More on Chivalry

// 13 March 2008

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Do we need signs telling us to give up our seats on the tube for those who might need them more? Apparently, Ken Livingstone thinks so because he has launched a priority seating scheme that includes pregnant women. While I can appreciate some of the reasons why Livingstone thinks this might be necessary (i.e the tube isn’t exactly a hotbed of care and consideration for others), there also seems to be a rather discomforting whiff of chivalry present in some of the rhetoric surrounding the move.

I elaborated on this point when I took part in a debate on the Richard Bacon show last Thursday. You can still catch this debate online (about an hour and a half into the programme) if you go to the radio 5 website today.

Comments From You

Laura // Posted 13 March 2008 at 4:04 pm

Am confused – I don’t go to London that often, but was sure there were already stickers asking you to give up your seat? Or is the news just that they now include pregnant women?

I’m not sure there’s a chivalry problem, if you mean that as crypto-male chauvinism. Visibly pregnant women *are* encumbered and under considerable physical strain (I don’t think it’s disrespectful to acknowledge that!), and while I guess there’s a problem of people perceiving them as ‘weak’, I’m also quite pleased that people are being encouraged to be more considerate in the same way as they are to passengers with other mobility issues.

fliss // Posted 13 March 2008 at 7:14 pm

Yeah I agree with Laura, think giving up your seat to a pregnant woman is just being polite rather than being patronising!

Redheadinred // Posted 13 March 2008 at 9:21 pm

I agree too, giving up your seat to a pregnant woman is just being polite. I’m sure most of them would like to sit down. I don’t see it as patronising.

Hannah // Posted 13 March 2008 at 11:03 pm

Richard Bacon seemed to struggle to understand what I thought was a very simple point at one point there, although overall it seemed to go well. The other guest seemed very reasonable for someone who’s written a book on chivalry.

Tazia // Posted 14 March 2008 at 6:21 am

Polite is just custom, as is secular or modern chivalry, the religious version, blessing of sword on altar, truce of God, orphans, widows protected from mayhem,

I think “Benedictio novi militis.” was the first time since the Roman era that soldiers became respectable. In fact,

in the late Roman period in the west they were also hated, that aversion essentially continued to the crusades.

Chivalry is a boy-word for doing the right thing in the right circumstances. It’s as patriarchal as the pigeon splattered statues of yesterday’s war-mongering classes in the park.

To each calling there is a custom. If one is lining up for a life-boat, that’s probably not the time to make a big issue out of it.

Ceec // Posted 14 March 2008 at 9:05 am

Holly – I can’t listen to the programme. Can you summarise your point here? I’m interested to know what you think.

As a 5-month pregnant woman, I can confirm that it is definitely very hard to stand on the tube at the moment but I’m too embarrassed to ask for a seat and don’t look very pregnant yet so nobody offers either. I always previously gave up my seat for pregnant women, old people, people with children, masses of shopping etc. which seemed to me to be courteous more than anything else.

I assume your point is more to do with the instructions to do so than the act of doing it?

Laura // Posted 14 March 2008 at 10:13 am

I don’t think giving up your seat for a pregnant woman has anything to do with chivalry, as long as it is all travellers who are encouraged to do so and not just men.

In response to Tazia – something being a custom does not make it OK. Chivalry is based on the idea that we should treat people differently because of their sex – bad enough already – and, even worse, specifically treat women differently because they are perceived to be weaker and inferior. That probably isn’t what the chivalrous man is conscisouly thinking, but the act of opening a door, pulling out a chair or giving up a seat simply because the intended recipient of the action is a woman presumes this weakness and/or inferiority. It’s got to go.

Politeness and common courtesy, on the other hand, involves being helpful/nice to people regardless of sex, or any other characteristic.

Liz A // Posted 14 March 2008 at 10:20 am

I’m unable to access the Bacon show as well, which perhaps would explain what I’m missing.

But it seems to me that if it does really need pointing out to people that they ought to give up their seats (and sadly it does), it’s not patronising to include pregnant women in the group of those for whom seats should be given up for.

I never was more tired and unco-ordinated than when I was pregnant.

Cara // Posted 14 March 2008 at 11:41 am

Holly: I caught the debate, well done. I don’t know why Richard Bacon seemed not to get a very simple point either. He seemed genuinely confused by your simple point that politeness should be extended to everyone, and not on the basis of gender…as for the stupid crack about “if men could get pregnant I’d offer them seats too”…*rolls eyes*. It’s about seeing women as human beings!

The point is, as others have said, that people should be polite to *all* other people and not just because that person is female.

