• U.S.

National Affairs: Social Code: Let Her Pay

4 minute read

Feminine awareness has not killed chivalry, but it has subtly changed the rituals of social encounter between the sexes. Chivalry as an explicitly male-to-female practice has always implied a world of condescension—weaker women deferred to, cosseted, on the implicit theory that they were physically handicapped. Some women mourn its decline.

“I feel ambivalent about change in the small ways, like a man standing up or holding the door,” says Enid Slack, community affairs director of the United Bank of Denver. “There is now a fear syndrome in men. They are afraid women might be so liberated that they might be offended by such courtesies.”

But customs seem to be loosening up in a rather healthy way. The sillier, automatic practices are giving way to a standard of simple courtesy on the part of both men and women. Many women eliminate the problem by simply moving first, opening their own doors, striking their own matches, wrestling on their own coats before men have the chance to intercept them. The other day, a man held open a door for Betty Friedan and then apologized, saying, “I hope you don’t mind.” Said Friedan: “I love it. I would have held it open for you if I had gotten there first.”

Meanwhile, some of the linguistic extravagances of the women’s movement have fallen into a deserved oblivion. Rarely now does one read of “herstory” as the feminist version of history. But there remains serious feminist sentiment in favor of calling God both Father and Mother, or considering him asexual.

The great battle of the suffix person is still unresolved. Chairman briefly became chairperson, but many now settle simply for chair, as in “she was the chair of the committee.” The problem with person—policeperson, committee-person, showperson—is that it sounds ridiculous. The Naval Academy wisely insists that its women students will be called midshipmen. Person is still acceptable when used independently to designate either a man or a woman. When White House Press Secretary Ron Nessen mentions future Government appointees, he is very careful these days to speak of person instead of man.

Ritual pairings of the sexes seem less obligatory. Many hostesses no longer worry about having equal numbers of men and women at a dinner party. It is regarded as awkward, if not rude, to pair men and women at such occasions or to insist on “boy-girl” seating at the table. The 19th century after-dinner protocol of sexual segregation—at least where initiated by men—has long been fading. Such formality persists in some Washington circles. But last August, when she was asked to “join the ladies” after dinner at a party given by Averell Harriman, Washington Post Reporter Sally Quinn stalked out of the house.

Women more often come to parties alone and leave alone. Increasingly, they come and go at bars in the same way. Last week four of the six people sitting alone at the bar of Hopper’s Restaurant in Manhattan’s West Village were women who had wandered in for a post-Christmas drink. No one paid any special attention to them.

Women call men for dates now—and fairly often share the expenses or pick up the tabs. At business lunches women used to resort to elaborate subterfuges—paying the check on the way to the ladies’ room, or even slipping the money under the table to a male guest so that he could seem to pay the bill. Now men no longer seem mortified by having women pay. With a certain bonhomie, a man may demand of a woman: “Are you buying?”

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