Thursday, October 16, 2014

OPINION | Of ladies and gentlemen (chivalry must die!)

This story is so hot right now it’s like a jam-packed jeepney.

On Wednesday night, Top Gear Philippines posted on their Facebook page a photo of two female students piggybacking on a public utility jeepney (PUJ) in an unidentified street somewhere in Metro Manila. Top Gear Philippines captioned it as “Is Chivalry Dead?”

Upon its release, netizens were quick to pounce on the story, with most comments decrying the “death” of chivalry and the lack of “gentlemen” inside that jeep. Some have channeled traditional family values in the issue, by saying, “Would you let your mother, wife, or sister experience this?” Others have even resorted to homophobic remarks, calling the men inside the jeep, “gay”, or labeling male supporters of gender equality, as “more female the women.”

But there are those who saw empowerment in the photo. Several netizens cheered the subjects for doing what men can do. Some said it shouldn’t be uncommon to see scenes like this as we are living in the era of gender equality and women empowerment.

The uproar from the photo points to very obvious reasons.

The two subjects wore all-white uniforms composed of a blouse and skirt; one was wearing a pair of flats, the other, leather shoes. The fact that the photo exists obviously says that the driver had allowed the women to piggyback on the jeepney and that they willing did so. Since the two women were blocking the view from inside the jeepney, it cannot be said if there were other passengers in the jeep, whether men or women.

Being a conservative, traditional, quasi-patriarchal, quasi-matriarchal society, a large demographic of Filipinos would definitely decry this situation upon seeing even just the uniforms. Despite the possibility that these women have acted willingly, the initial response is that anyone wearing a skirt shouldn't be put through this kind of situation. For them, a woman should be innocent, prim, proper, elegant, poised, and demure—the archetypal Maria Clara.

Consequently, our society believes that men are like Crisostomo Ibarra: dashing, handsome, courteous, polite, respectful, and honorable—a chivalrous gentleman. As such, they must do all women a favor by giving up their seats inside public transportation, opening and holding doors for them, holding bags and umbrellas for them, among others, and be rewarded with “pogi points” for doing so.

With these rewards, it isn’t hard to see why this won’t be seen as sexism.

But it is sexism for the mere fact that being a gentleman ingratiates men to women, thereby, entitling themselves to a woman’s approval, desire, and love, while deducing that women cannot do such services for themselves. Perpetrating chivalry is to define women as needy, frail, incapable, and lacking in power.

With this reasoning, I do not see anything wrong with women piggybacking on jeepneys and men refusing to give up their seats to strong, equally capable women (if there were indeed men inside the jeepney).

In this era of gender equality and women empowerment, chivalry, as a male construct, must die. Men do not have a monopoly of strength and endurance, and therefore, do not have a monopoly of being courteous, polite, and respectful. And women do not have a monopoly of being at the receiving end of such noble actions. Chivalrous acts must be done by everyone to everyone, but most especially to the elderly, PWDs, pregnant women, children, and those suffering from physical pain, regardless of sex/gender.

In the end, what should be decried instead in this photo is the shabby state of public transportation in the Philippines. Nobody should be left to with just the choice of piggybacking on jeepneys, buses, and trains, whether men or women. We all deserve a safe, comfortable, and decent ride, which should have been Top Gear Philippines’ slant and caption.

Postscript: Top Gear Philippines responded to netizens with a comment, which says:

The catch here is: "We are 100 percent for gender equality, but we will definitely give up our seat for a lady. It's not being sexist. It's not implying that a woman is weak or that she needs to be helped at all times. It just feels right."

Talk about being selfless and self-serving at the same time! 

With that argument, if anyone from Top Gear Philippines, or even "chivalrous" men, were inside that jeep, these women wouldn't be hanging outside in the first place, which obviously proves that they chose to do it because they can. Such comments give us a glimpse of the understanding (and acceptance) Top Gear Philippines has of gender equality.

In a gender fair world, you need not offer your seat to a lady to feel right, nor feel guilty about not giving up your seat, because there is no harm done.

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