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Modern Chivalry

The Dawn Volume 2, Number 7. Sydney, November 5, 1889

OF the many smaller troubles which women silently endure, probably one of the worst is the incivility to which they are exposed at the hands of clerks, countermen and officials. The little business a woman may have to do in the city, is in general a severe ordeal to her, and even in shops where it might be supposed that self-interest would ensure courtesy, unless she is an habitual customer, or one the splendour of whose appearance foreshadows a large order, she cannot be sure of courteous attention and treatment. Of course, the behaviour of men towards a recognised champion of “women's rights” does not come within the scope of our comments, because it is understood that such a creature is little more than a perambulating vinegar-bottle armed with an umbrella, and she, being ready to eject acidulous language against any male creature of differing views, must expect an occasional exhibition of venom in return. No, it is not the treatment of the sour-tempered militant female (if such there be) which excites our indignation; the reservoirs of our wrath and contempt only overflow when we see some little woman, too timid to complain, wincing under an unprovoked discourtesy. Financial offices and institutions are particular purgatories for women; government offices are by no means clear of the taint; some few shops need an expurgation, and into most city offices employing subordinates women enter doubting how heavily their sensibilities will be trodden upon. The worst offenders can probably be picked from that large body of officials who are paid by the public; these repay, in return for their salaries, a good deal of rough manners, indeed there are some who have a low notoriety among the public whom they bully; they rank as chiefs in the hierarchy of bad manners; and men also suffer from the infliction, though not so severely as do the women. Before describing the methods of procedure, we must admit that beautiful women have no ground for complaint; beauty carries a free pass, entitling the holder to the kindest consideration of all strangers, and great as are the dangers and penalties of loveliness, it has this prerogative at least, it may call the nearest adult male to be its willing servant. Even the boor therefore relaxes in the presence of beauty, but in the average woman he finds a submissive and defenceless prey. The boor is sometimes in high station; if so, he exercises his sovereign right to be a churl in this way;— as the victim enters his official lair he casts on her a momentary and indifferent glance, then instantly resumes his work. Possibly a thousandth part of his glance towards her falls on a chair, and she understands she is to sit there; she finds her way there at any rate, and sits down waiting till he deigns to break the silence. When she has waited long enough to be thoroughly miserable, he says “Well?” in a begrudged interrogative tone, and recommences his writing, or at the best listens indifferently with his eyes on a book or paper before him. Should the worm turn under his treatment and develop powers of remonstrance, or should the subject of her story show her to be in some form influential, or powerful, or unexpectedly strong in arguments or resources, she may have the wounds of her spirit healed by the most unctuous affability but to be considerate to all human creatures


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alike is not natural to him, and that affability, no doubt has its subsequent reaction. The boor of the office-counter considers it a nuisance to have to do business with women at all. He issues to women his abrupt instructions to do this, sign that, fill up the other, and readily grows impatient, irritable and cynical if they seek clearer enlightenment or further directions. He has no courtesy naturally and he is not paid to include it among his acquired accomplishments. It is not inappropriate to mention in connection with this topic that it is a general masculine opinion that the inability to understand business is a natural characteristic of a woman's mind. The number of women successfully managing or working in businesses in other countries should be enough to disprove this, but in the cases of unbusiness-like women whom we are considering, the incapacity to comprehend business routine at a glance is inevitable. There is nothing in any part of most women's lives or training to teach the least idea of office methods or formulæ, and it is only natural to blunder at the first contact with petty regulations of which the necessity and object are not distinctly apparent. Would the masculine intellect prove less clumsy at its first introduction to duties for which men have not, but women have, received special training? Returning to the boor, we must record that when found in a shop or warehouse the individual specimen generally shows the characteristic of the species by intentional neglect rather than open insult. Sometimes discourtesy may take a grosser form, but generally the science of the game is to estimate how much the prey will endure, and to let her stand or sit expectantly to the furthest limit of her patience. The victim rarely complains, since it needs not a little courage to search for, and make report to, the proper official; besides the inventive unveracity of the boor may produce such a plausible tale as to achieve, even in the presence of his employer, a second triumph over his victim. These slight and hastily sketched instances of modern chivalry will remind hundreds of our readers of inflictions personally suffered; the details of each case may vary, but the generalisation remains true. Whether the boor class is caused by climatic influences injurious to the liver, or by some still-existing taint of convict blood, it is impossible to decide; we can only hope that the genus will become extinct as the world becomes more generally agreed that, as we all consist of the same amalgam of animal and spiritual matter, we have all equal rights to the consideration and courtesy of our fellows.

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