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Every school day, my daughter waits at the bus stop with another girl and a little boy. As the kids line up, the boy's father tells his son to show some chivalry and let the girls go first.
Because this has become daily routine, the words "Ladies first" have stuck in my head. I definitely don't want to fault the dad for trying to raise a gentleman. But I now wonder what the definition of a gentleman really is. Does chivalry serves its purpose in a society where people better recognize gender inequality?
For starters, "Ladies first" isn't something I've often said or thought in recent years. Part of the push toward gender equality has disinclined me from acting as though women need token gestures. Then again, since the genders are on such uneven footing in other areas, maybe holding the door is the least I could do.
When the other dad reminds his son to be a gentleman at the bus stop, most of my brain can appreciate the sentiment. A small part – probably the part that overthinks everything – wants to tell my daughter to enjoy that gesture, because she's going to have to fight for just about everything else.
Manners or a Token Gesture?
I like the idea of chivalry. But I don't like token efforts. It seems dissonant that we 're all about offering ladies our coats but balk when it comes to offering them equal pay. Sometimes, I feel like these gestures are the equivalent of turning the stove off while the house is on fire.
On the other side of the matter, "Ladies first" implies a delicacy or perhaps a vulnerability that I'm not sure applies to my daughter. While she is firmly and proudly a girly girl, she's also somebody who can throw an elbow when a kid tries to push her around.
While the little boy is standing back out of a sense of chivalry, I'm watching to make sure my daughter doesn't shove somebody out of the way. When the boy's dad reminds him to let the girls go first, part of me wants to say, "Don't worry; she won't let anybody get in her way."
Be Excellent to Each Other
When raising my own son, my preference is to eschew the "Ladies first" mantra and just focus on being decent to everybody. The same principles apply to raising my daughter. If your kids are nice to people in general, you don't have to treat one gender differently than the other.
However, a little bit of chivalry isn't going to hurt anybody. Any code that tells people to be nicer to each other is one that I can appreciate. I just hope that nobody who lives by that code stops there. We've still got a long way to go before girls and boys have equal opportunities in life.
Am I overthinking things? Absolutely, but parents overthink virtually everything. Overall, whatever helps people be nicer to each other is a good thing in my book. I just hope we follow through with our courtesies and make sure that kindness is more than just superficial.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.