Category Archives: Feminism

Chivalry on the Subway

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Chivalry has never been my thing. Even when I was little and deeply invested in fairy tale Disney movies, I remember thinking that if I were in life-threatening danger, I wouldn’t want some Prince to come rescue me. I grew up with adults shouting “stranger danger!” to instill crippling fear and suspicion of basically anyone I had yet to encounter in my ripe 6 years of life. So: some dude tells me he wants to kiss me so that a “spell” can be broken? I’ll pass, creep. As I got older and started realizing that “Princes” are usually the ones us ladies need saving from in the first place, Law & Order: SVU became, and remains, my favorite fairy tale of all time.

Nonetheless, aside from the couple of times a year when various magazines declare “Chivalry is Dead!”, I never really think about the term. There was one time a couple of years ago, when I did that insane thing girls sometimes do and went on a first date. I dutifully noted throughout the entire night that he kept opening doors for me. Even if the door was out of his way, like my car door, he would zip around the car and open it. If there was no door, he would step aside and gesture with his arms that I walk in first, flight attendant style. On the ride home I observed, “You open doors a lot” (you can tell how great the conversation was flowing at this point). He asked if that was a problem and I said it wasn’t, it’s just kind of weird because I know how to open a door. And he said, “You’ve just never experienced chivalry like this”. Then I believe I told him that opening someone’s door is polite, not full-blown chivalrous, and he asked me if I was “one of those feminists”, and now we live happily after.

The next time I thought about chivalry was today, on the subway. Now, it should be noted that on NYC public transportation not only is chivalry dead, but so are all rules of human morality, ethics, and decency. The subway is to behavior what Twitter is to opinions: mayhem. So, to put it mildly, I don’t expect much “chivalry” whilst on the F train. This morning I was on a full train, but I boarded early enough to get a seat (such a rare occurance, it almost made me believe in God). Right before the doors closed, a very pregnant woman walked onto the train. Once we started moving I looked at the mostly men sitting around me, who could all clearly see the pregnant woman standing in front of us. “Excuse me, miss, do you want to sit?” As the words came out of my mouth I have to admit it felt odd. I fancy myself a feminist but kind of felt like I was saying what a guy should be saying. I’ve never called another girl “miss”. Before the woman could respond, the guy next to me stood up and proudly gestured towards his seat like a true gentleman… just as my flight attendant date did for little ol’ me. The girl sat down, turned to me, and said, I shit you not: “They open your door but god forbid they give up their damn seat on the subway.”

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I realized what chivalry really means, to me at least. It’s not being kind, or polite, or gentle, or helpful. It’s doing something that puts another person’s well-being before your own, possibly by sacrificing your own well-being, and without the promise or expectation of getting anything in return. So, chivalry is not a guy buying you dinner or opening your door. Trust me, he thinks he’s getting something out of it. Chivalry is altruism I guess… but that spirals into the philosophical debate of the existence of altruism, so let’s let that slide and just get to the bottom line:

Chivalry is giving up your damn seat on the subway.

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Oppressed Majority

Being the esteemed procrastinator that I am, I frequently spiral into the rabbit hole that is YouTube. While this custom typically leads to me obsessively watching every interview Amy Schumer has ever done until 4 AM, last night I actually came across something that moved me.

This 10 minute French film, “Oppressed Majority (Majorité Opprimée)”, tells the story of Pierre, a seemingly mundane man going through his daily routine on a typical day in an unnamed French town. However, in the world that the director Eléonore Pourriat creates, women are in charge. Essentially, traditional gender roles are turned upside down. Women run topless, pee in alleys, and yell sexually vulgar things to Pierre while he rides his bike around town. However, when Pierre is raped at knifepoint by a gang of women, the story takes a dark turn. The fundamental reason this film is so powerful is that the alternate universe Pourriat creates seems so absurd, yet it is really just a representation of our reality, only with men playing the role of women.

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I personally had a visceral reaction to the film, particularly because I have been victim to many of the sexist behaviors depicted in the film. When Pierre is raped, his wife tells him he was asking for it because he is wearing short Bermuda shorts and a low cut shirt. It sounds farcical to associate men’s clothing with sexuality, but for women it is a daily concern. I am constantly hyperaware of how I dress so as not to look too provocative that I will be objectified, but also not too conservative that I look unattractive. This awareness is so entrenched in my identity as a woman that I don’t even step back and wonder why I am scrutinizing my appearance through the male gaze.

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What do you think of the film? Does it accurately depict sexism in our society? Is it too focused on gender as binary? If you are male, did it make you understand women in a way you hadn’t before?

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But first… let me take a selfie.

I had to read this article for my feminist philosophy class, and it unleashed a contentious debate among the professor and my classmates as to whether “the female selfie” is a visible reflection of patriarchal social norms, or a pushback against the harsh beauty standards set forth by those norms. Here are my thoughts on the matter…

There are a lot of generalizations made about “the female selfie” both positive and negative. I think it would be impossible to make a definitive statement about why all women post selfies because every woman is different. Moreover, I think the desire to dualistically label “the female selfie” as good or bad simply highlights the fundamental misconception about feminism in general which is that all women want the same things or are motivated by the same things. Feminism is about giving women equal opportunity, and then supporting whatever they decide to do with those opportunities. I am sure some women post selfies solely to attract men, some post selfies out of self-love, some are rebelling against harsh beauty standards set forth by gender norms, etc.

I know girls that have posted sexy, albeit filtered selfies on Instagram after a harsh breakup to make an ex-boyfriend jealous. I also have friends that post selfies with no makeup on to show that that is how they feel most beautiful. I also know women that feel most confident with their makeup done, and if they love how their winged eyeliner turns out one day they might post a selfie to show it off to their followers. I have never personally posted a selfie on social media- but I have definitely taken many a selfie (my biggest source of anxiety is someone scrolling through my camera roll). And, who knows- maybe one day I’ll change my mind and decide to post one. I would never judge another woman for posting a selfie, but more importantly I would never form an opinion on “the female selfie” as if it is an ontologically distinct entity rather than an umbrella that describes just one way women can express themselves through social media.

So, I decided to post my first selfie right here. I’m not trying to impress a man, or rebel against the patriarchy. I’m not trying to love myself more, or to seek anyone’s approval. It’s just a picture I took of myself.

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JUDGE AWAY! Or don’t. Doesn’t matter to me!

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