The campaign doesn’t only target men – it says that everyone should give up their seat to a pregnant woman. However, the “respect to which they are entitled” bit does not sit well with me…seems to tap into the “having babies is the most sacred calling of a woman” type crap.

I give up my seat to anyone who looks like they need it…looks ill, injured, disabled, with lots of bags, elderly etc. as I am a healthy young woman. Unless I am feeling exhausted or unwell or have luggage myself.

I commute and have been offered seats on the train…purely because I am female…often by middle-aged businessmen who probably need it more than I do! What bugs me is to be offered as if I am weaker/ fragile because I am a woman! Also, if I politely say No thanks, they try to insist and get very huffy if I continue to politely refuse. What bit of “No thanks, I’m fine standing” don’t they get?! Yet if you get into “just because I’m female doesn’t mean I can’t stand up” debate they think you’re an Angry Feminist (TM) and I can’t be arsed with that, especially not before I’ve had coffee.

Oh and the lingering “did they think I’m pregnant omg I’m FAT” paranoia…

Of course, when I had injured my knee and *really* needed a seat I was never offered one, despite being pretty obviously in pain! People in London often are oblivious to others around them. It’s just that I feel “chivalry” is often patronising, a way of exerting power over females and saying “we men own this space really, but we are going to graciously let you sit here because you are weak and inferior” / a way of chatting up attractive young women (how many ugly or middle-aged women get offered seats?!)

sian // Posted 14 March 2008 at 1:25 pm

what IS patronising are those awful fliers that came out a few years ago giving women advise on how to use the tube! bullet points were done in lipsticks, it said to be careful getting out the tube in your “party shoes” and said that as ladies were easily made faint, they should always carry a high energy muesli bar in their handbags in case they needed one.

im assuming it has been rid off, seeing as it was the most sexist piece of public use literature in the world!

Holly Combe // Posted 14 March 2008 at 2:32 pm

Thanks Cara (and, indeed, everyone else!). As you say, the point I wanted to make was simply that care and attention should be taken for everyone, not just certain groups (who I might add have a hard enough time being recognised as equal anyway). Yes, it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that a pregnant woman should be offered a priority seat but, as I said, I would also expect to offer my seat to, say, a man who looks like he may be feeling unwell! In my opinion, it would be very hard to put across such nuances in an already rather convoluted instruction.

Another thing that concerned me was the comment from Liz Back, the general Manager of the Metropolitan line:

“Many pregnant women are often reluctant to ask someone to give up their seat, particularly in the early stages of pregnancy. The aim is to help make it easier for pregnant women to get a seat on the Tube at a time when they need it without the embarrassment of needing to ask someone to give up their seat. The onus is now on customers to keep an eye out for anyone in their carriage who might have a greater need for a seat.”

Is Liz Back assuming that vast numbers of women in the early stages of pregnancy are going to obtain and wear the badges given away during the Baby on Board campaign? if not, what exactly is she suggesting? That every woman of child bearing age ought to be offered a seat on the grounds that she might be pregnant? That would be terrible! Perhaps the fact that pregnant women feel uncomfortable about *actively* asking for a seat is an indication of just how messed up chivalry has made us all… the hangover of a custom that encouraged men to always take charge.

If Ken Livingstone thinks we need a sign to tell us to be considerate towards others, I think he ought to be more specific about *why* pregnant women need a seat. As Ceec and Liz A have experienced, one *is* encumbered while pregnant (whether from morning sickness in the early stages or the heavy weight carried in the latter ones) so why not mention that rather than bandying about woolly -and potentially gallant- statements about pregnant women deserving “respect”?

Ceec // Posted 14 March 2008 at 3:29 pm

Holly – thanks for explaining your point. I agree.

It brings up a bit of a paradox too – I’d also rather people offered to help (unpregnant) me than totally ignore me, even if I am capable of doing it myself. I suppose it could be construed as patronising and maybe it is but it still makes the world a marginally less awful place to be when people show concern and willingness to make your life easier.

I can see the general point about reinforcing constructions of women as hopeless and helpless, but I have male friends who have said they worry about causing offence with offers of help, which seems a shame. I think as a woman I have more freedom to offer help without it being misconstrued, which in itself is rather unfair.

Helen G // Posted 14 March 2008 at 3:44 pm

The Transport for London website suggests that the campaign is quite wide-ranging in its pursuit of consideration for one’s fellow travellers.

