I kissed a girl, and I liked it. Because I was dating her.

September 30, 2009

I have a post brewing on how I think Lady Gaga might be a lot cooler than I originally thought she was. (Short version: doesn’t the Paparazzi music video seem like a criticism of the sexualized violence against women?) I thought maybe I was being to harsh on other female pop singers, so I thought I’d give Katy Perry another look.

Darlings, I couldn’t stand it! Here are the lyrics to “I kissed a girl,” with all the lines that are positive about lesbianism in italics, and all the lines that say NO REALLY I’M STRAIGHT, DUDES, THIS IS JUST SO I LOOK HOTTER, NOT A LESBO, I SWEAR… those are in bold.

This was never the way I planned, not my intention
I got so brave, drink in hand, lost my discretion
It’s not what I’m used to, just wanna try you on
I’m curious for you caught my attention

I kissed a girl and I liked it
The taste of her cherry chapstick
I kissed a girl just to try it

I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it

It felt so wrong, it felt so right
Don’t mean I’m in love tonight
I kissed a girl and I liked it
I liked it

No, I don’t even know your name, it doesn’t matter
You’re my experimental game, just human nature
It’s not what good girls do, not how they should behave

My head gets so confused, hard to obey

I kissed a girl and I liked it
The taste of her cherry chapstick

I kissed a girl just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it

It felt so wrong, it felt so right
Don’t mean I’m in love tonight
I kissed a girl and I liked it
I liked it

Us girls we are so magical
Soft skin, red lips, so kissable
Hard to resist, so touchable
Too good to deny it

It ain’t no big deal, it’s innocent

I kissed a girl and I liked it
The taste of her cherry chapstick

I kissed a girl just to try it
I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it

It felt so wrong, it felt so right
Don’t mean I’m in love tonight
I kissed a girl and I liked it
I liked it

So. There are 15 (and a half) lines frantically reaffirming her heterosexuality (seriously, “No, I don’t even know your name, it doesn’t matter/ You’re my experimental game” ?!), 9 that are just the chorus (positive towards the whole kissing-girls thing but really just one line over and over again), and 8 and a half that are saying nice things about ladies. (Plus the two that are “It’s not what good girls do, not how they should behave/ My head gets so confused, hard to obey” — it seems to play into her sexy-naughty schtick but it’s harder to classify.)

15 of 33 lines are about how she’s totally straight– that’s almost half the song. The chorus is exactly half and half. And the few bits that aren’t aggressively straight get immediately negated. I didn’t plan to, I have a boyfriend, I just wanted to try it… It ain’t no big deal, it’s innocent.

Yeah. If that’s what kissing girls is like for you, maybe you’re doing it wrong. Unless, of course, you’re only doing it to titillate.. in which case, the random lingerie pillowfight in the music video makes more sense now. (A video that, by the way, ends with her in bed with a dude, smiling at him!)

I think for songs about bisexuality and explorations thereof, I’m going to stick with Lady Gaga, and Poker Face.


Will the Voice Of Authority puh-leeeeeze change?

June 13, 2009

**Warning: some slight Doctor Who spoilers, up to the end of Season Three.**

It’s only taken about four years, but I’m finally catching up with Doctor Who. In (very) general terms, the newest iteration of the classic sci-fi series is really making me happy: fast-paced, witty dialogue cavorting along, effortlessly charming the viewer into following, especially in the David Tennant years. I’m now at the end of Season 3, and in spite of some minor details, I am actually quite pleased with the treatment of gender in the show. Both Rose and Martha are intelligent individuals with quite different personalities (not just a cookie-cutter “here’s your female companion”); both are a joy to watch, in spite of the occasionally typical infatuation story lines. Riffs on Captain Jack’s ‘pansexuality’ are entertaining, well-timed, and are treated at times with just enough gravity that the humor in it turns on humanity, rather than some caricature of homosexuality.

But seriously, people. Time Lords are supposed to be* the most intelligent beings in the multiverse, with impressive talents and access to advanced technology. So why is it, in all the possibilities in all the possible worlds, that ALL of the Time Lords are white men?

