Mind The (nonexistent) Gap

May 27, 2009

In the comments thread to this post, good ol’ Goggler dirtyrose left us a message clearly crying out for a good rant:

The View just did a segment about a study claiming that women are more depressed now than they were in “the good old days” of the 50s (which is a misconception and never existed the way people remember it…). It was some of the most anti-feminist crap I’ve ever heard and I was SHOCKED by it.

Crowfoot responded with the following, just as clearly crying out for a blogaround:

That stat is familiar – I think Shakesville had a post about that? Or was it Tiger Beatdown? In any event, if that statistic is actually true (which I have serious concerns about), do you think that it might be because while we are constantly told we’re all equal and shit, we’re still actually treated like meat-socks and/or children, but we can’t complain about that because we’re all so apparently equal and shit so we must just be over-sensitive. Also, we’re almost all of us working full time and still doing the lion’s share of the housework, so more exhaustion? Maybe?

As a compromise, I provide for your reading pleasure a blogaround of rants:

Tiger Beatdown did, indeed, cover this gem, in a typically hilarious post titled “IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: Tales of the Backlash,” which begins thus:

Greetings! Are you aware of how sad – so sad! So prone to bleak despair! – all women now are, due perhaps to progress? Well, we are. Sad, that is! I read a study about it! It was full of SCIENCE. I even wrote about the SCIENCE, for The Guardian’s Comment is Free! Observe.

You may notice that the last word there is a quote; this is because Sady actually wrote at The Guardian but I loved her her Tiger Beatdown intro too much, so I quoted that one. Click either link (or both!) for the full-frontal Sady Awesome.

However, Crowfoot was right about Shakesville, too: SKM covered it in “Mini-Brooks Minds The Happiness Gap” — way to pro-actively steal my title-pun, Shakesville! A salient quote:

Douthat begins by accepting the premise that women’s happiness is falling worldwide. He then moves on to speculate about why that might be. First, he whips out the old high school debate tactic of bringing up the explanation he does not believe in order to shoot it down:

Again, maybe the happiness numbers are being tipped downward by a mounting female workload — the famous “second shift,” in which women continue to do the lion’s share of household chores even as they’re handed more and more workplace responsibility. It’s certainly possible — but as Wolfers and Stevenson point out, recent surveys actually show similar workload patterns for men and women over all.

I have not paid $5 to download the working paper, so I do not know if Wolfers and Stevenson do in fact claim that workloads are equal for men and women, or if their data are convincing. But notice that Douthat breezily dismisses the very concept of a second shift, without feeling the need to argue his point.

Incertus also did a great job for addressing the fact that a “happiness gap” doesn’t obviously stem from feminism as its cause, and in fa, in “Liberated Women Are Sad.”

It does not occur to him that the freedom to be honest and complain is actually a part of that revolution he’s talking about. “Being unpleasant” and “being unattractive” are heavy weaponry when used against a group of people who must make their way in the world by being pleasant and attractive, as opposed to by their intelligence, strength, and hard work. A woman in the 60s who sat down and said, “my life is unfulfilling and I am unhappy,” would have to deal with the consequences of “being that way.” A woman today has less to worry about. It’s even (almost) fully acceptable today (in certain circles) to complain about how motherhood sucks and having children ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. This is a case where freedom equals the ability to mention that you’re unhappy.

Now, Shakesville gave the hat tip to Language Log, a blog that I follow gleefully and which was my first source for this lovely story. “The happiness gap is back” features a collection of links on the topic, as well as the following graph and accompanying question:


And I’ll ask a simple question: What fraction of graphically and statistically literate people think that the right way to describe the data summarized in that graph is “In postfeminist America, men are happier than women”?

My final impression: gee, anti-feminists sure don’t need much to get all riled up, do they? We must be doing something right.


No place is safe.

May 21, 2009

So, I’m now working, like…three? Four? Four ridiculously flexible part-time jobs, which require, like, an hour of schedule-wrangling for every hour I work. So I’m busy. But the money’s flowing in, so that’s good.

I was buying myself some pick-me-up candy (Laffy Taffy!) at the gas station the other day, and when I drove up to the building I saw this in the window:


(I went inside to take the picture.)

Anyway, the transcripts:

Sign 1: BITCH PARKING (but that’s Ms. Bitch to you) – All other will be Nagged beyond belief


Who needs a madonna/whore dichotomy when you can have a bitch/princess dichotomy instead? With pepto-bismol pink for all!

