A friend recently posted on facebook about an older man and a younger woman holding up commuter traffic as they politely insisted that the other go first onto the train. I guess we've all found ourselves in that scenario at one time or another. It's the same in the lifts at my work. There will be a man who is positioned right near the entrance who will stand there with his arm across the door until those of us at the back have marched past him and safely out of the lift before he departs. I wonder whether he’s being old fashioned and patriarchal, or whether I am being stubborn and difficult for not appreciating his chivalry. Most of the people commenting on the facebook post seemed to think that a kindness shown to another person should be accepted graciously.
Since today is International Women's day, I have been reflecting on what it means to be a feminist, an ally, and a compassionate human. We know that, while women fare just as well as men at highschool, it’s men who earn more, have accumulated more superannuation, and are more likely to be in a management role by the time we’re in our 40s. Women are also more likely to do the bulk of the unpaid work at home, and be on the receiving end of domestic violence, sexual violence and harassment. In so many areas of our lives, there is a disappointing gap larger than that between the train and the platform.
Something is out of whack, and what I guess annoys me is that we women don't need doors opened for us. What we need is allies to the feminist cause, those who are willing to help shift the power dynamics, and open genuinely equal opportunities for advancement, confidence and leadership. Yet, how often do men who are in a position of power step back, encourage, and allow a woman to progress in her chosen field ahead of him? And when they do, are they the same men who hold open the in-real-life doors?
Tonight there was a new teacher at circus class. He was older, chubbier, and more cheerful than the regular guy. I liked him immediately. We started at the beginning because the other student had even less experience than me, and I couldn’t really remember any of the poses anyway. Throughout the entire class our teacher encouraged and supported us. At times he stepped back, and let us take the time to get the hang of a new balance. He continually celebrated our achievements, however small, and ensured that we ended the class with a successful three person koala stand! I came home on a real high, feeling as if a whole new world had been opened up for me.
So, the next time somebody tries to hold a door open, I could take their hand and effortlessly swing into chair pose, or bird, or koala. But no, that would only create even more awkwardness and confusion with other commuters on the train. So, perhaps I’ll just take it as somebody seeing leadership potential in me and choose to step ahead with confidence. Because, hey, I am woman. Hear me roar!