Thursday, March 1, 2012

I had an interesting conversation with someone the other day that sprung out of our weekly discussion about the most recent episode of “Survivor.” What started as the usual “I can’t believe they voted that person out” turned into a friendly debate about the roles of men and women in today’s society and whether chivalry is, or should be, dead. For those of you who don’t watch “Survivor,” they have changed things up a bit this season and made it a women vs. men competition – one tribe is made up of all women and the other all men. It’s an interesting dynamic, and to stir things up even more, both tribes are living on the same beach with their camps a short distance from each other. There’s still a clear definition of whose camp is whose, but they’re close enough for the contestants to be able to mill around the beach and end up at the opposing team’s designated area.

While I’m enjoying the twists this season, I have to say that the women’s tribe is starting to annoy me to no end. There’s been a lot of whining about how they’re supposed to build a shelter and start a fire with no men on their tribe. There’s been some grumbling about how the challenges would be easier if they had some men to help them out, even though the challenges are clearly designed to favor neither tribe – anyone can participate and potentially win. What really drives me crazy, though, is the way the women have been skulking over to the men’s camp, batting their eyelashes, and coyly asking for “just an ember” from the men’s fire so they can start their own. During storms on the island, many of the women have been running to the men’s shelter seeking warmth and dryness that their own shelter doesn’t provide. Instead of taking it upon themselves to get it together, fix their shelter, and build themselves a fire, they just keep running to the men with a “Poor little ol’ me, I’m just a girl” swoon. As I watch, my brain is screaming, “Figure it out and do it yourselves, for God’s sake!” Now, keep in mind that the women’s tribe has everything that they need to build a fire and a sturdy shelter. They have flint, a machete, access to kindling and palm fronds – the same things the men’s tribe has. The men do have a tarp, which helps greatly in keeping their shelter dry. But they won that tarp in a challenge, fair and square, and all it involved was untying some ropes, clearly something that has no gender bias.

All of this leads me to the interesting conversation I had wherein the other person (also a female) and I disagreed about the way these two tribes have been acting and interacting so far. I argued that the women shouldn’t be running to the men’s tribe constantly, seeking shelter and fire under the pretense that they don’t have any men on their tribe to help them. This is “Survivor,” after all. They knew, or should have known, what was in store for them before they were chosen to be on the show. Do you have to build yourselves a shelter? Yes. Do you have to build yourselves a fire and maintain it? Yes. Do you have to find your own food and water? Yes. All of these factors are well known and are in place regardless of what tribe you are on or what kind of tribe mates you have. If you can’t do those things, then you shouldn’t be on “Survivor.” My debate partner argued that the men should be more willing to help the women because they clearly are having a difficult time being on an all-women’s tribe. The men should offer them help with building their shelter and should give them embers for their fire because it’s harder for women to do those things. I call BS. The women should take care of themselves. Period. These tribes are battling against each other in the challenges. The men aren’t expected to take it a little easy when fighting for immunity because the team they are competing against is made up of all women. Why should they be expected to behave any differently at camp?

Now, I realize this is a television show and perhaps not the way the real world works. People aren’t usually separated by gender in everyday situations. And that’s where the conversation with my fellow “Survivor” fan turned to how men and women should interact with each other on a daily basis. It’s not so extreme as building shelters and fires in our daily lives. But should men be expected to open car doors for women just because they are women? Should men be expected to pull out a woman’s chair at a dining table just because she’s a woman? Should men be expected to do all the manual labor around a house while the women handle only the cleaning chores? My debate partner disagreed and said these things are all just a matter of a man being chivalrous. Again, I call BS.

Now, I’m not a feminist. I’m not all about girl power or “down with men, we don’t need ‘em!” I don’t think women deserve special treatment just because they’re women, and vice versa. I guess I would consider myself more as an equal opportunist. If a man is supposed to open a car door or hold a door open for a woman, why shouldn’t she be expected to do the same for him? I have two hands that are perfectly functional. My arm muscles are capable of heaving open that oh-so-heavy car door and I can manage to shut it myself, too. I somehow manage to get in and out of my car every single day, and even *gasp* drive myself to work! I don’t go into the garage every morning, stand there waiting for a guy to pop up and open my door for me, muttering to myself as I wait, “How am I going to do this? There’s the handle. I know I do something with it, but what??” I’m not necessarily going to get offended if a man opens a car door for me. It just seems archaic and extremely old fashioned. If it’s just a nice gesture, then whatever, but don’t do it because I’m such a frail and weak female that I need help. I’m not and I don’t. I hold doors open for people all the time at stores, restaurants, etc., but only because it’s a kind and considerate thing to do. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s a man or a woman walking through that door. But I don’t expect it to be done for me by anyone.

My debate partner argued that men should be chivalrous because they’re men and that’s what they’re supposed to do. Chivalry is quite literally an ancient concept coming out of medieval times (no, not the cheesy restaurant). It’s defined as the qualities idealized by knighthood, such as bravery, courtesy, honor, and gallantry toward women. It first went into practice when men were still wearing suits of armor, fighting enemies with swords and shields, while women hunkered down as damsels in distress waiting to be rescued. By definition, chivalry doesn’t sound that bad, but to say it should only be practiced by men toward women is ridiculous today. If it involves treating others with courtesy and honor, shouldn’t we all be practicing chivalry? I think the term should be dropped all together and it should just be a common sense approach to life to treat others with respect. To be kind to a fellow human being for the sake of being kind. Throw everything else out the window. Give help when help is needed, but don’t expect it in return. You don’t have to be a man to be chivalrous and you don’t have to be weak if you’re a woman. How about this as a code to live by: men AND women, just treat everyone else the way you’d like to be treated and take care of yourself, for crying out loud! 

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