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'I like to feel protected and looked after by my husband, but I also expect to be treated equally. Am I a hypocrite?'

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Ask A Feminist is Stylist.co.uk's new column answering your questions on feminism, sexism and womanhood in a real-life, 21st Century context. Send your dilemmas to stories@stylist.co.uk and we'll get one of our brilliant panel of feminists to cast a discerning eye on the issue at hand. 

This week's question:

"I like to feel protected and looked after by my husband, but I also expect to be treated equally. Does this make me a double-standards feminist?"

Jessica Brown

Feminist Jessica Brown says:

Way back in 2000, Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw wondered aloud if women just want to be rescued by men. Fifteen years on, the question is still being asked.

A recent study found that 61% of British women rate firefighter as the most attractive profession, which is a pretty conclusive answer if you ask me.

Firemen are the epitome of the man as rescuer, and there are countless other studies concluding that women prefer taller men, too. Tallness - on a most superficial level - epitomises "masculine" traits of protection and security.

But we don’t just expect our men to tower over us and be good with their hoses. We also like a gentleman who gives us their jacket when we’re cold. And yes, it's galling to think, but some women still expect the first date to be settled with the man’s wallet.

The tall and strong part is, of course, powered by an evolutionary force; back in the day, women were attracted to men such as these as a matter of their own survival, and for the best opportunity to reproduce. And chivalry is a longstanding tradition, albeit one we now treat with a certain amount of suspicion. 

A 2013 survey concluded that 82% of British women would prefer to pay for their own dinner on a first date, and 89% wouldn’t take up an offer from a man to carry their bag. Seventy-eight percent wouldn’t accept a coat from a man on a cold day. Yet, over a third of us still expect a man to hold open doors for them.

An officer

Does a desire for male protection undermine feminism?

It's a mixed message but the bottom line is, merely wanting chivalry and protection shouldn't undermine feminism. 

The desire for protection is a normal part of any relationship, and works both ways. We look after our partners as much as they look after us, and not just emotionally. There has been an 80% rise in the last 15 years of working mothers earning the most in their family.

As feminists, we should put emphasis on this two-way exchange when it comes to chivalry. As Emma Watson said in a recent Facebook Q&A, "I love having the door open for me. But I think the key is, would you mind if I open the door for you?"

The line to hypocrisy is crossed when desire mutates into need and demand.

Of course, we all rely on partners for something, whether it's a lift home or a hug after a tough day at work. But total dependency is never a healthy state to live in. You shouldn't need your husband to be able to stay the night in your own home, any more than you should expect him to cough up the bill each and every time you have a meal. 

Feminism is about equal rights, and you can keep this equality at the heart of your relationship with balanced expectation and mutual respect.

You can't have this when you're relying on him to constantly play the hero role, just as you couldn't if he wanted you tied to the kitchen sink 24/7. You husband won't save you but he's probably nice to have around and you can mark your appreciation with acts of chivalry, just as he does. 

It's also worth bearing in mind the bigger picture; women make up just 4% of the fire service in the UK, up from 3% in 2006. When it comes to the tired old stereotypes of male protection and chivalry, it's these kind of figures - with a real-life, vital impact - that we should be tackling, and chipping away at as best we can.

What's your take on this week's issue?

Does it matter if women crave the protection of men? And where do we draw the line on expecting men to rescue us, or shower us with chivalrous acts? Should chivalry be a two-way act? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. 

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