PONDER this, if you will.

A woman – a damsel – sits by the side of the road. Her tyre has blown, leaving her to ponder her situation in the balmy summer heat. Her hair is done, she’s in her nice clothes. Mercifully, the car has a spare in the boot. What’s a girl to do?

Well, crack on with the job, of course. And that is what I did.

I was lying on my side, jacking up my car without any apparent problem. And then a man appeared to save the day. The first I was aware of him was when he sidled into my peripheral vision and addressed the other observing male with “is she managing?”

Given that I had indeed managed to remove the spare from the boot, find the tools and was already in the process of lifting the vehicle of the ground, I’d like to think the answer was self-evident. It was at this point, after explaining that I was okay and that I’d done it before, this gentleman took over. “No, really” didn’t register. Refusing and potentially getting into an argument while crouching at the side of the road next to a precariously balanced load didn’t seem wise.

“Have you loosened the nuts already?” he enquires of the other man.


“Whose idea was that?”


This does not register, and he continues to talk over me to the observer, while explaining how precisely to change a tyre.

At this point, I am standing at the side of the road, while two men attend to my car, quietly seething and feeling like a carnival curio as passing drivers assess the situation. “Oh look, another woman who can’t change a tyre,” I fear.

This has happened to me twice now. I’m starting to think my car sends a secret bat signal into the sky to summon the nearest man for a noble act of mechanical chivalry. And while the gesture is undeniably kind and from a good place, it came with a side portion of presumed inability and casual sexism that soured the whole experience.

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Lest I stand accused of being a shrieking, feminist harpy who will not be content until she has desiccated all remnants of good manners from society in the name of equality, let me clarify: I do believe chivalry has a place. Also, I think this is a hypocritical cake-and-eat it position where women demand equality and at the same time are treated to charming favours from the menfolk. I just don’t think it has a preferred gender. We are all capable of acts of civility and sacrifice to help our fellow humans. Simple.

All sorts of people need help from time to time and that is not a comment on their ability. Not all of us can do everything and there are times when help from a passing stranger is a godsend. What is a problem is when gender stereotypes cloud that in-the-moment judgement and paint a problem into a situation where there isn’t one.

Yesterday, the first person to pull over and ask if I needed help was another woman. I told her I was fine and thanked her. She smiled and went on her way. She offered because it was the decent human being thing to do, and actually listened to me – and crucially, believed me – when I said I was okay. It was in stark contrast to the benevolent sexism at play when the stranger who took over didn’t actually hear what I had to say, throughout the entire exchange.

There is nothing miraculous about a woman who can change a tyre. Indeed, there’s nothing extraordinary about anyone who can do it. It’s a skill every driver should have, regardless of gender. There’s nothing about it that is beyond the capabilities of most able-bodied people. Yes, it has been traditionally coded masculine given cars are seen as a “manly” interest rather than a means of transport we almost all use, but we’ve had a pretty lengthy period of women doing the same things men can that should testify to our inherent, non-gendered capabilities.

Basically, the key here is to ask from a place of sincerity. See someone struggling with their shopping? Ask. Want to pay for dinner? Ask. Find yourself about to take over when you weren’t summoned? You should probably go ahead and ask. Better late than never.

Feminism isn’t about shutting down all acts of altruism in the name of equality – it’s about opening them up to everyone and making sure we can each listen to and respect other people’s wishes. Some women might be absolutely thrilled to have a man take a tyre off them, others might see it as an affront to their independence. Both are valid stances, but you won’t know which if you insist on forcing your charity on someone with your ears closed.

If I see you stopped at the side of the road, I probably would stop and ask if you needed help, but I wouldn’t insist upon it if you said you had it under control. The problem here isn’t that chivalry is dead – it’s that it’s so often deaf.