A couple weeks ago some guy tried to steal my diaper bag at the playground. I just happened to look up and there he was, nonchalantly walking out of the park with my bag on his shoulder. I was already running after him yelling, “Hey! That’s my bag!” before it occurred to me that perhaps I shouldn’t be threatening an unknown man who’s clearly a criminal. Especially while holding my son on my hip.
I didn’t think, though, and I confronted him and, actually, I got the bag back. But as I turned around and met the startled faces of the other moms and dads at the playground who’d watched the whole thing go down, it occurred to me that not a single man had come to my aid. There were plenty of dads at the playground that day. Some who even spoke to me afterward, wondering how I’d gotten the guy to give my bag back. But no one had seen a woman in peril and stepped in.
Sure, it wasn’t like the guy was beating me to a pulp, or groping me, or anything. But he was menacing, and strong, and he was stealing my bag! I’m not your typical damsel in distress, I suppose. With my frizzy hair pulled up under my baseball cap, my feet firmly planted, my eyes glaring defiantly into the robber’s face, and my teacher voice (honed over ten years working in elementary schools) firmly stating, “That’s my bag. Give it back now.” But none of that erases the fact that I am, in fact, most definitely a damsel. And, in that moment (regardless of how I was handling it) the situation was objectively one that put me in distress.
In the era of radical feminism, in which women and men are, supposedly, exactly the same, a man coming to a woman’s aid is a pointless exercise. Or worse, it’s offensive. Had I been any other woman in that playground, in fact (I live in Brooklyn, N.Y.), I might very well have been offended had a man stepped in, feeling that I would have stood just as much chance of taking the robber on in a fight as any man. But I’m not any other woman in that playground. I live in reality. Had that man tried to hurt me, I’d have been overpowered. Might have been nice to have a little muscle to back me up.
In an article for Scary Mommy, Rita Templeton perfectly explains the problem with teaching chivalry to our sons in the age of radical feminism. “How can I preach to my sons that women are equals in every way, yet still tell them that they’re most likely the ones who are expected to pay on a date…and open doors…and adopt a general attitude of ‘ladies first’ when interacting with the opposite sex?” It’s an excellent question (if you, like Templeton, believe the lie that women and men are equals in every way).
Templeton goes on to say, revealingly, that “If I were dating, I’d far rather date a man who makes me feel special with those little gestures than one who treats our quality time the same way he would an outing with his best bud.” Of course she would! But her dilemma (which I give her props for exposing) is exactly the reason why men no longer feel they can protect a lady. Even if they might want to. Even if it’s right.
But, the things is, those “little gestures” aren’t just to make us “feel special.” They’re to let us know we’re safe. They’re the things a man does to tell us that, even though he’s twice our size, and twice as strong (because biology made him that way), he won’t hurt us. He pulls out our chair, or pays for our meal, or opens the door for us, not because we don’t know how to pull out chairs, open doors, or pay for things, but because it shows us that he’ll be using his superior strength to care for us, not kill us. And that if someone comes along who seems like he does want to kill us (or steal our bag), he’ll use his superior strength to make sure that other guy takes a hike.
Like Templeton, I’m also raising a son. But I have no qualms about teaching him to be chivalrous. Because I know that, even though a woman and a man are equally capable of becoming, say, brain surgeons, they aren’t equally capable of punching some guy in the head. And I also know that, because men and women are different, the kind of interplay that comes from a man taking care of a woman by protecting her physically, and a woman taking care of a man by protecting him emotionally is desirable to both.
So, though it strikes fear into a mother’s heart to say it, when my son is grown, if he sees a man threatening a woman (no matter how frizzy her hair, and defiant her gaze) I hope he’ll come to her aid. And when he goes on those first, awkward dates he’ll know (because I taught him) to pull out that chair, open that door, and pick up the tab. And if any girl tells him he’s being offensive and insists on going dutch? Well, she’s just not the right girl for him.