Monday, April 28, 2014

Let Her Pump Her Own Gas


Knights in shining armor.  Women and children first.  Holding the door, rescuing damsels in distress, and pumping their gas.

Okay, so nobody will ever accuse me of extraordinary chivalry.  I've never been married, so I can't pretend to be anybody's knight in shining armor.  If I was on a ship or a plane that was in distress, or in a burning building, I'd make sure women and children were evacuated before me, so I guess I'm not completely chivalry-averse.  Although... I'm not sure if such arcane sexism enshrined by "women and children first" is the best metric by which human life is valued in an emergency.

For example, what about female airplane pilots?

And speaking of sexism, I hold the door for anybody coming after me, regardless of their gender.  It's simple courtesy.  Years ago, I held the door open for a woman coming through behind me, and she stopped short, with a frown instantly contorting her face.  "I can open my own doors, thankyouverymuch" she snarled at me.  So I made an exaggerated effort of closing the door and holding it shut for a moment, just to emphatically reset the whole door-opening experience for her.

Then, apparently, there's a whole thing about husbands needing to pump gas for their wives.  I don't know why pumping gas for a female car owner is such a big deal.  Should it be?

Once, a male, married co-worker of mine had to suddenly leave the office because his wife called him and told him he needed to fill up her minivan.  He told us later - since we all thought her demand was bizarre - that one of her best friends had convinced her husband that socially-upward females don't visit gas stations.  Unfortunately for my co-worker, his wife decided that if such a rule was good enough for her friend, it was good enough for her.  Women of a certain class can't be sullied by greasy, smelly gas stations (although I wonder if they avoided convenience stores for the same reason).  So when her husband forgot, she called him at work and commanded that he leave his place of employment - he was the sole breadwinner for their family - and go home and take her minivan to the gas station at the corner of their neighborhood.

I felt sorry for the guy.

When my brother and I were kids, Mom didn't like pumping her own gas, and I don't recall her ever doing so.  But she wasn't too snobby or feminine for gas stations to offend her.  Back then, in upstate New York, we were at the tail end of that era when gasoline stations had "full-service" pumps.  So, if Mom was behind the wheel when the fuel indicator dipped below the orange line, she'd simply pull into a full-service station, where an attendant at the establishment would come out, ask her if she wanted regular or unleaded, and even clean our windshield with a squeegee while we waited.

How well they cleaned the windshield dictated how much tip Mom would give them when they handed the plastic clipboard to her to sign her credit card receipt.  And those clipboards were always greasy.

Even when we moved here to north Texas in the late 1970's, there were several local full-service stations, but by then, my brother and I could pump gas for Mom.  The last full-service station I saw in Texas used to be a Texaco, located near Dallas' exclusive Highland Park neighborhood, and I did once see a well-coiffed matron in her silver Rolls Royce getting it filled by a station employee.

That old Texaco property is now a Walgreens - or a CVS; those ubiquitous drugstores all look alike to me.  At least the old gas stations used to prominently brand themselves:  Texaco was black, Exxon was red, Mobil was blue, Shell was yellow, Sunoco was orange, and BP was green.

I think New Jersey and Oregon remain the only states that actually prohibit self-service gas stations.  Google says that out of 232 stations in Dallas proper, seven offer full-service.  Meanwhile, out of 295 stations in Fort Worth (which, although having less population, is greater in geographic size), only two offer full-service to the general public.

But I've dragged you a long way away from chivalry, and pumping a woman's gas so she doesn't have to.

Last week, a friend of mine on Facebook copied a post made by a friend of his.  It was about his friend being at a gas station and seeing an elderly woman at the pump next to his, weeping.  He asked her why she was in distress, and she said that her husband had just passed away, and he'd always pumped her gas for her.  She'd never had to pump a gallon of gas in her life, and was struggling with the whole process.

The point of the post was that husbands should do simple things like pumping their wife's gas so that when the husband dies, the wife can have sweet memories of things the husband used to do for her.  Like pump her gas, so she never learns how to do it herself.

Dozens of people were responding to my friend's apparently sentimental post, all in the affirmative. 

"Wow," I thought to myself.  "No wonder I'm not married!"

Now, I know I'm a literalist, but I found that post just a little goofy.  Seriously?  It's a good thing that a widow can't even pump her own gas?  Where's the sentimentality in leaving your widow with not only the pain of your loss, but the immediate need to learn such a basic task?

I can understand the problems an elderly woman might have in managing those thick hoses and huge nozzle handles.  The plastic screens covering these new digital information displays can oxidize, making the numbers hard to read, even for me.  But once, when I drove into our local service station, I saw an elderly neighbor filling up her gigantic silver Cadillac while her housekeeper sat quietly in the passenger seat, so it's not exactly impossible.  Or undignified.

Having a husband pump his wife's gas is a loving gesture, but does he need to do it all the time to be a good husband?  Is it a good idea to keep such a basic task foreign to female drivers?  What if the husband lands in the hospital, and the wife needs to fuel-up her car to go visit him?  Are women so frail and pure that they sully their femininity by visiting a gas station?  Is my elderly neighbor - a widow herself - corrupting all of womanhood by pumping her own gas?  She has a housekeeper and lawn service, so she doesn't like getting her hands dirty.  But I guess I've never seen pumping gas as something that only men are supposed to do.

Besides, would a Proverbs 31 woman pump her own gas?  She's a woman of noble character, who works with her hands, handles money, plants crops, and runs her own business.  She cares for her family and her employees, and her husband has full confidence in her.

Can you see a Proverbs 31 woman being unable or unwilling to pump her own gas?

Chivalry is one thing.  But is being a snob, or being an overprotective husband, or delineating basic tasks by gender something a Christ-follower should celebrate?  Many Christians buy into the idea that women are physically and emotionally inferior to men, and deserve an artificial level of deference because of their gender.  But where is such a teaching in the Bible?  While on the cross, Christ charged John with caring for Mary, His mother, but that was both because she was by then an aged widow, and the culture of the day was horribly biased towards patriarchy.  But can you seen Naomi or Ruth needing somebody to pump their gas?

Acts of love and kindness are one thing.  Were I a married man, however, I wouldn't want to contemplate my wife's life as a widow, being unable to accomplish basic functions in our 21st Century experience, like pumping her own gas.

Sure, weep over the nostalgia of loved ones who've passed on before us.  Cherish the affections displayed towards you by your now-departed spouse.  Build good memories now, and be on the lookout for opportunities to serve and support your spouse today.

But is always pumping their gas for them a good way to do any of that?

1 comment:

  1. Let me start by saying I'm a 65 year old widow. I was single longer than I liked (in my 30's) when we married and so I knew how to pump gas and maintain my own car, but he started pumping gas for me because he wanted to. I felt cared for not incompetent, ans NEVER would have called him at work to do it. That said..he died too young and guess who got to teach our son's how to pump gas, change a tire and maintain our! I was grateful I had learned to do it. Women should be capable, and men should be chivalrous when the occaision allows.


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