Alyssa Royse believes that teaching children the tradition of “Ladies First” only serves to reinforce sexism on many different levels.
There’s an article on Today Moms, an offshoot of NBC’s Today show, that asks if teaching little boys the cardinal rule of “Ladies First,” is teaching future generations some sort of sexism. Why is this even a question? Of course it is. Totally. And that’s not nearly as problematic as what it isn’t teaching them.
Obviously, good manners are not only important, but an increasingly rare commodity. Personally, I want them back. I want doors held open for people, I want people to help each other carry their heavy loads, offer an hand up when someone trips and, please, pretty please, can we have some more “please” and “thank you”s in the world?
But I want that as part of a civilized social intercourse in the world, not a gender-based entitlement. I routinely hold the door open for my man. He does the same for me. Whoever gets there first holds the door open. Simple as that.
So, why is “Ladies First” sexism? Simple. “Ladies First” implies that women are entitled to “better” treatment simply because of they’re women? No different than implying that men are entitled to “better” treatment because of their genitals. Or white people because of their skin color. And that is the wrong lesson to treat future generations if what we want is a world of equality.
I think this plays out in our society in some ways that are perhaps unforeseen. On its most basic level, it reinforces the gender stereotypes that women don’t do the “hard” things, the physical things. That men have to make concessions for women, either because of their weakness or society’s expectation that kid gloves must be worn with women. That doesn’t sit right with me. I don’t think we get to say, “I want to be treated equally, but way more nicely.”
Yes, it is good manners to hold a door open for someone who is going to follow you through it. It is bad manners to sit in a car and wait for someone to walk around and open it for you, when you could perfectly well do it yourself.
I am not willing to accept an equality that still has women dependent on men to create the world we want to live in for us.
But for me, the problem is much larger than that, and it speaks to an absence of manners and civility across the board.
I posted the Today Moms article on my Facebook wall, and a friend of mine who recently had a baby told a tale of a long line for a Port-O-Potty at a festival. She was about to burst with her new baby, and no one let her go to the front of the line.
That is just plain rude. Not because she’s a woman, because she was hugely pregnant and everyone should recognize what that means for her physical comfort and ability to “hold it”. Every man, woman and child in that line should have let her go first. (If you’ve not had the pleasure of being pregnant, imagine having to pee, really badly, and then having a 6 year-old sit on your bladder. Now wait.)
We need to be teaching kids manners, and consequences. When it’s time to line up, those who get there first are first in line. That’s the way the world works. If you got the first by pushing and shoving, you should go to the back of the line, and feel the social shunning of your peer group for behaving rudely. But at the same time, we need to teach children to assess the needs of others, outside of a rigid system. We can, in fact, police our own behavior by agreeing on a level of basic manners that we all adhere to, and all take responsibility for enforcing with our own manners.
Is there one kid who is clearly holding their crotch doing the uncomfortable “gotta pee ” dance that we all know? Let that kid go first. And it’s okay to point out that next time they probably ought to excuse themselves to go pee before it becomes a pee emergency. Is there a kid with a broken leg who needs to sit down? Get that kid a chair. A kid who has poor eyesight and really needs to be in the front? Get that kid to the front. Were you lollygagging when it was time to line-up, and therefore were last in line, and now can’t see at the Assembly because you’re in the back? Lesson learned, less lollygagging next time. This is how the world works. (Is that not fair? I hate to repeat what every parent, ever, promised they would never say to their kids, until suddenly they too were saying it all the time, “life’s not fair.”)
We need to learn to pay attention to what is really defining our experiences in the world, and what we need to do to help each other get the most out of our lives, and our contributions to society. We need to learn to identify our actual struggles, not the ones we assume based on gender. We need to learn to see how we can help each other, not just what we have to do to get ahead.
I live in Seattle, which is really a bubble of progressive thought. I forget that there are still schools that line up in boy lines and girl lines. I taught my daughter that if she is the first to the door, she should hold it open for those who come after. And that if someone thanks her, she should look them in they eye and say, “You are welcome.”
Because we have to acknowledge the impact that our behavior has on others, for better or worse. And we have to learn to look at the things that actually define our opportunities, strengths and struggles, realistically. We have to learn to help others, and accept help from others. Because we need to, because it’s the right thing to do. Not because ancient gender norms tell us to.
No, not “ladies first”—manners first.
Image courtesy of Flickr/Alwbutler