Also, really, Ms. Bitch? It’s, um, not the 80s anymore. “Ms” isn’t some weird new crazy-bitchy-feminist thing. Almost all the women I know go either by “Ms” or by “Dr.” But I suppose a princess would never insist on being called Ms — no, she’s either Miss Princess or, even better!, Mrs. Prince Charming.

The invocation of Nagging would be annoying even if they didn’t use the Totally Random Capitalization to emphasize it. A woman, even a Ms. Bitch, can’t threaten anything serious; the most power she has is the power to Nag. Truly, to be a Bitch is a terrible thing.

But wait, what’s this?


Sign 3: Got Bitches? – PIMP (emblazoned on a shiny, shiny goblet)

But now it seems like men want Bitches! Or at least, the PIMPs do. Do Bitches turn into something nice when a PIMP acquires them? Actually, I’m not even sure about the part where the PIMPS have “got” their Bitches. Did they get them at the store, or something? Is that why we can compare them to milk? Do they go in the cups? The shiny, shiny cups. With rhinestones. And hot pink leopard print.

I’d make a joke, like, “Are we sure this isn’t the PRINCESS cup?” except that, by implying that these PIMPs are deserving of ridicule because they are feminine, I would be cheapening my main point, which is that they deserve ridicule for wishing to own Bitches, as if Bitches were something to purchase or consume, like milk. Also, it would make me a big ol’ hypocrite. So instead I’m going to ask, why would the sort of man who wants to declare his own PIMPitude and ownership of Bitches nevertheless choose to declare this aspect of his personality with something that is, well, pink? Is the femininity supposed to somehow neutralize the misogyny of the rest, to make the whole thing “satire” or “a joke” so that it can reasonably be displayed in public? Misogyny and femininity, going together like matter and antimatter to make nothing. (Except don’t those explode?)

Or is there some other subtext that I’m missing?

I’m not sure. I am, however, sure about this one:


Sign 4: NOTICE: Sexual harassment in this area will not be reported. However, it will be “graded.”

Yeah, this shit is 100% reprehensible. The idea of a “safe zone” for harassers is absolutely terrifying to me. Sexual harassment is almost never reported as is– propagating the idea that it shouldn’t be reported at all only makes people’s lives less safe. Also, making sexual harassment into a joke, like it’s no big deal and never scary or hurtful for its victim, is, uh, bad. When the joke is that sexual harassment shouldn’t be avoided, but rather, scored, and presumably practised for improvement? That’s… worse.

Words fail me.

But no worries, everyone, these signmakers are totally not sexist or anything! (Like, where did you get that idea?!) I mean, look: GURLZ RULE!


By… humorously decapitating a Generic Dude stick figure. By slapping him? Because the world is a zero-sum game, and for a “girl” to “rule” she has to violently attack men. While wearing a skirt, to mark her as the Other kind of person, you know, the sex class, whatchamacallits, girls.

….That’s almost like saying that women are human!

Also note that this sign is on the lowest rack of the stand, and was turned toward the wall until I rotated it for a picture. Whereas the first two were aimed out the window at incoming customers…

I think I’m going to stick to my current form of slightly-cheesy wall-adornment:


Yeeeah. That’s the ticket.

I’ve got one of these on my closet wall. Jealous? Damn right you are! I have a tin Rosie the Riveter lunchbox too, and I used it to bring my lunch to school through all of high school. I should bust it out again; my life should have more Rosie in it.

Because these days, it takes a Ms. Bitch like Rosie to convince me that We Can Do It, and to give me any hope at all. The rest of the world seems to hold a dissenting opinion.

The Little Brown Dress Project, and a desire to re-think my life

April 25, 2009

I came across this website a while ago and it’s been hanging out in the back of my mind ever since.

From the site:

So, here’s the deal – I made this dress and I wore it every day for a year. I made one small, personal attempt to confront consumerism by refusing to change my dress for 365 days.

From the FAQ:

Did I look crazy? Most people in my professional circle didn’t even notice that I was always wearing the same dress day after day — my take on that is that we’re all too busy with our *own* appearance, family, work, etc. to keep a tally on everyone else’s wardrobe rotations!

I want to do this, or something like it. I want to stop caring about my clothes.

I never wore make-up in the first place, and I hated shaving so much that stopping was easy for me, and I started needing to walk more so giving up high heels felt totally reasonable, but I just can’t let go of my stylish clothes.

