A question of chivalry

February 13, 2012 § 12 Comments

Not a long post, nor a particularly sophisticated one – but this is why I cannot stand the mainstream usage of the word “chivalry” to describe certain kinds of behaviour. You know what I’m talking about: doors opened, items carried, chairs pulled out – “it’s not sexist, it’s chivalrous”.


Well. I’ve had this argument a fair few times with friends, mostly with cis men. They can’t understand why I would be so put out by someone wanting to “help” – it’s lovely when people are helpful, surely? So, an illustration.


I have to schlep a pretty heavy electronic piano to and from most of my gigs. It’s awkward and annoying and you can’t carry it for long distances, but it’s my instrument and I’m used to it. I’m also used to helping with harpsichord transport for classical concerts – much heavier and far, far more expensive and  delicate. Concert situations, so I’m usually looking (if I say so myself) pretty damn attractive. As such, I’ve had cis men falling over themselves to try to carry my instruments for me, proving how very strong and macho they are in the process. Some have literally pushed me out of a holding position so that they can replace me. Never a question of what they could honestly do to help (open doors, assist with awkward angles, clear people out of the way) but tonnes of “compliments” along the lines of “bit heavy for a pretty little thing like you” – as I may have said before, I’m average height for a man, weigh 11 stone and lift weights for fun. Many a time the man in question has struggled under the weight of said instrument and nearly dropped it – thanks guys, really.


I had an amazing gig in Edinburgh this weekend with Cachin Cachan Cachunga – I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. I was also as sick as a dog and as weak as kitten (not choosing, as usual). I was desperate for some help – but, sadly, I was looking less than my best. Deathly pale and glassy-eyed and not my usual charming self. So, did any “chivalrous” cis men step up to offer their services? Of course not. Why would they? There was nothing in it for them.*


Just a brief example. I could give you so many more – as I’m sure could anyone else the world has ever read as female. But I’m just so desperate to call a moratorium on this kind of behaviour. I would consider myself a chivalrous person – because I was brought up to be kind and helpful and think of others. Not because I’m trying to prove my masculinity by infantilising and irritating “women” I find attractive.


And as a final point – never touch a musician’s instrument without asking first. It’s beyond rude.



* Obviously, the folks at the gigs were tremendous – and helpful. Thank you!






§ 12 Responses to A question of chivalry

  • Charley says:

    One day people will learn that asking “may I help you with that at all?” is far more useful, productive and, yes, chivalrous than just barging in and trying to take over when you don’t have a damn clue what you’re doing. Also yes No touchy the instruments! (same goes for wheelchairs as it happens)

    • cnlester says:

      Do we really have to have a list of “things not to touch without asking”? Really, humanity? Sigh.

      • J McK says:

        Wheelchairs especially! If someone needs help across a road, they’ll ask. The number of times my Mam’s been sat waiting for me or my sister on some corner of the high street, only to be shoved protesting across the road by some “helpful soul”, who gets her there expecting thanks and she turns and says “okay, now can you put me back where I was waiting please?” It drives her up the bloody wall!

  • maddox says:

    Just a brief example. I could give you so many more – as I’m sure could anyone else the world has ever read as female.

    I’m sure that’s not sexist at all. Why, if I were a short non-muscly man carrying a big heavy box, I’m sure that all these generous and helpful – sorry chivalrous – men would come rushing to my rescue.

    • cnlester says:

      When I think of all the times cis men shorter and weaker than me have been overwhelmed with offers of help when carrying heavy objects in my presence…

    • cnlester says:

      Reply to below:

      What makes me chuckle is when the guy trying this shit is shorter than me. He’ll try to make himself as tall as possible – so I stand up straight. So he puffs out his chest. So I puff out my chest. And then he tries to carry my heavy, heavy keyboard. So I have to carry it with one arm instead of two.

      Obviously, this kills my arm. But it is WORTH it.

  • This is among the things that have made it most difficult for me to deal, emotionally, with having a muscle wasting illness. I too used to be pretty muscular. The weaker I have got, the more I have been subject to men rushing in to try and help me – and yes, sometimes I need help (I genuinely struggle to open doors on a regular basis), but I am also aware that I am (a) being forced into an uncomfortable gender role, and (b) being celebrated for the weakness that is killing me. Never mind the fact that these situations often make me like people are sizing up my vulnerability and the sexual opportunity it might provide them (for the record, I can still give a good Glasgow kiss, which ain’t the lovin’ kind).

    Just to make it more ridiculous, although I appreciate genuine, thoughtful help, coded chivalrous actions often make life harder and more dangerous for me. The worst of these is men trying to hold my coat for me. When I’m trying to get my coat on and somebody grabs it (even if he thinks he’s doing so gently), there’s a serious danger I’ll be pulled off my feet. My arms don’t bend like other peiople’s and when people try to pull my sleeves aropund i risk a broken arm.

    It is surprisingly hard to get ‘chivalrous’ people to stop their behaviour, even in these dangerous situations. Ironically, I used to be somebody who loved opening doors, carrying things and generally being helpful to other people (regardless of sex or attractiveness), but these days I’m far quicker to glare and look unpleasant just so that strangers leave me alone. I’d like to be friendly but chivalry makes it too hazardous.

  • cnlester says:

    And again, just to say – being kind is amazing. Strangers being genuinely thoughtful and kind is one of the things that gives you hope. But the grabbing and the touching and the assumptions and the patronising – not so much.

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