Chivalry is dead. Spread the word. Gentlemen, don't bother pulling out my chair for me, I can manage. I don't need you to hold the door for me either, or offer me your seat on the bus, and I certainly don't need you to walk by me on the side of the pavement closest to the traffic. There's a difference between good manners and benevolent sexism: learn it.
There's no way of conveying that without sounding arrogant, so when a man extended his arm by way of inviting me to board the bus before him last week, I accepted his offer with a beaming smile. I didn't want to look ungrateful, but these 'ladies first' gestures sit uncomfortably with the feminist inside me.
Unlike other forms of prejudice, benevolent sexism is socially acceptable. It perpetuates gender inequality by implying that women somehow deserve or require special privileges. His intentions might be innocent, but when a man offers a woman his seat on a crowded bus, or helps her into her chair solely on the basis of her gender, he inadvertently asserts the dominance of men. The exchange restores an outdated power dynamic whereby a woman's place in society is determined by how she is treated by the men around her; she might be enjoying the view from up there on a pedestal, but it's because a man has put her there.
Today, women don't need men to determine anything for them. We've never been more politically, intellectually and sexually independent, and yet many of us refuse to let go of some of the short-term benefits of our patriarchal past.
One survey conducted by Money and Survey Monkey earlier this year discovered that 78% of us still expect men to pay on the first date. Of the 4,447 men and women who took part in the survey, 85% of men stated that they should pay while 72% of women agreed. It's this kind of selective feminism that makes it difficult to discern acceptable social etiquette.
It is hypocritical of women to demand equal pay and expect a man to pick up the check on a first date. If we want gender equality, then we're going to have to pay for our own dinner, open our own doors and stand on the bus occasionally.
Equally though, I'm a firm believer in the importance of picking your battles. Had I rejected the man at the bus stop's invitation for me to board ahead of him, opting instead to school him on the dangers of benevolent sexism, I'd have probably just embarrassed him and myself while trivialising the entire feminist movement. It's unreasonable to expect someone to appreciate your argument while you're antagonising them.
Manners matter. If we all become so scared of offending one another that we let a pregnant woman stand on a crowded bus, or slam the door in someone's face so as not to deny them of their agency, then we're all fools. When I say chivalry is dead, I don't mean we should stop looking out for the welfare of others, I mean men should stop absent-mindedly treating women as if they deserve special treatment. We want your respect, not your seat on the bus.