Every summer when the weather gets warm, I get rid of all the clothes from the previous summer that I don’t really care for anymore, and go shopping for a new wardrobe. I spend probably $200 to $300 per store, and while I only really go to a handful of stores, it probably totals more than $1000 dollars. And then I do it again when the winter comes.

I called off the make-up, the shaving, and the heels because I knew the patriarchy wanted me to go along with them. I knew that they were designed to hobble me, physically and financially, to distract my energy and thought, to make it harder for me to get stuff done. And I love being able to just wake up, brush my teeth, and get on with my day in the mornings. I love that showers are nothing but relaxing, and that my skin is no longer dry and irritated all the time. I love being able to run when I want to, being able to stand for hours without my feet hurting.

And I bet you that I would adore being able to just get dressed in the morning, to quit it with the half-hour “does this skirt work with these tights?” brain-drain that occupies a surprising amount of my mental power each day. I’d love it if, when I feel a money-pinch, I had those thousands of dollars in cash, or at least in material goods that were worth something. Because lemme tell ya, there is no way to get your money back out of a well-stocked wardrobe; since I’m buying stylish woman-clothes, it all falls apart by the end of the season, and the few bits that survive have lost all their value now that they are used and outdated.

So, I want to make a radical change. Every now and then I fantasize about filling my wardrobe with fourteen identical outfits like in the cartoons (fourteen because I hate laundry), or maybe composing seven ideal outfits, one for each day of the week, so that I can look great without ever having to think about it, or even, when I’m feeling my most radical, just making myself a single brown dress.

I think it would be a hard transition for me. I am very stylish, and very femme, and I’m vaguely proud of the fact that I always look classy in button-downs and pearls, and don’t even own sweatpants. It’s a performance for me (as my gender always is, really), but because I’ve chosen to perform it, it’s important to me that I perform it well. It’s just…well, as Alex Martin says at Little Brown Dress, “let’s stop agreeing that the best way for women (in particular) to “express themselves” is by purchasing new wardrobe items and putting together daily outfits.”

I don’t have to play this game. I can channel this energy and money into performing something else at the top of my ability, and no matter what it is it’s almost guaranteed to be more worthwhile than my pursuit of fashion. I want to find out who that person would be, what I would do with myself; I want to see what I would accomplish.

I just don’t know how to get there yet.

Gendered language leads to gendered thought?

April 18, 2009

I discovered a fascinating post today: Tiny Shiny Keys and Gendered Language, by Zuska at ScienceBlogs. It’s in response to an even more fascinating bit of science, a paper by Lera Boroditsky, an assistant psychology professor at Stanford University, which can be found here.

As Zuska describes it,

Boroditsky’s essay “Sex, Syntax, and Semantics” is forthcoming in Gentner & Goldin-Meadow (Eds.,) Language in Mind: Advances in the study of Language and Cognition. It is a fascinating (and very readable) look at one aspect of the “does language shape thought” question, which Boroditsky recasts as “Does thinking for speaking a particular language have an effect on how people think when not thinking for speaking that same language?” It turns out the answer is yes.

I want to draw your attention to my favourite part of the paper (which you really should read in full!), namely, section 4.6: Grammatical Gender and Object Descriptions. Native speakers of either Spanish or German (who were also proficient in English) were given 24 words, 12 of which were feminine in Spanish and masculine in German, and 12 of which were the other way around, and they were asked to write down English adjectives to describe the words. The results?

As predicted, Spanish and German speakers generated adjectives that were rated more masculine for items whose names were grammatically masculine in their native language than for items whose names were grammatically feminine. Because all object names used in this study had opposite genders in Spanish and German, Spanish and German speakers produced very different adjectives to describe the objects.

For example, the word for “key” is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish. German speakers described keys as hard, heavy, jagged, metal, serrated, and useful, while Spanish speakers said they were golden, intricate, little, lovely, shiny, and tiny. The word for “bridge,” on the other hand, is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish. German speakers described bridges as beautiful, elegant, fragile, peaceful, pretty, and slender, while Spanish speakers said they were big, dangerous, long, strong, sturdy, and towering.

(Quoted directly from the paper in question, which, remember, you can read here!)