Click here for the relevant page on the TfL website – assuming, of course, that it’s not been delayed by a signal failure at Farringdon or something… ^_^

Holly Combe // Posted 14 March 2008 at 3:53 pm

Hi Ceec- While I can appreciate that there will be some situations where a woman offering help will not be misconstrued (and that this can create something of a dilemma for the genuinely helpful man with no agenda), I would also say that there are others where we really aren’t so free at all. For example, there have been many occasions where I have reached a door before a man and held it open, only for him to look slightly offended and refuse to go through, insisting “after you!” I then either have to sheepishly accept his demand and let go of the door for him or stand my ground so we can have a big Door-Off!

Holly Combe // Posted 14 March 2008 at 4:05 pm

Laura- sorry I missed your question. Yes, the news is that the stickers will now also include pregnant women.

Ceec // Posted 14 March 2008 at 4:11 pm

Ah yes – I should clarify that I didn’t mean I had total freedom, just more freedom. I do recognise the “door off” scenario!

Also, I have had slightly alarmed responses from older men when I have offered them my seat which made me feel bad about making them feel old, less macho or whatever. I didn’t mean to imply that these things are value free ever – just hypothesising (and I may be wrong, obviously) that as a woman you are more likely to be thought a nice person if you offer help, and less likely to be thought patronising than a man in a similar position.

Holly Combe // Posted 14 March 2008 at 4:18 pm

Thanks for the link, Helen. I’ve had a quick skim through and, though I find the pictures a bit cutesy, it looks reasonable. The original press release about the stickers still concerns me though and it does all seem rather convoluted. IMO, we wouldn’t be in this mess if it weren’t for the old ideas about chivalry getting in the way of basic good manners!

Holly Combe // Posted 14 March 2008 at 4:34 pm

Yes, I think that’s true, Ceec.

However, I don’t think you should worry about making a man feel less macho! I reckon it goes without saying that we should *always* treat a man with the same respect we expect for ourselves but I’d say the macho thing falls well beyond that particular call of duty. (I only want to be fair to men so if a guy thinks I’m guilty of undermining his sense of machismo I say “tough.”)

Kimberley // Posted 14 March 2008 at 5:56 pm

Ever seen the priority seating signs in the Paris metro? They’re pretty funny. The long list starts with disabled war veterans and ends at around item 7 with the elderly.

IME, the Parisians are much better at offering seats. OTOH, they also have more room to do so.

Tazia // Posted 14 March 2008 at 10:57 pm

In France it is not how disabled you are but, how you got disabled, I think people with acute learning diabilities come last. A factory accient trumps the big with child phenomena.

Genevieve // Posted 15 March 2008 at 3:19 am

My grandma always tells the story of being eight months pregnant with my dad while on the Rapid train (a light rail line in northeast Ohio). Every seat was filled with businessmen, and none of them would move, so she rode all the way from Shaker Heights to downtown Cleveland (at least 20 minutes, if you’re lucky, and it was probably even longer back in the 50s) standing up. And the fifties were supposed to be the ideal time for chivalrous men in America, eh?

Helen Waddell // Posted 20 April 2010 at 6:08 pm

After reading a comment on “insight into chivalry” on the home page I made an effort to find this discussion as I have had strong doubts as to the motivation behind “chivalrous” behaviour since my early teens.

I completely sympathise with the “door-off” phenomenon and “You first!” experience. I am uncomfortable with anyone walking behind me in inappropriately close proximity and find this tactic really disconserting. I would hold a door open for anyone as I see it as a common courtesy and something nice to do for a stranger in an anonymous city (but I do NOT ask anyone to walk ahead of me to make me feel more in control) and I have also had a couple of bemused reactions from (older) men because they don’t seem to see this as well-meaning.

I actually used to suspect that men would ask me to walk ahead of them so that they could look at my bum! But I now just see it as being about the dominant one in an everday situation, i.e. *I am behind you out of vision and feel more in control this way*: the male gaze – and presence – outwith my control.

I HATE it when I am out in a bar or club and when I have to squeeze past a man he puts his hand on my waist to – What? Help me to walk past because I would be incapable of doing so without his “assistance”? It infuriates me that this should be explained away as “chivalry” as it is so obviously has nothing to do with supposed politeness and is only about feeling in ‘control’ of a situation through unwanted touch. I even had a male friend declare to me that “a female waist lends itself to a man’s hand”! I do not want to “lend” any part of my body to a stranger, but then, “chivalry” is not about what I nor any other woman wants or feels comfortable with. The fact that I do like this touch has been viewed by female and male friends of mine as me being unco-operative in submitting to touch regardless of how it makes me feel.

nick // Posted 21 April 2010 at 12:20 pm

I think chivalry should be replaced by good manners ……the old style Titanic mode of ‘women and children first ‘ I think has gone …….