The easy answer is: we live in a society in which white + male is seen as the default. One could go so far as to say they are the only people who are consistently treated as full human beings. But seriously, O Writers of Science Fiction: How is it that in imagining myriad variety to existence, this old trope keeps popping up?

The Doctor is, in many ways, the embodiment of Male Privilege. He walks into situations with absolute confidence in his ability to fix it, even when he does not know how he’ll do it, or even what the situation is. He does not identify himself to the satisfaction of those who question his authority. He completely ignores many challenges to that authority. He speaks; everyone else (eventually) listens. In one episode, The Doctor must make himself human to escape his adversary, including suppressing all consciousness of ever being a Time Lord. His character is still the same embodiment of privilege, if in a slightly more day-dreaming, less self-confident package. His human persona is a professor at a boys’ school, a position of authority over lesser (in this case, younger) beings. His position has not changed much at all, even if his species has. All his behavior is, of course, treated as Right and Good, as though we silly humans should know our betters when we see them, and when we don’t, we’re chuckled at for the buffoons we are.

Members of the Time Lords’ species have the ability to regenerate their bodies when those bodies are damaged, and those bodies are ostensibly have completely different skeletons (“new teeth”) and muscular systems (“new voice”). Everything about each regenerated Time Lord is new, except his gender and skin color. If his entire body changes, why in the world wouldn’t his skin color change too? There is likely some theoretical* reason why biological sex (and, by extension, gender) is immutable in a Time Lord, but if The Doctor is going to be consistently male and functionally heterosexual (as evidenced by the constant line of female companions), then Time Lords are clearly not unilaterally asexual or non-gendered beings. Biological sex exists; gender presentation does too. So why lack the creativity to play around with those very basic human traits? Why insist on every Doctor (and Master, don’t forget!) being Male and White?

The good Doctor has only one regeneration left, if Wikipedia is to be believed. How about something slightly different for a change? The role requires a British actor; Britain isn’t just made up of the native Gauls and Norman French anymore. How about letting the next person to play The Doctor to be of Indian or Pakistani descent, or descended from immigrants from anywhere else in the world? How about letting the Doctor be a woman for once? The Voice of Authority is virtually always the old (white) man in western social reality. Why does some of our most creative fiction have to fixate on that too?

==x-posted at The Geek Side==
*Read: bullshit

Fuck you, Katy Perry!

May 7, 2009

So, after seeing Shakesville’s post showcasing a fabulous video set to Lily Allen’s “Fuck You,” I decided I absolutely couldn’t live without owning the song, so I toodled over to iTunes. After I bought the song, the following popped up at the top of my iTunes Store:


Okay, a new feature, wev; it might actually be handy sometimes. I have a surprising fondness for Lady Gaga (on the right there, with the sunglasses), though she’s the polar opposite of Lily Allen in terms of subversiveness (I mean, compare Lily’s song about fame, The Fear, to Lady Gaga’s, Beautiful Dirty Rich. Those links lead to the videos but the titles set up a contrast on their own.) So, a weird choice, but I’m not averse to it… what are the others? I may genuinely like them.

Oh, what’s that?


Thanks, Katy Perry! Good to know!

The lyrics of the song, for your enragement, are as follows:

[Verse 1]
I hope you hang yourself with your H&M scarf
While jacking off listening to Mozart
You bitch and moan about LA
Wishing you were in the rain reading Hemingway 
You don’t eat meat
And drive electrical cars
You’re so indie rock it’s almost an art
You need SPF 45 just to stay alive

You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys
No you don’t even like
No you don’t even like 
No you don’t even like boys
You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys
No you don’t even like
No you don’t even like 
No you don’t even like…

[Verse 2]
You’re so sad maybe you should buy a happy meal
You’re so skinny you should really Super Size the deal
Secretly you’re so amused
That nobody understands you
I’m so mean cause I cannot get you outta your head
I’m so angry cause you’d rather MySpace instead
I can’t believe I fell in love with someone that wears more makeup than…

You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys
No you don’t even like
No you don’t even like 
No you don’t even like boys
You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys
No you don’t even like
No you don’t even like 
No you don’t even like…

You walk around like you’re oh so debonair
You pull ‘em down and there’s really nothing there
I wish you would just be real with me

You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys
No you don’t even like
No you don’t even like 
No you don’t even like boys
You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys
No you don’t even like
No you don’t even like 
Oh no no no no no no no
You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys
No you don’t even like
No you don’t even like 
No you don’t even like boys
You’re so gay and you don’t even like boys
No you don’t even like
No you don’t even like 
No you don’t even like… PENIS

Indeed. You, dear generic audience member who is therefore male, are gay. You, quote, “don’t even like boys” (or “PENIS”), but you are still gay, because… you enjoy “pretentious” music and/or literature? You are environmentally-friendly? You’re pale? She is seriously saying, in public, that men who “don’t eat meat” are gay?