It’s always been my gut feeling that language matters, especially in terms of perpetuating systems of thought. However, I’d only been really certain of this on the level of, for example, using “mankind” to mean “humankind.” It becomes obviously biased when one considers, for example, the following sentence:

It is morning in Chicago, and throughout the city man is preparing for his day. He brushes his teeth, trims his beard or puts on his make up, ties his tie or pulls on his pantyhose… 

By this point I tend to get outraged cries that obviously if you know the gender, you use the feminine form. “But I thought it was neutral!” I reply, killing the conversation but emerging semi-victorious.

However, I never had proof, before, that language matters so deeply.

On the one hand, it fascinates me to see how invested we can get, however subconsciously, in the gender binary. On the other hand, life is not academic; the more deeply-rooted these biases are, the harder they will be to conquer. But I suppose all we can do is keep working away. After all, if we can eliminate silly gender stereotypes, and create a world in which men and women can be strong and elegant, it should be no problem to think of our bridges as being both, as well.

Blogaround: The Transphobia Brouhaha

April 17, 2009

I’ve been reading a lot about the problems with blogging feminists and transphobia/transmisogyny lately, and while there is a post percolating in my head, I thought I’d catch you all up with what I’d encountered on the subject:

The Feministing/Feministe Boycott
[1] Men in Women’s Bathrooms: Is Your State Next?: the Focus on the Family transphobia post with errant comment thread on Feministing*
[2] By Any Other Name: transmisogyny post with errant comment thread at Feministe
[3] Bathroom panic, it’s totally feminist: Queen Emily’s response to errant comments on Feministing.
[4] Very Necessary: Voz Latina’s call for a boycott of Feministe/Feministing.
[5] It’s Always About The Cis Women: Lucy’s post about both Feministing and Feministe.
[6] On Cis Supremacy, Feminism and Feministe: Cara’s response to all of this on Feministe.

The Dust-Up at Bitch, Ph.D.
[1] Teabag Me: the original post at Bitch, Ph.D.
[2] Ann Coulter Really Is A —-**, People: the response at Bitch, Ph.D.

Related to all the above
[1] Coordinating Body and Mind: Transphobia and Feminism: Miriam Heddy

Unrelated in theme, but good thoughts anyway
[1] The Art of the Apology

I have a few nebulous thoughts about all this, although I’m processing them (and checking my privilege several times over) before I get too long winded. I can, however, jot down a few things already:

  • Using misogynist language to insult anyone is never okay.
  • No one is perfectly feminist.
  • We live in a patriarchy, and it can poison all our interactions.

This post may be updated with new links, as I find them. I’ll note the last update of the post, thus:

Links last updated 7:03 EDT 4/17/2009.

*Which I apparently missed the first time. I have read the post but not slogged through the comments yet. Much work to be done before I can post on this.

** Yes, I censored this. It’s a triggering word for some folks. I’m still not 100% inured, myself.

Bullshit Femininity/Masculinity Part II: Of Kings and Princesses

April 14, 2009

No, this is not about any relatively new television series, although if I get to sit and watch it, I might have something to say.

This one is about baby clothing and gender stereotypes.

I was recently out buying baby clothes with my mom, as the sprog has grown prodigiously and no longer fits hir cousin’s hand-me-downs for spring/summer, and is running out of warm weather options just as it is approaching. We browsed a couple of department stores, searching for things that would 1) fit 2) look good on the sprog and 3) not be so gender-stereotyping they would send me screaming into the abyss.

Turns out baby departments are territory hostile to radical feminists. Sisters, take note.

It’s bad enough that clothes are 100% divided up into “boys” and “girls”, with very few items that could be mistaken one for the other: girls’ stuff is some combination of pink*, ruffley, lacy and/or floral; whereas boys’ stuff involves primary colors, sports, wild animals and/or heavy machinery. There are no lacy bits or extra frills on boys’ clothes: it’s as if one expected boys to use clothing, rather than just sit there and be pretty.

Apparently frogs are some sort of neutral ground, appearing on both “boyish” and “girly” outfits. We came home with a lot of frogs.

The one thing I Will Not Do, however, is turn the sprog into an advertisement, especially if the clothing item in question purports to speak for or describe the child wearing it. The only types of things I will allow on the sprog speak the truth about something other than what an infant might be or think, thus:loveme

or which might be objectively true of any baby, thus:

What pisses me off to no end are the ones that shout, to the world, that This Baby Is A Boy/Girl by way of gender stereotyping. Nothing like girding a child in “Future MVP” or “Future Chocoholic” to declare to the world that you buy into the hype, that, yes indeed, Boys/Girls are Like That.