I would open a door for anyone needing help…..I would hope that would apply if I needed help . I would give up my seat

for pregnant women, elderly, disabled etc.

I do recall hearing stories from men who openend doors for women, but then got a mouthful of abuse saying

they were capable of opening doors themselves ….which of course they were……but the men were just being courtious …..

that was a few years back , and I’m sure that was a minority of incidents ……

I would rather a door being open than slammed in my face ……

Jeff // Posted 21 April 2010 at 1:49 pm

I tend to think that Chivalry in younger generations (certainly in mine) has in general been replaced by either politeness or the lack thereof. That is; people of my age, from what I have seen, tend to be either perfectly willing to open a door for both sexes (and are happy to accept a door being opened for them, regardless of who opens it) or alternatively will simply not open a door for anybody.

Of course, there are exceptions to that. I’ve known men open doors for a woman in front of me but allow it to close as soon as she has passed, which rather intimates that they still hold the boring old “Women need a door opened for them” sentiment.

Helen, I’m not surprised you hate that. Why any man feels he has the right to touch you because your body “lends itself” to his hand is beyond me.

gadgetgal // Posted 21 April 2010 at 2:29 pm

I’m not sure about those stories of irate women getting annoyed at a door being opened for them – any time I’ve ever heard them it’s always from someone who says they’ve “heard a story” rather than first-hand experience. I reckon it’s a bit of an urban myth, or maybe it happened once to one guy in the 1970s and all women still suffer from the repercussions today. It’s like that urban myth of razor blades in Halloween candy – it never happened but trick or treating in my town got cancelled anyway (they put together a parade instead)!

Kristel // Posted 21 April 2010 at 3:16 pm

‘…the old Titanic model of women and children first..’

I take it you’re not referring to those men who jumped into lifeboats dressed in women’s clothing? Or crew members who piled into lifeboats and winched themselves to safety, leaving lots of women and children on deck? It all came out at the New York enquiry.

‘Women and children first’ has in general been a purely theoretical concept. Like chivalry. I agree with Jeff, there are people of whatever sex who will open doors for others and appreciate it when that is done for them, because they are considerate and polite, and others who never show any consideration. I always find that people who aren’t polite are always the ones who shout loudest if they think someone’s been rude to them, but that’s another story. Or derail.

Elmo // Posted 21 April 2010 at 4:04 pm

I was getting on the bus the other day, and as i stepped on my friend put his hand on my lower back. He didnt push or steer me on (not that i needed it) it was like he was ushering me on. I didnt say anything, but i was thinking “what are you doing?!? What on earth is the point of that?” It seemed he was just doing it because he could-and the worst thing is, i dont think he was even concious he was doing it. i think thats true of many men- they’ve become so used to putting their hands where they like, they dont even think about it anymore.

I’m pretty sure the whole door opening angry women thing *is* an urban myth- ive never witnessed or been told of anyone ever actually doing that.

Helen Waddell // Posted 21 April 2010 at 8:41 pm

Thanks for all the feedback on what I said.

I should clarify that what I was saying about the “you first/stand-off” in my experience has generally involved a man that I might be in the company of but not know particularly well – for example at a family function. A sort of familiarity (he may certainly display an assumed ‘familiarity’ that for me does not exist) of convenience. At an anniversary celebration of my father’s cousin a man standing behind me for the group photo deemed it necessary to put his hand on my lower back and – Elmo! – actually DID seem to think it was necessary to steer me to the position the photographer had asked for (less than a foot away). He did this twice. I did not know who he was, we were not at any point introduced to each other at the function, and the touch made me feel very uncomfortable.

But I digress. I do not automatically object, intellectually, to a man holding a door open for me – it would actually be really nice if anyone at all did it at any time! (I do sympathise Jeff!) It has more to do with an unecessarily ostentatious display of ‘good manners’ that actually then makes me feel really uncomfortable when a man who I don’t really know but happen to be in company with only does something so he can position himself in a way that makes him feel more in control. Becuase of assumed familiarity he would be uncomfortably close behind me when there actually existed no reason at all for us not to be walking in tandem.

I am not out for unecessary man-bashing regardless of the individual, and think it’s a shame that the inappropriate actions of some make a general situation difficult for others. For me it is about whether I am comfortable with something that is genuinely well-intentioned as opposed to something that makes me feel uncomfortable because it is not really about manners or politeness at all. It’s a great shame that anyone would use such a guise to play petty power games in every day minutiae and muddy the waters about relations between men and women.