Oh, but I forgot, she doesn’t mean “gay” like, you know, gay, she just means “gay” like, bad.

You know what, Katy Perry?

Look inside, look inside your tiny mind 
And look a bit harder 
‘Cause we’re so uninspired 
So sick and tired 
Of all the hatred you harbor

So you say it’s not okay to be gay 
Well I think you’re just evil 
You’re just some racist who can’t tie my laces 
Your point of view is medieval

Fuck you, fuck you very very much 
‘Cause we hate what you do 
And we hate your whole crew 
So please don’t stay in touch

Assvertizing: Coca Cola Zero!

April 17, 2009

According to Coca Cola, here’s life as it should be:

My incredibly biased transcript:

A young man enters a small grocery store. He is schlubby and sad-looking.

Caption: Starring OUR HERO.

He pulls a coke zero out of a beverage case. A woman walks up to him.

Caption: Co-starring “THE EX”

The Ex: Hi.

Our Hero: Hi.

A good looking man walks up behind the woman and stands next to her, looking possessive and smug.

The Ex: So… how have you been?

Our Hero looks sad for a moment, then takes a sip of the coke.

CUE ACTION SEQUENCES! Shots of dramatic-looking blood vessels and burning film! Writhing snakes! A guy riding a motorcycle out of an explosion!

Narration: From the makers of Coca Cola Zero comes a taste of life as it should be!

More fire! A woman shaking her hair! A horse rearing in front of yet more fire! And an explosion! Of fire!

A woman in heels walks dramatically through the grocery store. Ordinary people in the store gawk at her.

Hot Lady: Baby? Whipped cream, or chocolate sauce?

Cut to the woman writhing as chocolate sauce and white cream are poured all over her. (With FIRE in the background!)

Back in the grocery store, looking smug:

Our Hero: Both.

Hot Lady makes a Hot Lady Face at him, and then a helicopter descends on the grocery store. It sends papers flying all over the ordinary people who gawked at Hot Lady earlier. A chain drops from the ceiling, and Our Hero grabs it and Hot Lady.

Our Hero (to The Ex): You know me, I’ll manage!

The chain is pulled up and he and Hot Lady go through the ceiling of the store with an explosion. And live. It’s not really clear how this part works.

Cut to a bottle of coke, on top of a pile of writhing snakes (which are, sadly, not on fire.)

Narration: Great taste. Zero sugar. As it should be.

So… um. Yes. That is certainly what I think my life should be like!

I’m honestly a little lost for words when it comes to critiquing this thing. The total blandness of Of Hero, the shot of Hot Lady naked and covered in syrup, the stupid possessiveness about The Ex from both Our Hero and her new guy… it’s a lot of really ordinary and stupid sexism.

But then the video itself is so ridiculous in so many other ways, too. Like, writhing snakes? Surrounding your product? Delicious! And a serious obsession with explosions. I mean, I love action movies, and I didn’t think you could have too much exploding fire– but they managed it! It’s just really hard for me to take it seriously.

Except that while I’m sure the creators of the ad were aware that all the fire was over-the-top and more silly than awesome, I’m not convinced they were similarly self-aware about the sexism. I get the feeling they thought that was just awesome.

Especially when I look at their other videos, like Breakup: As It Should Be, which is actually even worse. The action is played for laughs, but the sexism is… endorsed.

Makes me glad I don’t drink Coke.

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]

Amazon FAIL: hating on LGBT books

April 12, 2009

Amazon is apparently stripping the sales ranks from GLBT books, thus preventing them from showing up in some bestseller lists and searches (and potentially directly damaging their sales), on the grounds that they are “adult” material.