Then there is, of course, “Daddy’s Little Girl”. “Mommy’s Little Boy” does show up, but also making an appearance is “Mommy’s Little Man“. Boys will eventually grow up into men; this is acknowledged. The only alternative for girls however, is to be…


This message is just fraught with misogyny and sexism: the princess stereotype is of a vapid, decorative, spoiled and vain woman; demanding and privileged and quite content to remain that way. Part of this may be class-based, but most of it is misogynist. The role of prince is often much more dignified, more serious than that of princess, and prince-as-hero usually has his own destiny to fulfill, instead of an evil stepmother to escape and a rescue-via-heroic-dude to find.

Believe it or not, there IS a shirt that approximates “Daddy’s Little Princess”, one “for boys”, that I didn’t know existed until I went shopping with my mom, and saw this:


“Now,” I can hear you** saying, “now that’s somewhat fair; daddy adores his daughter, mommy adores her son! It’s all equal! We have entered into post-feminism! Feminism is Dead! Long live Equality!”

Too bad the roles of Princess and King are so very different.

“But they’re both royalty,” you say, “that’s not unfair!”

The mere existence of “Mommy’s Little King” is enough to make my obstreporal lobe threaten to asplode, taking most of my patience with it. It’s like that commercial with the mom who is trapped by her child (son), tied up because “she’s the dragon”. A (male) child at play is shown as having power over the (female) parent.

Consider the parental roles involved in “Mommy’s Little King” and “Daddy’s Little Princess”:

  • The mother of the King is: the Queen Mother (a figurehead)
  • The father of a princess is: the King (a ruler)

A pretty telling power differential all ’round. My dangerously-escaping point: Kings are to be taken seriously, to be heeded, obeyed. Princesses are, by contrast, passive, decorative, and all the other (negative) things mentioned above. Kings are in a position of power. Princesses are not. Kings have subjects. Princesses have rescuers.

Nothing like starting the lessons at birth that our sons will be in command of their own lives, while our daughters must rely on other people’s sons*** and give up any hope of their own agency.

*It’s true that any baby could be high maintenance; babies are by definition high maintenance. I defy you to find a bib that says that that isn’t pink/purple/flowery/lacy, though, all of which is most definitely associated with “girl”.
** That is, if you’re a troll with a penchant for cheap florid prose.
*** You know: boyfriends, husbands, their own fathers.

Bullshit Femininity/Masculinity Series: [Part I] [Part II]

Chivalry: try being polite instead!

April 11, 2009

I’ve been dwelling on this post about chivalry, which I mocked briefly in my epic “feminism Google Alert” blogaround earlier. The dude in question is anti-chivalry, a stance which I applaud, but seems to have a very poor grasp of what that actually entails. For example, consider the following quotes:

Now don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I’ll play the doorstop.

If anyone — regardless of sex — carries something heavy, I might take a second out of my day to help.

Some doors are more easily opened from one direction or another, and I might give a well-timed nudge when a stranger is on the wrong end of hydraulics.

To be clear, I do these things, not because I have to, but because I want to.

And occasionally if I’m on my way to class — and an especially good-looking female follows — I’ll snap the door shut behind me and sing, “fatty, fatty, two by four, can’t get through the schoolhouse door.”

Not because I have to, but because I want to.

Yeah. Not really sure he’s getting it, here. Chivalry is bad, yes. Politeness is still good, though. They’re, um, not the same thing. Which is why chivalry is bad– it promotes the infantilization of women by turning perfectly ordinary, polite acts into “special privileges” for women.

In the interest of re-education, I have composed… a quiz! Yes, I shall describe a variety situations, and ask you to tell me, is the behavior described polite, rude, or CHIVALROUS?

On holding doors:

You are approaching a building that you wish to enter. Ahead of you is a woman, not carrying anything, ambling along pleasantly, also in the direction of the building. You run ahead of her to reach the door first, then pull the door open and stand to the side, holding it. She is still a fair distance from the building, and jogs the rest of the way to enter.

Are you, in this situation, being…

  • Polite?
  • Rude?

The answer here is rude. Also, CHIVALROUS! You can tell because you’ve gone out of your way to “help” someone, despite the fact that she has demonstrated no need for such help, and have actually inconvenienced her in the process by making her jog towards the door so you’re not left standing there for too long! For extra chivalry points, refuse to walk through any doors that she may subsequently hold for you, therefore reinforcing the idea that your sense of her helplessness is more important than convenience or politeness for either of you!