I would not lose my temper with a male stranger for holding a door open for me simply because he was male. The “stories” of such incidents probably are urban myths, gadgetgal – much in the same way that I unfortunately hooked into stories (which I never actually saw in print but just heard about) of the term ‘blackboard’ having to be replaced by the term ‘chalkboard’ in a “political correctness gone MAD!!!” campaign that was then pointed out to me by my sister to be just tabloid-fuelled anti-pc feeling. The “blackboard/chalkboard” idea may have well been a well-intended though flawed suggestion by someone, somewhere, at some point, but it was then blown up in the usual media hysteria based on practically nothing at all (see reports on Facebook supposedly being linked to ill-health, using “direct quotes” and “research” facts completely refuted by the medical professionals and researchers they were supposedly attributed to). I also heard stories of hidden razorblades – in apples and also being attached with chewing gum inside the flumes at the Commonwealth Pool in Edinburgh. I’m sure there are many variations in many places.

I can’t actually remember the last time a door was held open for me by any stranger! It all has much more to do with sentiment and intention than physically holding a door open. Very true that it is down to people either having good manners towards others or not, Nick and Jeff. I often hold doors open for people behind me in shops or elsewhere, and it has been sad that most have not thanked me or even acknowledged I am there by actually looking at me. On one occasion I was leaving a hospital canteen, and having held the door open for several members of my family then some people after them, I found myself still holding the door for quite a stream of people leaving after us – several small groups of people, not one of whom thanked me or even bothered to look at me. I felt as if I was an unpaid worker for the hospital and eventually got so pissed off I just let the door go. A middle-aged man making his way towards the door let out a shocked “OH!” that I had not continued to hold it open, and he may well have been the only person who was going to thank me – but I wasn’t willing to wait and find out. What a shame. Quite often now I will let out a faux-friendly, “Don’t mention it!” to shame people but this has not so far elicited an actual verbal reaction. *Sigh*.

I often find that if I complain about unwanted touch from men in public situations that friends of either gender react as if I am making a fuss about nothing and have no right to complain. There is a danger of women being labelled neurotic or “FEMINIST!!/lesbian!/man-hater!/frigid!” (there seems to be an endless – and interchangeable! – list of insults) for daring to have the gall to quite rightly object to something that makes them feel bad. I don’t like unwanted touch because it is unwanted! It feels bad. I don’t understand what is so objectionable and difficult to understand about this!?

Elmo // Posted 21 April 2010 at 10:10 pm

Helen, I heard it was Ainslie Park and Leith Water World what had the razor blades in the flumes. Clearly there is a plot to stop people in Edinburgh going swimming, and it seems to have worked, I havnt been in ages…

And I agree about the whole distant relatives thing-there are so many times when men, young and old, who know you *but only just* feel they can put there hands where they like.

In fact, theyre in the *perfect* situation if they want a grope because: (A) we dont know them well enough to feel comfortable saying “oi, get off, i dont need you to do that!”, (B) nor are they total strangers, who you could easily shout at since they have no reason to be touching you. Creepy times.

Holly Combe // Posted 21 April 2010 at 11:26 pm

My experience of the “helping hand” in public places is that it generally doesn’t seem to be about getting a grope in. I reckon it’s often more of a paternal gesture that reflects a sense of control/entitlement and subsequent responsibility over the space. Which is, of course, infuriatingly patronising!

One of the most bemusing examples of this for me was when a guy at a work event started to usher me across the road as I imagine some people might when looking after a small child. I don’t recall there being any direct contact but he had a very stern look on his face as he did it.

Helen Waddell // Posted 22 April 2010 at 1:36 am

It’s very true about the distant relative position putting a man in the perfect position (as they feel it may be, subconsciously or otherwise), Elmo. I have on occasion pushed a man’s hand away (sometimes twice when he didn’t get the message the first time!) when it has been placed upon me for obviously spurious ‘reasons’. But they were strangers to me that I may have been talking to – maybe at a bus stop, just for example. When in the company of family where there can be that assumption of familiarity by association I have also not felt it so easy to do the same thing despite the fact that I may very much have wanted to.

