism really just means people treating each other with equal respect – and while discussing it last week she recalled a date who became “tetchy” when she offered to pay for dinner. “Awkward,” she said.
Lo and behold the very next day, American researchers concluded that there are two types of sexism: “hostile” and “benevolent”. Hostile sexists are the ones who think all housework is a woman’s job and complain when women ask for equality, while benevolent sexists hold doors open for women and refuse to split the bill for dinner. Unfortunately, if there’s one thing that turns a benevolent man quite hostile, it’s telling him that he’s a sexist.
I sympathise with the benevolent types, but I wonder why it’s always “holding a door open for a woman” that is used as an example. Of course I would like a man, or anyone, to hold a door for me; but that’s common courtesy. Do these chivalric heroes want women to let doors slam in men’s faces? Yes, a Good Samaritan would offer to help a mum struggling up steps with a pram; but should he or she walk on by if that parent were a dad?
Kindness and respect are always fine regardless of gender. But if you’re about to insist on paying, call a woman “dear” or give her a “compliment”, you can usually tell if it’s kind or condescending by asking, “would I say this to a man?” And if you’d find it emasculating for a woman to turn down borrowing your coat, imagine how infantilising she would find it were you to insist.
Last week, we heard some men genuinely fearing that any kind gesture towards a woman might be misinterpreted, while others complained that they’re not allowed to use sexually and racially offensive language on account of “the PC police”. I wish we could abandon the corrosive term “political correctness” and send “chivalry” back to the 12th century where it belongs. Good manners never go out of date, and provided we all take as our motto “don’t be a git” we can probably manage to get along.
No one died and appointed me head of the feminists, but if anyone wants my advice I’d say that we can take three things from last week: 1) if you’re the kind of guy who worries all day about how your words might be interpreted and the line between kindness and patronising, you’re probably not a git; 2) if you’re the kind of guy who belittles women and minority groups just because it’s your human right to, you probably are; 3) if you’re on a date with Emma Watson and she offers to pay for dinner, just grin and bear it; it doesn’t make you less of a man.
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