I once had the misfortune to work as a freelancer in an all-female public relations office. Me, the lone rogue male, thrust into their midst like a sacrificial slave. Lunchtime was a daily competition about who could eat the healthiest salad – the shocked, jealous stares engendered by my M&S sandwiches were the highlight of my day.
This agency was ‘trendy’ in the painfully-boring way that PR agencies try to be (one PR agency I worked in had sand on the floor of its meeting room, another forwent chairs for beanbags), with its point of trendiness being Unisex toilets. It was a mere two days before I got told-off for leaving the toilet seat up. Already rather irritated by the job, and knowing it was only a two-week contract, I decided to argue my case. I posited that a group of strong-minded career women should really be able to manage the lowering of a toilet seat. If they weren’t looking before they sat down then it was a problem with their own personal due diligence practices – after all, I didn’t just walk in and start pissing on a lowered seat without looking.
“Look,” said one of the senior account directors, a particularly po-faced harridan – pregnant at the time, although how I have no idea how – “It’s just basic manners.”
I’m pretty sure toilet seat etiquette is not included in any manners books, but it does bring me to the wider point. The reason I mention the toilet seat thing is because it’s symptomatic of ‘a woman’ expecting that ‘a man’ should do something for her simply because she is ‘a woman.’ With the advent of equality over patriarchy is it not time to start looking at the balance of ‘manners’ that govern social interaction of the sexes?
It’s fashionable to think women are happy to go ‘dutch’ on a meal, but as a guy you still worry that raising it as topic will lose points. So what is the real deal these days? What are the new rules? Should a guy automatically let the women go first, and ensure he’s holding the door for her? If it’s cold is the man supposed to give up his coat? No women I know has turned up to a date with a gift of flowers for me, not that I would want flowers, but the same garages men buy flowers from also sell charcoal briquettes and plastic footballs – I’d happily accept either.
I know I am being facetious about this but I guess what I’m driving at is if things are more equal (or to become so) then men should be in line to have a more equal share in the social niceties. Social rules we use find their route in the patriarchal societies of the past. They were designed, unconsciously I assume, to reinforce dominant male, inferior female stereotypes, “You can’t refuse him, its his right, but at least he holds the door and lets you into the bedroom first, what a gentleman.” Do we still need them?
One girl I know who earns well over £50K, but if her boyfriend suggests she dip into her pocket for anything she turns into a bile-spitting harpy, because as a woman she should be ‘looked after’. If we mock her, she looks to her beleaguered boyfriend to defend her tight-fisted behaviour. I know, or have had the displeasure to meet, various such women. I freely admit that part of me quite likes the ritual of it all, acting the gentlemen by going through social motions, but another part of me would like to say fair's fair – let's see consistent equality with the ladies taking the initiative 50% of the time.