I got that excellent summary from ryda_wrong here, who found the story from one of the authors affected, Mark Probst, who blogged it here. Mark’s story:

On Amazon.com two days ago, mysteriously, the sales rankings disappeared from two newly-released high profile gay romance books: “Transgressions” by Erastes and “False Colors” by Alex Beecroft. Everybody was perplexed. Was it a glitch of some sort? The very next day HUNDREDS of gay and lesbian books simultaneously lost their sales rankings, including my book “The Filly.” There was buzz, What’s going on? Does Amazon have some sort of campaign to suppress the visibility of gay books? Is it just a major glitch in the system? Many of us decided to write to Amazon questioning why our rankings had disappeared. Most received evasive replies from customer service reps not versed in what was happening. As I am a publisher and have an Amazon Advantage account through which I supply Amazon with my books, I had a special way to contact them. 24 hours later I had a response:

In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.

Hence, if you have further questions, kindly write back to us.

Best regards,

Ashlyn D

Member Services

Amazon.com Advantage

Yes, it is true. Amazon admits they are indeed stripping the sales ranking indicators for what they deem to be “adult” material. Of course they are being hypocritical because there is a multitude of “adult” literature out there that is still being ranked – Harold Robbins, Jackie Collins, come on! They are using categories THEY set up (gay and lesbian) to now target these books as somehow offensive.

Now in fairness I should point out that Amazon has also stopped ranking many books in the “erotica” categories as well which includes straight erotica. But that’s a whole other battle that I’ll leave to the erotica writers to take on.

There’s a full link compilation here as well, detailing the unfolding of the story, if you want more details. It’s also exploding on twitter, via the hashtag #AmazonFAIL, so you can see up-to-the-second discussion here.

Despite the fact that some straight erotica is being stripped of ranking information, I have trouble buying that it’s not mostly a gay thing– for example, Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds (Hardcover!) still has ranking information! (You can tell by scrolling down to the “Product Details” section and looking for the “Amazon.com Sales Rank. The Playboy book is currently ranked #48,390 in Books. Probst’s The Filly, a young adult book (and therefore, by definition, not really an “adult” book!) simply lacks that information.)

What does all this mean? Well, as ryda_wrong said at the beginning, stripping a book of its ranking information prevents it from showing up in bestseller lists and in certain searches, making people much less likely to find the book unless they’re specifically looking for it. It may directly hurt these books’ sales. More than that, though, it reinforces the idea that anything gay is inherently “adult,” and more adult than anything that is similar but straight.

What books are being affected? Meta Writer is compiling a list here. There’s some stuff with Ghey Sexxx. There are some young adult books that feature gay relationships, although it looks like the lesbian ones are less affected than the gay male one. Autobiographies by people who are trans are getting the axe, as well. And a lot of the classics are being cut off. E. M. Forster’s Maurice, for example, has been stripped of its ranking! It was revelatory to me when I read it a few years ago, the first time I had seen myself reflected in an “old” book, and while it features several occasions of gay male sex, it’s from a time period where it was unspeakably crude to refer to a lady’s stomach. They’re really not that raunchy. Even more absurdly, Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness has been stripped of its rankings as well, and the gay sex in that book consists entirely of the line “And that night, they were not divided.”

Truly, someone must protect the children from these horrors. Never mind that some of these books are, in fact, for young adults. Never mind that finding oneself reflected in the classics can be a wonder– as I found with Maurice, when I read it years ago. Never mind that LGBT people are people, too, who deserve to tell their stories and have their stories heard. Apparently, we just can’t handle The Gay, and we have to hide it away where people can’t find it by accident.

What can you do? There’s a petition going here, and you can complain to Amazon directly. Their exec customer service email is ecr@amazon.com  and their customer service phone number is 1-800-201-7575. Folks are trying to google bomb the term Amazon Rank (more info here). And, of course, you can boycott Amazon, which is what I am going to do. I’m going to be awfully friendly with my library in the next couple weeks, until Amazon proves to me that it wants my money again.

Because, right now, what they are saying is that GLBT folks are not important, and that we should be hidden from view. And I won’t hold with that at all.

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.