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Changing Etiquette Between the Sexes

Women want equal rights, but some expect old standards to prevail when it suits their needs.
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On the subway recently, a man near me rushed to sit when someone got up. I was a little taken aback, as I'm used to men giving up seats to women. Then a man boarding the train made a quick dash to sit down. This change in etiquette was surprising. My first thought was even more surprising -- good for you!

They both looked drained. One carried several packages. While several women gave them dirty looks, I thought about double standards. Why shouldn't men be able to sit down if they're tired? Why should they feel obligated to let a woman sit just because she's female? Older or pregnant women? Sure! I've given my seat to old men. But a healthy woman should have no extra dibbs on one.

Women want equal rights, but some expect old standards to prevail when it suits their needs. I wanted a seat but would never expect a man to give me his. I've even turned down offers from a guy ready to get up for me because I feel they have a right to comfort too. We can't have it both ways. We fight to be equals but...

It doesn't serve us well in the long run to waffle selectively between expecting traditional courtesies we like and new liberated standards to feel more equal, depending on which we like in different situations. Women who want equality need to adjust expectations fairly. There are many men who like being more traditional, and it's fine to enjoy being with one. But if we want to be treated as equals, traditional behavior should be optional. I get angry when I hear a woman who has complained about not getting promoted as fast as a man then complain that a guy she had dinner with asked her to split the check. Hello! Either we want equal rights or not. It shouldn't just be a sometimes mentality, depending on what we'd like in the moment.

It's also not good to go completely in the other direction to prove you're an equal. I've heard women indignantly declare that they won't let a man hold the door for them. Men tell me they've had women balk when they tried to open the car door. This attitude proves no point! I like when a man I'm out with holds the door but I'll hold one for him too. It's consideration, not a sexist issue! Nowadays, I think in terms of what seems courteous, not what's expected for a man or woman.

Like me, many women were brought up experiencing men who paid for dinner, opened doors, watched out for us as protectors, deferred for seats, etc. It's time for us to let go of those expectations. Many men still feel more comfortable adhering to traditions and that's okay. I do enjoy being with one who wants to make me feel special. But I try to give the courtesy back. While men have been uncomfortable when I hold the door, they also appreciated the gesture.

If a guy I'm dating insists on paying when we go out, I'll make dinner another time. Once after going out for dinner with a guy I was dating, we decided to get ice cream. I paid before he could. I still remember how uncomfortable he was at first. Then he acted like I'd just bought him a gold watch and thanked me several times for an ice cream cone! He wasn't used to a woman treating him to anything and it made him feel special. I didn't do it to prove something. I just wanted to show that I appreciated him.

We must be careful not to go too far in either direction -- being a woman who wants tradition when that tradition suits her, or aggressively fighting traditional behavior by making a big fuss to pay your share of dinner or not walking through a door that's held by a man. Etiquette is evolving. Expectations about what the opposite sex "should" do still needs to be adjusted more. And men who insist on following their traditional upbringing shouldn't be criticized, unless their behavior is demeaning.

As I came home on the subway last night, an older man stood next to the only empty seat and gestured for me to take it. I gestured back that he should. He smiled and gave me a look that said, "Sit!" I did and saw he felt good about it. We actually exchanged "Have a good night" when I got off. Traditional manners aren't wrong. It doesn't necessarily mean the guy thinks you're not as good as he is. That's just how many men were brought up. There's no need to fight it. But it should be considered a nice extra, not something you expect if you do want to be treated as an equal in other areas, especially career ones.

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