At about the age of 14 I smelt a rat after having to endure the archaic nonsense of my parents’ middle-aged male friends, i.e. “OH! So you’re a FEMINIST!” (already being used only as an insult in 1987), and so on. I can clearly remember them stooping and talking to me with huge goggle eyes and patronising voices as if to a toddler – as if in the hope that they might be able to wind me back a few years to pre-pre-pubescense when I would have been regarded as easier to handle or indeed as not having to be addressed at all. I am also sure that the fact that this was the time when I had started to choose my own (less stuffy and square) clothes, wear make-up and start getting involved with boys at school made the whole thing more complicated for these men, and made them keener to behave in belittling or insidiously controlling ways. As for the way I felt at the time, I was not on the outside looking in, and expected reactions to me not to based on whether I was wearing mascara or not, but on who I was as a person and what I was trying to articulate. Of course I was naive, I was only 14, but I do not now regard understanding the machinations of social interplay and acquiescently “playing the game” any better than I did then.

I have had male friends and relatives persist in unwanted touch – like a hand on my waist – even after I have asked them not to – and when I become angry or irritable the third or fourth time I’ve had to repeat myself they behave like a huffy child and even try to make me feel guilty for not letting them continue regardless of my feelings.

I am often reacted to as if all of this subtle/not-so-subtle social positioning exists only in my mind and that I am ‘just paranoid’ and ‘feminist’ – as if to have feminist views is to have a mental illness! Or that I have no right to express feeling uncomfortable or compromised and should just keep my mouth shut. This makes me even more angry.

I agree that ‘unecessary helping-hand’ behaviour very much reflects a sense of control/entitlement and responsibility over a space – ‘responsibility over a space’ to the extent that even without touch it is still signalled with the ‘unecessary shielding arm’ stretched out as if around you. As if the invisible force radiating from the shielding arm will propel me across the road as the poor wee incapable woman I am, or is going to stop a car hitting either or both of us? Hmmmm. What a lot of nonsense.

I would say ‘paternal’ for want of a better word, as I don’t always feel that unwanted public touch is exclusively intended with sentiments that could be described as paternal, although I see the point you are making, Holly. Patriarchal would be more like it for me. It IS about control and entitlement, and responsibility for – or ownership of – a space, but it can often have a more sexual tone, as in the case of men in clubs putting their hand on or arm around my waist – or a man patting or slapping a woman’s behind. Personally I find a man I don’t know or hardly know touching me on my lower back or waist as inappropriately personal because that is a way I would expect only to be touched by a man I am involved with – and it just does not feel right. If a touch is unwanted it feels bad and that is wrong. I think if touch has to be passed off as being ‘protective’ when it is obvious that no protection is necessary, or as help when clearly there is no help needed, this is a clear indication that a man’s sense of entitlement and control is at the heart of the issue. I have spoken to so many friends who do not seem able to grasp this concept when I try to explain it.

nick // Posted 22 April 2010 at 1:56 pm

kristel – just found this info off the titantic society web page ….

A careful look at the historical record reveals that several factors contributed to whether or not a person was given a seat on the lifeboat.

Gender: The guiding principle was “women and children first.” This was the unquestioned rule. It was obeyed. Women were given seating on a first come first serve basis. First class passenger cabins were most conveniently located near the lifeboats. Most third class passengers were asleep in the bowels of the ship at the time Titanic hit the iceberg. Because of their location, news of the danger took much longer to reach them. After the order for women and children was rigorously applied, several secondary considerations were, on a boat-by-boat basis, to play a role in determining which men, if any, would get a lifeboat seat.

Secondary Considerations included the following:

The Need for Crew to Direct and Row the Boats: It was standard practice to place a small compliment of crew aboard each lifeboat to direct the passengers and to row for the women. In some instances where no crew was immediately available, male passengers were placed in boats as substitutes.

The Absence of Women and Children: The officers charged with the responsibility of launching the lifeboats were racing against the clock. In those instances where women and children could not be located at the time of the launching, some crew members opted to place men in the boats.

Anyway ….thats in the past …

I think society in general has lost/forgotten manners and respect for others ….I think thats where a lot of problems stem from.

Holly Combe // Posted 22 April 2010 at 2:37 pm

Personally, I don’t reckon it’s that people have “lost” or “forgotten” manners. I think it shows that people never really had them in the first place or, rather, that the old ways of doing things were riddled with selfish posturing from those with privilege. It also shows there would always be a price to pay in terms of dignity and genuine respect for those being given the consolation prize of being cherished and “protected” in return for having less privilege (eg: women and children). There’s nothing moral or polite about helping someone if the condition attached to that is degrading to the person being “helped”. Start to strip away privilege and one quickly sees just how hollow the old customs really were.

aimee // Posted 22 April 2010 at 6:18 pm

I remember being 8 months pregnant, wearing slippers ‘cos my feet were too swollen to wear shoes and havng to stand up for THREE hours on a train because no one would let me sit down.

