Wendyl Nissen: Hammered by chivalrous men

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When it comes to DIY the fairer sex can be thoroughly competent but in the end, why should they bother?

It's nice if a mate is good with tools around the house. Photo / Getty Images
It's nice if a mate is good with tools around the house. Photo / Getty Images

The curtain rail broke in the kitchen. As part of my new supportive wife regime, I decided to fix it because my husband was otherwise engaged proofing a book which needed to be sent off to the printers and he was running late.

I found myself in the local hardware shop, correctly identified the pieces of plastic to hold the rail, grabbed a few punnets of lettuce (who can ever leave those things behind?) and marched up to the counter.

On my way there a man, equally laden with bits and pieces, joined me which meant we were about to hit the counter at the same time.

"After you," he said, pulling back to allow me to go first.

I paused for the briefest of moments. I do this when a man lets me go first or opens a door for me and it is the fault of an older feminist I worked with years ago at the Auckland Star newspaper.

I was walking behind her and a man when he stepped forward and opened the door for us.

"How dare you!" she thundered. "How thoroughly sexist of you!" she continued. The man looked confused.

"I ... am ... quite ... capable," she said slowly and surely, "of ... opening ... a ... damned ... door ... for ... myself."

And with that she pushed him out of the way. Closed the door. Opened the door and marched on through slamming it pointedly behind her.

"What about you?" said the man. "Open or closed?" "I guess I should open it myself," I said, feeling a bit sorry for him.

At the hardware store there was no such outrage. I made a show of refusing: "No really, you go first."

But when he insisted I smiled sweetly and bundled on up to my favourite hardware store worker, a woman who calls you "honey" and once pointed out to me that just because my rat killer said "eco" on the label didn't make killing an animal any greener.

"Well look at you," she gushed to the man. "Oh my, chivalry isn't dead, is it? "All right," I thought. "Don't make a big deal."

"Goodness I'm impressed, just like a knight in shining armour" she continued as she served me, by which time the man looked like he wanted to be swallowed up by the floor, such was the amount of attention he was now getting.

I like men like him. I like doors being opened for me. My father has always done it, and my husband. He once opened a taxi door for me before walking around the back of the car to get in the other side, only to find the taxi had driven off, so unused was the driver to such good manners.

But I don't like it because it makes me feel like a cosseted, weak, repressed Victorian lady who needs a big, strong man to do it for me when they open the door. I just think it's polite.

And I don't think it has anything to do with sex. I open doors for women all the time, particularly if they are older or pregnant or carrying a child or punnets of lettuce. It's just a nice thing to do.

I came across a list written by a man in the Times of the 16 qualities a man needs to be every woman's dream. There was "a well developed protective instinct, as in the arm flung across the passenger seat [during] a sudden stop" and "making sure women come first in the bedroom" and "considers dustbins his department, but can also put flowers in a vase in a crisis".

I think if I'm going to hang out with a man taller and stronger than me then I'd quite like him to be useful when it comes to the bins and protecting me in a car crash; and as for the bedroom, well we all know putting women first has a much better outcome. That's a no-brainer.

As I left the hardware store the polite man was still being heralded for his good manners; I think I heard "valour" and "courtesy" thrown in for good measure. "She does go on," I thought to myself as I returned home and spent far too long repairing the curtain rail while my husband remained oblivious to my grunts and groans of frustration.

I printed off the Times list and circled "he can do basic DIY and plumbing" and stuck it on the fridge.

- NZ Herald

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