x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The age of chivalry is dead? Only if you insist, madame

Recently, I told my father that the "age of the gentleman" had ended with his generation. His reply was: "You can't blame it all on the men."

There I was in Paris, the city of love and romance, standing at the bottom of the stairs at a metro station struggling with a massive suitcase. I must have looked quiet ridiculous trying to carry the bag, with a pack on my back and a winter hat with cat ears sticking up.

People of all shapes and sizes zoomed by me, and several men even pushed me to the side as they made their way up.

"Where is a gentlemen when I need one?" I said out loud. Ten minutes later, and only five steps up, one finally presented himself.

"Do you need any help?" said an older man, who looked like he was in his 50s.

And before I could respond, another man stopped, also about the same age, and both of them carried my bag all the way to the top of the stairs. There, they tipped their hats, wished me a good day and off they went their separate ways.

I was reminded of this scene last weekend, when a friend and I were struggling with a box from Ikea. I couldn't believe it was just a small book shelf. It took us five minutes just to get the box out of her car.

As we struggled to carry it to the front door of her building, several young men passed by. They were of different nationalities, and some did glance over their shoulders. But they all hurried on before either of us could ask for their help.

I was wearing gym clothes and comfortable trainers, while my friend was in a lovely dress and a pair of heels. I thought: "Some man will for sure come help a beautiful lady like my friend in distress." But no one came, and we managed it on our own. It just took longer.

Her argument - "If you look like a lady, you will be treated like a lady" - fell short that day.

Whenever my friends and I are in a mixed group, the "gender discussion" often takes place. For men, the argument goes like this: "Well, blame feminism. You wanted equal rights, and so we treat you like we would treat another man."

Men will also frequently complain that women "always" expect men to pay the bill and carry things or open doors.

"Why do they feel so self-entitled?" asked a male friend who refuses to join girls' lunches or dinner parties because he always gets stuck with the bill.

Women are also remarkably consistent in their laments. "There are no real men these days," they'll say, "men with honour, values and chivalry." As one good friend likes to remind me: "I know men whose hands are softer than most women's."

When it comes to marriage and finding the right partner, many people who live unconventional or non-traditional lives still look for traditional wives or husbands.

"I want a man who is like a Bedouin: rough in his face and hands; strong, honourable and poetic," women will say. "But he also needs to be educated, powerful, able to protect me and provide for me and my children." A rarity these days.

Men have their lists, too. But according to several of my male friends, their lists are "simpler".

"We just want a beautiful wife, who can raise our children and take care of the household, have meals ready and just listen to us when we complain about work."

Several of my girlfriends who were staunch career women stopped working after they married, partly to make their husbands happy. I have seen the strain on marriages when both partners work in hectic jobs.

In the end, for men and women alike, much depends on how you were raised and how your expectations have evolved. At the same time, studies have repeatedly shown that a majority of people opt for a traditional wedding, even if they are not particularly religious or live traditional lives.

The changes we are seeing in gender roles are understandable.

But it can't stop me from venting. Recently, I told my father that the "age of the gentleman" had ended with his generation.

His reply was: "You can't blame it all on the men."

 

rghazal@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @arabianmau