The other day, however, I was on a bus and an old man insisted I took his seat. I mean, REALLY insisted. I was like “no, its fine honestly” and he just kept on so eventually I relented and felt really bad and uncomfortable. To make it worse, the woman sat next to me preceded to give me a lecture on how it’s polite to accept if a man offers me a seat, because ‘they’re only trying to be polite’ and I shouldn’t make them feel bad by not accepting. I was kind of like “wow are you talking to the wrong person”, but really? I should make myself feel bad so a man can get his kicks from giving up his seat to an inferior lady type? I’m sure the old man was just trying to be polite but his insistance just made me feel uncomfortable and there was no reason for me to tke his seat, indeed I felt like he needed it more as he was clearly quite old.

CMK // Posted 22 April 2010 at 10:00 pm

@ aimee

I am sure that many of the people that offer their seat do so because they feel obliged to do so by the social norms that existed during much of their lives. I would be very surprised if any did it for ‘kicks’!

@ Holly Combe

I agree that many give a helping hand with good intentions. Finding a way to politely decline is always difficult. I do not think it is as common as it used to be, those having a feel are generally having a feel!

@Kristel :

“Women and children first’ has in general been a purely theoretical concept”

I would challenge this statement, I think we have seen it many times for better and for worse. The Titanic disaster is a prime example where third class women had a much higher chance of survival than first class men. Not every man will follow these rules but it strikes me that at one time many did.

coldharbour // Posted 22 April 2010 at 10:32 pm

After having to pile on the Victoria line at rush hour on a very regular basis this argument seems very archaic to my good self, it’s usually either a choice between having some Hoxton clowns 3ft wide Sennheisers crushed in my face or practically having sex with a bumbagged American wearing a Manchester United top. Fuck chivalry to boot, a classic example of the moral bankruptcy of Victorian Britain; you can enslave and colonize a quarter of the worlds population but you can’t swear at the dinner table. I think I’ll take socio-economic equality thank you very much, don’t bother opening the doors unless it’s not too much effort. Anyway, I’ve been watching this dude’s videos, I like to think it’s the intellectual standard set by the ‘enemy’. Funny as fuck. (Paste link after www.)

Mod note: The video is off-topic in terms of the chivalry debate but worth checking out if you want to see a ludicrous example of anti-feminist conspiracy theory. However, I’d suggest avoiding it if you find that sort of thing depressing rather than funny.

Kristel // Posted 23 April 2010 at 11:46 am

Nick, thanks for that info and link. I read it with interest. And CMK, yes. I was too hasty and exaggerated in my post.


Elmo // Posted 23 April 2010 at 11:46 am

Yes CMK, *but* many people “giving a helping hand” do not *need* to give a helping hand. None of us need a passive hand on our waist to push us onto a bus or through a club-especially if the hand is just resting there, as it usually is. In many cases these people are neither having a grope or being helpful-they are just putting there hands where they dont need to be, for no real purpose, and we have to question why they do this.

aimee // Posted 23 April 2010 at 1:14 pm

Really? Those same social norms that are grounded in sexist ideas about the role and status of women and men? Why would someone persist in insisting that I take his seat when I was clearly uncomfortable about it and had already politely declined a number of times? There is social norms and then there’s maintaining your own sense of propriety at the expense of someone else. And then to be chastised by somene else for not being willing to concede to sexist expectations is even worse. It’s not the act itsself that upset me but the insistence and the subsequent chastising.

aimee // Posted 23 April 2010 at 7:05 pm

Sorry to derail but that video is hilarious! Feminazi utopia? I do not think that means what you think it means..

coldharbour // Posted 26 April 2010 at 11:33 am

For some reason it seemed to remind me of the aesthetic content of the recent Conservative Party posters with Gordon Brown. I can envision it redesigned with Jackie Smith or Harriet Harman; “I forced you to go to bed with me and I’ll do it again”. I think the chances of any woman coercing him into a sexual relationship are about as likely as the Yeovil Independence Party getting elected.

aimee // Posted 26 April 2010 at 8:36 pm

I want to know how he came to that conclusion… “What, these women want to be treated fairly? It must be an underhand plot to get me to sleep with women i’m not attracted to..!” Not that his powers of logic would do anything but muddy up the gene pool….

