Two Tuesdays ago it was a bumpity morning. From the moment I stepped out of the front door, I was stepping on feet, knocking my backpack into people, and hitting a girl in the face with the backswing of my arm as I walked up the steps to the El platform. So, when I topped the steps and saw the accumulation of travelers that indicated that a train hadn’t come in awhile and would be really full when it got there, my eyes glazed over and I crept inside myself in defeat. As the train approached, I queued up to board using the second door of the penultimate car, like always. It’s always a gamble to guess exactly where the roulette ball that is a train door will stop but on the days that I win and those double doors slide open with me centered exactly in front of them, the internal payoff of feeling victorious is fantastic. Tuesday was not one of those days. So, other people got the first chance to board the crowded train and as it got to be my turn, I realized that I would have to push to get in. Unlike the Japanese, we have no uniformed white-gloved attendants to pack us in like sardines. After the havoc I had already inflicted on my fellow commuters, I decided I’d wait for the next train. Just as I had resigned myself to this scenario and had begun congratulating myself for my moral high-ground self-sacrifice to assuage the internal payoff of feeling defeated, a man about my age rushed up, angled in front of me and made to mount the train. I had my headphones in, so I think my dismissive inside thought was accidentally audible: "cute." Whether he heard me or not, he swept me up in his embarkation, placing a hand firmly on my backpack, his momentum forcing space on the train for both of us. My whole countenance changed and I thanked him. I loved the world again and my clunky place in it. I loved the smell of everyone's shampoo and the metaphor suggested by the fact that with so many people on the train, I didn't actually need to hold on to keep from falling.
Now, I know a lot of people who don't like the old gender expectations of gallantry for men and subsequent helplessness for women. I agree with them wholeheartedly. When either gender does not have the choice to live the most fulfilling life possible - either because options aren't available or because available options never occur to them because society keeps their thoughts in the box - then our societal experience is sub-optimal. But often I'm comforted when a man's actions communicate with confidence, "Relax. I've got this one." My feminist brain and heart have learned to accommodate this visceral response by assuring themselves, "That doesn't mean he has to get it every time. I'll get it next time."
I don't think that's an unreasonable compromise.