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It's ladies first for me even in an age of equality

By Dinah Chong Watkins | China Daily | Updated: 2012-07-31 09:56

Since the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, at least, the tradition of helping women and children first in an emergency has been part of the rescuer's creed.

The torrential rain that poured down on Beijing recently was like a raging sluice. Thousands were at risk and unfortunately some perished in the rising waters. Commendations went out because of the heroic actions of the many that saved hundreds of people from drowning.


It doesn't matter whether you're black or white, or Chinese

But in today's age of equality does the tradition of "women and children first" still apply?

It's ladies first for me even in an age of equality

Giving children the priority is a no-brainer - sure there are some kids who have the wits and common sense to pull themselves out of a predicament, but with four grandparents and two parents looking after their every need, chances are the average child in China couldn't fight their way out of a paper bag unless nainai (granny) opened the sack for them.

A series of media photos of the flood showed a scene where students were evacuated from a military training center in the Fangshan district of Beijing. Each middle-schooler was carried individually by a soldier through the knee high waters while students held onto a bottle of water and snack bag given to ease the trauma of the journey. If only some quick thinking individual from the military administrators ordered the students to wade through the waters as a training exercise instead, they could justify charging parents extra for an authentic boot camp experience.

It's easy to see why women were perceived as needing help in Victorian times. Not only were they not allowed to attend university, vote, or keep property but 20 kg of undergarments and dresses with bustles dragging behind them handicapped normal movement let alone kicking down a door to escape a room on fire. These days, not only can a woman get a degree and run for office, she can wear exactly the same outfit as a man or in many cases - a whole lot less.

And since the 80's when Jane Fonda led a revolution to whip middle class women into aerobic shape, it's realistically and politically incorrect to describe them as the weaker sex. There are millions of women who crunch abs, twist themselves daily into the "feathered peacock" pose and run weekly marathons; Herculean women who can single-handedly take down an intruder with one blow.

But what about the delicate reprobates like me? Those of us who with good intentions buy a work-out DVD at Christmas only to ignore it every day, the plastic shrink-film wrapping still intact. I'd like to think that if a situation ever erupted, all my years in China has prepared me for the emergency. Like a two-for-one soybean oil special at the hyper-mart, I would charge into the scrum and backed by my six hamster-powered strength, cut to the front of the line. There I'd be waiting for the chivalrous nature of my rescuer to put me ahead of the pot-bellied guy waving a bag of money in his face. Note to self - always carry extra cash, lots of it.

So should women and children still be given priority in an emergency? Children - yes, but how do we separate the gender-neutral aspects of the feminist woman over the panicky feebleness of women like myself? It's easy ladies, for those of you who want to be treated equally, please step aside, as for me - I've got a lifeboat to catch.

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