Do X Like a Lady: Good Advice or Totally Sexist?

manners, lady first
Should we teach girls to 'act like ladies'?

Over at MomLogic, Dr. Wendy Walsh writes that she’s starting to wonder about all this gender-neutral parenting and where good old-fashioned manners come in. The single mom has done the hard work of getting her two daughters to chew food with their mouths closed by telling them to, well, chew with their mouths closed.

But at a recent dinner with another family — one with a mom a dad, two girls and a boy — she’s reminded of the shorthand for eliciting good behaviors from little girls: do X like a lady.

And you know what? Dr. Walsh kind of likes it.

It’s startling at first, raises her feminist hackles, but after the throw-back Dad tells his son to let the girls choose a toy first — ladies first, and all — Dr. Walsh gets teary-eyed and is suddenly talking about how weak women are when they’re pregnant.

Whoa! Whoa, whoa, whoa! Let’s back up here. No need to drag everyone back to the Stone Age just to keep everyone from acting like cave dwellers.

Kids with manners are a very good thing. Let’s definitely teach that. But teaching girls that they’re weak or needy or entitled, and teaching boys that women are dependent, incapable and deserving of whatever they want doesn’t really advance individuals or society in the way I think that most of us would like.

The father at the dinner was right to have his son wait before choosing a toy, because there were guests. It’s good manners to allow guests to go first! It’s also good manners in guest-neutral situations to automatically offer for others to go first, no matter what sexes are involved. Holding doors? Don’t just do it for women, men can do it for other men, too. (If you don’t believe me, please go out to eat with my father — a stubborn door holder who lets so many groups through we’re practically seated before he makes his way to the table.)

“No really, after you!” It’s not weak, it’s not sexist. It’s just nice. As is, “I’ll pick up the check,” coming from a man or a woman as a nice treat for a man or a woman. And “here, let me get that for you.” So nice! Anyone can — and should — do it.

As for helping out pregnant women: sure. But not because they’re so weak (because, actually, pregnant women aren’t). It’s because you know they’re a little more encumbered, because they’re a little extra hot, the ankles are swelling and that weird third-trimester fatigue is so all-encompassing. You give pregnant women your seat on the train (looking at YOU NJ Transit riders!) because balance gets a little wonky when you’re a whale. You help her because you’re aware of all that and you would want someone to have that kind of empathy and support for your wife/sister/best friend. Not because men owe a debt to women because men can’t get pregnant.

So if you want your daughter to quit flashing everyone when she wears a skirt, sure, you can tell her to sit like a lady. But why not spell it out: tell her that if she sits like that everyone can see her underwear. Speak quietly because you’re distracting others. Sit up straight because slouching is bad for your back and makes you look completely disinterested in this fine meal (or whatever the reason is we’re supposed to sit up straight at the table).

Good manners, generosity and grace are not at odds with feminism and equality. But shorthand ways of presenting it can certainly be misleading.

Do you teach your girls to “act like ladies.”

Now for some actual expert advice on manners.

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Article Posted 6 years Ago
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