But Eloriane, you cry, I was only doing that out of the goodness of my heart! I wanted to be nice! Too bad. It’s not nice to make a big to-do out of running ahead of someone to get the door, and it’s downright rude to refuse to go through a door they may hold for you. What would nice behavior look like? Try the following:

You are entering a building at a busy time of day. Someone else is right behind you, also wishing to enter through the same door. You hold the door open behind you as you walk through, allowing the person behind you to easily grab the door and also walk through.

This time, you are being polite. You can tell because it’s the sort of thing one ought to do for any person, regardless of gender or other factors. Also, it would be actively impolite to refuse to hold the door, since that would allow it to slam shut in the face of the other person. But this isn’t quite the same as holding the door open for someone. Is there a polite way to do that?

You are approaching a building that you wish to enter. Ahead of you is a person who looks potentially desirous of aid– perhaps he or she is carrying something heavy or bulky, or is pushing a stroller or dolly. When you are both near the door, you step ahead of him or her, pull the door open, and stand to the side, holding it. He or she passes through with greater ease.

The key difference is that your decision to hold the door for someone is not determined by their gender, but by the likelihood that they might have difficulty with the door. Mothers pushing strollers qualify, but so would men pushing dollies, for example. A person with a disability aid might qualify, although they are much more likely to have already developed a good way to open doors. If you are particularly close by, I would suggest opening the door, but be aware that the person in question probably does not particularly need your help. (Would anyone with a disability like to weigh in on the most polite way to approach this situation?)

In no case should you make the act showy, or run ahead of someone to open the door, or create one of those awkward situations where the person being “helped” must run because they are not close enough to immediately pass through your opened door. The goal must be to serve the person in question, not your own vanity, and so anything that makes a fuss about how nice you’re being is probably not nice at all.

On carrying bags:

This one really falls under the same rules as opening doors. If you see someone obviously struggling with more items than they can easily carry, it’s polite to offer to carry something for them, regardless of your gender or theirs. However, though chivalrous, it would be rude to offer to carry something for a woman when she is not having trouble carrying it. Look for visible grunts, funny faces, or items being dropped. A single bag is not going to qualify. When you offer to carry something needlessly, it’s indicating that you believe, based on your respective genders, that you are inherently more capable to carrying whatever-it-is, despite evidence to the contrary. Which, though chivalrous, isn’t altogether polite.

On paying for dinner:

This one seemed to give our poor original poster particular trouble. Let’s take a look at his suggestion:

Gentlemen, the next time you sense a girl wants you to take the check, lean back in your seat and pre-emptively thank her for treating you.

Have fun with it.

Yes. Very polite. Unfortunately, if you think “a girl wants you to take the check,” it is probably because you have somehow indicated you intended to pay. As a general rule, the one who suggests the outing pays for the food, unless you have a prior agreement to split the bill. What does that mean? Well, don’t worry, I have another instructive quiz!

You say to your romantic partner, “Hey, why don’t we try that new restaurant downtown?” Your partner says, “I don’t know, it’s a little expensive.” You say, “But it looks really good! We can make it a date.” Your partner agrees, and you have a lovely, if slightly expensive meal that that new restaurant downtown. As you finish your dessert, you say, “Thanks so much for treating me, honey,” and nudge the bill towards your partner.

Are you, in this situation, being…

  • Polite?
  • Rude?

The answer should be obvious: you are being rude. However, if you are female and your partner is male, you may also be being CHIVALROUS!

But what if it was actually your idea to pay for the date that your partner proposed? How does that change things?

Your romantic partner says to you, “Hey, why don’t we try that new restaurant downtown?” You say, “I don’t know, it’s a little expensive.” Your partner says, “But it looks really good! We can make it a date. My treat.” You agree, and you have a lovely, if slightly expensive meal that that new restaurant downtown. As you finish your dessert, your partner says, “I had a great time,” and reaches for the bill. You take it out of your partner’s hand, and absolutely insist upon paying. Your partner tries to argue, saying, “Dinner was supposed to be my treat. I wanted to do something nice for you,” but to no avail. You pay for the dinner.

Are you, in this situation, being…

  • Polite?
  • Rude?

