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TOM UTLEY How can a poor guy know if offering a seat to a woman is still chivalrous?

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Oh honey, it was very unmanly of me to laugh. But I couldn’t suppress a laugh at the video showing European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen quietly ranting at this week’s summit in Turkey after two male caddish bagged the only chairs available.

Indeed, I suppose I was far from the only one who instantly remembered the centuries-old history of the Etonian, Wykehamist and Harrovian, repeated over the years to illustrate the stereotypical differences between the ancient d ‘Eton, Winchester and Harrow.

You know the one. A woman enters a room where the three public schoolchildren are standing. The Etonian languidly commands: Go get this lady a chair! The gentle Wykehamist rushes to look for him. . . and the Harrow terminal block promptly sits on it.

I couldn’t suppress a laugh over the video showing Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, quietly fuming at this week’s summit in Turkey after two male caddish put up the only chairs available

It is clear that the male presidents who treated Mrs von der Leyen so poorly Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Charles Michel of the European Council are of a Harrovian nature.

For his part, the enormous Erdogan can hardly claim that it was by accident that no chair was set up for von der Leyen. Indeed, the previous photographs show three chairs arranged for the meeting, before only one is removed.

Deliberate

If this was a mistake, the Turkish leader could easily have demanded the return of the chairs, especially after his German guest had made him feel her displeasure, with an emphatic ahem! and a gesture that read: Where am I supposed to sit the Gott im Himmel? But he just ignored her.

He and his collaborators would also have been perfectly aware that, according to diplomatic protocol, the presidents of the European Commission and of the European Council occupy an equal rank.

This means that they should always be given seats of equal importance, a courtesy accorded to their predecessors on their previous visits to Turkey, when both happened to be men.

There is therefore no escaping it: the treatment reserved by the Erdogans to von der Leyen was a deliberate snub all the more pointed out, because one of the points to be discussed on the summit’s agenda was the lack of respect of its governments for the rights of women.

The treatment of von der Leyen by the Erdogans was a deliberate snub all the more pointed out, as one of the items on the summit's agenda was her government's disrespect for women's rights.  Which brings me to the extraordinary conduct of Mr Michel, pictured, the former Belgian Prime Minister who succeeded Donald Tusk at the European Council at the end of 2019

The treatment of von der Leyen by the Erdogans was a deliberate snub all the more pointed out, as one of the items on the summit’s agenda was her government’s disrespect for women’s rights. Which brings me to the extraordinary conduct of Mr Michel, pictured, the former Belgian Prime Minister who succeeded Donald Tusk at the European Council at the end of 2019

Which brings me to the extraordinary behavior of Mr. Michel, the former Belgian Prime Minister who succeeded Donald Tusk at the European Council at the end of 2019.

Now, I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that any true gentleman in his position would have known both where his duty was, when he saw only one chair arranged under the European flag. For a matter of good manners, he would have offered it to the lady.

Out of respect for the dignity of his own office, he would also have been fully justified in insisting that his host find him a third chair.

Instead, he walked over to the single seat under the flag and immediately lowered his butt into it, leaving Mrs von der Leyen standing. In the end, she had to sit on a side sofa, while Mr. Michel towered over him from his throne.

What an indescribable corpse! In a more chivalrous era, he would have been whipped or at the very least exiled from civilized society.

Why, then, that when I saw the YouTube video of this shameful display, my first instinct was to laugh?

One of the reasons, I guess, is that the incident highlights the ridiculous power structure of the EU, with its multitude of presidents, those of the Commission, the Council, the Parliament and the Central Bank, demanding all jealously that their status be duly honored.

Plonked

Add 27 heads of state, each vying with the rest for proper recognition, and is it any wonder that every big project Brussels touches, from the single currency to the Covid vaccination campaign, ends up being a shambles?

I must also admit a touch of schadenfreude (a word Mrs von der Leyen will understand well). After all, she treated the British AstraZeneca with so much contempt, for her wonderful gift to the world, that it feels good to see her take a dose of her own medicine.

But more than that, I laughed because this gooey scene in the Turkish capital so perfectly illustrates a nerve-racking dilemma that men often experience in this era of feminism.

Indeed, I felt a wave of sympathy for the non-gallant Mr. Michel when he sat down on this chair. There was a worried look in his eyes, as he stared at Mrs. von der Leyen, which made me think I could read exactly what was going on in his head.

If my guess is right, his thought process looked like this: My God! There is only one chair! Of course, chivalry dictates that I give it to Madame. But wait a minute …

I must also admit a touch of schadenfreude (a word Mrs von der Leyen will understand well).  After all, she treated the British AstraZeneca with so much contempt, for her wonderful gift to the world, that it feels good to see her take a dose of her own medicine.

I must also admit a touch of schadenfreude (a word Mrs von der Leyen will understand well). After all, she treated the British AstraZeneca with so much contempt, for her wonderful gift to the world, that it feels good to see her take a dose of her own medicine.

Would she feel insulted if I treated her like a lady? Powerful women often do this these days. Maybe it would be safer if I treated her exactly the way I would if she was a man and let her be the way she wanted. . .

With that in mind, he sat down.

Big mistake as her creepy apology on Wednesday night made it clear after Ms von der Leyens’ office expressed fury. But then isn’t it true that men just can’t win at this age when so many feminists regard any display of gallantry as micro-aggression?

Born in the early 1950s, I was always raised to open doors for women, get up when they enter a room, and offer them my seat on the bus or metro if they need it.

In some circumstances I still do and find most women like it. But in recent years, more than a few have looked at me at daggers to show them courtesies once considered de rigueur.

Faced

How does a poor guy tell if the woman on the Tube, weighed down by the shopping bags, will thank him for giving him his place or curse him for belittling the brotherhood?

And how can a poor Belgian bureaucrat know if a woman president of the European Commission will love him or hate him for behaving like a gentleman?

But let me close on a similar dilemma that faced me many years ago, when I had the pleasure of being invited to dinner at his Mayfair home by a rising Tory MP in decidedly old-fashioned ways. . Let’s call him Jacob Rees-Mogg, since that’s his name.

I don’t know if he changed his ways, but at that time he used to ask the ladies to retire at the end of the meal, leaving the men to their male chatter on the harbor.

However, it turns out that one of my fellow guests for the evening in question was a colleague whom I knew to be a passionate feminist.

She was deeply offended by the suggestion that the ladies should leave the table, presumably to talk about knitting and babies, while the men discussed high profile matters.

Hence my dilemma. Am I to sit at the table and be damned forever in the eyes of my colleague as an antediluvian male chauvinist pig? Or should I show him my solidarity by joining the ladies, thus insulting my generous host?

For what it’s worth, in this losing situation, I took a reluctant stance for feminism and abandoned my fellow male guests. But I’ve since wondered if I did the right thing.

Wasn’t life much easier when everyone accepted that the sexes were treated differently and no one seemed to care?

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