Feminist Avatar // Posted 27 April 2010 at 1:03 am

Being a tedious historian here- but the chivalry on boats and on the Titanic is a much more complicated story that the ‘women and children’ first narrative suggests. Firstly, it was only after some very famous incidences of women drowning in the 1850s (because men got in the lifeboats) that it became a topic of concern- so that by the time the Titanic sank, there was a sort of hysteria around the loss of chivalry that made men want to prove that they were chivalrous. In practice, men hadn’t been very chivalrous in the past. So, this wasn’t a long tradition as much as a moment of a nostalgia for a non-existant history.

Second, class was significant on the Titanic and it wasn’t just an accident of location that many lower-class women and men got left behind with the men.

Third, the Titanic sank in 1912, when the suffrage movement was in full force, so some women didn’t want to go first and refused to do so. In fact, newspapers of the period had a hard time explaining what went on on the Titanic in terms of chivalry- because they knew that many women did not view what happened on the Titanic favourably.

If you want a more detailed discussion I recommend- Lucy Delap, ‘”Thus does man prove to be the master of things”: shipwrecks, chivalry and masculinities in nineteenth and twentieth century Britain’, Cultural and Social History, 3 (2006), pp. 45-74.

Juliet // Posted 27 April 2010 at 11:34 am

Feminist Avatar, interesting. I also read that some women didn’t get into lifeboats because they wanted to stay on deck with their husbands and die together.

CMK // Posted 27 April 2010 at 4:28 pm

@Elmo/Aimee: In this scenario people do it as a symbolic gesture that they are offering help/support and mean well by it. I’ll happily take that goodwill gesture! There are too many people willing to push you out of the way. Whilst there is a negative consequence of the first persons behaviour I take the view that they mean well by it so shouldn’t be too hard on challenging them on it. Those having a feel deserve what they get.

Holly Combe // Posted 27 April 2010 at 5:59 pm

I agree with regard to not being too hard on someone in a challenge if one gets the genuine impression that person means well. However, I think it’s important that doesn’t end up translating into the challenge not taking place at all.

Also, it can actually feel quite objectifying when someone makes a particular gesture, despite your body language indicating that you don’t want them to or the situation not really demanding it. It suggests you aren’t being paid attention to as a real person and that the person making the unnecessary gesture values a system of conduct over real diverse human beings. Style over substance.

Going back to the points about well-meaning gestures… I’ve probably told this story before but this makes me think of a chap in my neighbourhood who I challenged for making kiss noises at me. I expect he thought he “meant well” and that it was a compliment. Indeed, he seemed to have very hurt feelings on the next few occasions when I passed him and would turn away when I nodded to acknowledge him but, after a few days, he started to reply to my simple “hello” or “morning!” I think the challenge was necessary.

aimee // Posted 28 April 2010 at 10:34 am

Yeah quite. And I wasn’t too hard on him, I said thankyou, but I did feel incredibly uncomfortable. And I totally resented the woman’s assertion that I should have to compromise any integrity that I felt, my own sense of personal autonomy, my own sense that i’m not a weak woman in need of male assistance all the time, to satisfy a man’s erroneous sense of social hierarchy.

Vicki // Posted 28 April 2010 at 2:50 pm


Exactly! Couldn’t have put it better myself, so I won’t even try. :-)

Antoine // Posted 28 April 2010 at 3:42 pm

I heard/read somewhere (and I don’t know if this is true, anyone knowing better, please feel free to correct me) that chivalry started in mediaeval times when the streets were extremely dangerous and violent. The gentleman ushering the lady out ahead of him was actually being very ungentlemanly because he knew if there were any hooligans waiting to pounce, this lesser female creature would get it first and he’d have time to duck back in and barricade the door! Not exactly charming, huh?

Feminist Avatar // Posted 28 April 2010 at 5:39 pm

Medieval chivalry was a set of rules for controlling behaviour (and limiting violence) amongst mainly elite men. It encompassed notions of honour and quite strict guidelines for social interaction (although it didn’t apply to the non-elites). It did include good table manners, and how to treat elite women (but mainly so you didn’t offend their owner)- but these rules wouldn’t be particularly recognisable today. For a start, there is a lot more kissing involved that many men would be comfortable with today!

The idea of chivalry comes back into discussion in the late-eighteenth century, but their understanding of it reflected the era and their conception of gender- so they appropriated the language of chivalry but it meant very different things and behaviours. Then in the early 19thC, it becomes really fashionable as way of behaving as men (reinforced by the militerism and ideas of empire so potent in the 19th C). But, in many ways, this is more about male interaction than interaction with women (as suggested say by the Titanic narrative). Really, how to treat women is very much a secondary concern.

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