Hey look, you’re being rude again! And also, if you’re a dude dating a lady, CHIVALROUS again! It’s shocking how often those two things coincide. If you refuse to allow your partner to pay for the date that he or she proposed, you are being impolite. Now, if it was unclear who had initiated the date, which certainly happens in established relationships, then a bit of polite “I’ll get it,” “No, I’ll get it” discussion is to be expected when the bill arrives. In that case, it doesn’t really matter who pays, though over the course of the relationship it ought to work out about 50/50.

Key here is the dialogue from your partner (whom I am assuming is female for reasons of chivalry): she clearly indicates throughout that it had always been her intention to pay, and that she wanted to do so specifically as a kind of gift. To refuse to allow her to pay turns what should have been a happy moment for both of you (since people enjoy giving gifts in addition to receiving them!) into a power play that serves to assert your dominance. It says, not only, “I don’t want to receive the gift that you wish to give,” but also, “I don’t think you are or should be capable of providing this gift.”

On pulling chairs out:

This is an act that I don’t really understand regardless of gender. I find that having someone pull my chair out for me greatly increases the chance that I will fall straight to the ground. As in, I don’t think I have ever “missed” my chair on my own, but I land smack on the floor about half the time when people “help” me. I only ever manage to sit without making a fool of myself in cases where I am at a fancy restaurant, and the waiter seating me pulled out the chair before I got to the table. Any time it’s been an acquaintance, rather than someone working at the restaurant, I’m right on the floor.

Maybe I need to get better acquaintances, who won’t pull out my seat in silence. Or maybe it’s not actually a particularly helpful thing to do for another person. Regardless, it’s yet another display of patronizing superciliousness that really doesn’t need to exist any more.

On standing until women are seated:

I don’t even get the theoretical politeness of this one. I know a few people who do it, but I find it always makes me feel awkward. When a group is eating together, it’s desirable for everyone to sit at something close to the same time, so you don’t want to sit while everyone is still at the other end of the room mingling, but you also don’t want to stand while everyone else is going about the process of sitting. If you have picked your chair and are standing behind it while you wait for “the ladies” to be seated, the odds are good that you’re actually an obstacle to those of us still trying to get to our seats. And when the majority of people are seated, but there’s one straggling woman, your standing draws attention to her in a way that, let me tell you from personal experience!, sure doesn’t feel polite.

It’s like opening the door open for someone and then standing there, holding it, expectantly: it draws attention to that person’s activity, and can easily make them feel pressured to enter the building or sit down at the table more quickly than they would otherwise, so as not to leave the other person hanging. That induced worry seems to me to be a subtle way of reinforcing the idea that men’s concerns are more important than women’s. Theoretically, a woman could continue on at her pace and pay no mind to the man waiting on her– but is she likely to? No, because it’s rude to make people wait. And it’s rude to draw ostentatious attention to the fact that you are waiting. No matter how “chivalrous.”

On walking on a certain side of the sidewalk:

We’re getting into more obscure acts of chivalry, I think. In theory, men are supposed to walk on the road side of the sidewalk, to shield women from, uh… cars careening off the roads? I’m not really convinced there’s anything to protect us delicate flowers from any more, even if someone did want to go the chivalrous route. I always walk on the right, because my dad is deaf in his left ear, but I don’t think this is anything that deserved having much attention paid to it.

On leading a woman through a room with a hand on the small of her back:

I had no idea this was considered acceptable, let alone chivalrous-in-a-good-way, but in the comments to this article (one of my first google search results for the sidewalk-walking rule above), one woman says,

i love it when a guy puts his hand on the small of my back and leads me into a room. I am always nervous about being around a crowd of people, especially strangers, and the gesture just seems to make me feel that even if i mess up, he will be there to catch me when i fall. MY HERO.

A second woman agrees:

I LOVE the hand on the small of the back!

So, apparently this is a thing men do, and it is considered polite. Or something. Um. Really? I can kind of There is absolutely no way to make this into a gender-neutral general-politeness thing. A man physically moves a woman around according to his own will, via contact with a semi-intimate area of her body. Even in the context of romantic relationship, I can’t see that as anything but a patronizing show of power, making it really chivalrous, but not particularly polite.

Which is really what the whole thing is about. Chivalry is about reinforcing the idea that women somehow have to be looked after, and that men need to coddle them; it’s about the power imbalance. Decent manners are about treating fellow human beings with respect and kindness; it’s about equality.

And that is why chivalry deserves to die.