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Did the Rules of Etiquette Provide a Greater Sense of Safety For Women?

Discussion in 'The Observation Bar' started by scotrace, Feb 16, 2017.

  1. scotrace

    scotrace Head Bartender Staff Member

    “A woman will never face a more dangerous situation than when she is out on a date with a man.”

    — Louis CK

    A woman approaches an office building door, her purse in one hand and a carrier of three Starbucks coffees in the other. At the same time, a man approaches the same door, hands free, in a hooded sweatshirt. He stops five feet from the door as the woman tries to get the outward-swinging door open, trading hands to hold the objects she is carrying. She gets the door open and enters the building quickly, feeling the man’s eyes on her as she walks.

    A woman has agreed to attend a movie with a man she does not know well, and it is their first date. Arriving at the cinema, the man quickly opens his door and exits the car, walking around the back of the vehicle to wait for her to get out. He is out of her line of sight as she opens her door, swings her legs out and exits the car.

    Two co-workers eschew the elevator in their building to walk up a flight of stairs to a meeting on another floor. The man hangs back, allowing the woman to ascend the stairs first. He stays close behind, and she assumes his gaze is on her backside.

    A young woman is receiving a male caller at her home, which she shares with her parents. The rest of her family is elsewhere in the house, and the two have the downstairs room with the television to themselves for an hour. The young man makes physical advances beyond her comfort zone, and she firmly reminds him to keep his hands to himself. He becomes visibly displeased and vocally unkind, and leaves.

    On a crowded bus across town, men sit while a woman is left standing, the only passenger on her feet. She feels stared at by the seated men around her, who are at eye level with her torso.

    In each of these scenarios, a woman has been placed in a situation in which she may feel unsafe or ill at ease with the circumstances in which she finds herself. And in each scenario, a simple adjustment in the man’s behavior or that of her support system would greatly reduce, or eliminate that feeling of unease.

    Nearly one quarter of college age women will experience some kind of sexual assault during their college career. Four-fifths of sexual assault victims in the United States are women under 30 years of age. [Campus Safety Magazine]

    In the early years of the 21st century, it seems that women are increasingly on guard against aggressive behavior from males. From date rape to ignoring an audible ‘no’ to street catcalling, men are seen as more of a danger to women than may have been the case for their grandmothers.

    In many cases, the observance of previously employed rules of etiquette may provide the side benefit of offering safety. Perhaps this was a significant part of the institution and observance of such rules, after all.

    Etiquette requires that a man who is transporting a woman in his car should, upon stopping, exit the car and cross in front of the vehicle, keeping himself in plain sight at all times, and open the door for her so that she may also exit the car quickly and unimpeded.

    When ascending stairs with a woman, the “ladies first” rule is set aside and the man goes first, again allowing the woman to keep the man in plain sight, ahead of her, avoiding his stare on her backside.

    A man holds a door open for a woman, stepping well out of her way and remaining in sight, offering to help with packages if needed but dropping the matter if help is refused.

    A young woman is not left alone with a man for anything but a few moments. He is constrained by the presence of family or a roommate from making unwanted advances. After he has left, the presence of another person in the room as witness prevents the young man from claiming a “conquest” never made.

    Might women feel safer if men were willingly participating in behavior which avoids situations which might raise instinctive fear responses? In our correct pursuit of equality for men and women, especially in the workplace, might we have rashly removed behavior originally designed to protect all concerned? Has the abandonment of many of the social rules contributed to the 21st century feeling of being unsafe for women? Or are we simply hearing more quickly about the same number of assaults as in the past, making them seem more frequent? Indeed, are such cases actually declining as time moves forward?

    In 1960, according to public records, there were 17,190 cases of reported rape in the United States, with a population of 179.3 million.

    In 2015, 90,185 rape cases were reported, against a population of 321.4 million.

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice:

    From 1995 to 2005, the total rate of sexual violence committed against U.S. female residents age 12 or older declined 64%

    In 2010, females nationwide experienced about 270,000 rape or sexual assault victimizations, compared to about 556,000 in 1995.

    Completed rape or sexual assault accounted for more than 50% of the total rape or sexual violent victimizations in 2010. Between 1995 and 2010, the rate of completed rape or sexual assault declined from 3.6 per 1,000 females to 1.1 per 1,000. Over the same period, the rates of attempted rape or sexual assault and victimizations involving the threat of rape remained relatively stable.

    Keep in mind that definitions of sexual assault have generally broadened over time in most countries of the developed world, and that rape is a greatly underreported crime, for various reasons.

    Did the observance of previously common social rules have anything to do with safety of individual members of society?
    M Hatman likes this.
  2. I don't think so. You'll find plenty of violent "masher" incidents in the pages of the contemporary press from the Era - situations where women were attacked or molested on the subway or on the street by random men, and in such cases there's no mention that the attacker bowed and tipped his hat first, or that chivalrous gentlemen intervened. Gropers, grabbers, frotteurs, all were rampant in any crowded city of the Era, and even small towns had their share of such incidents. The Double Standard being what it was, society often viewed such incidents as Boys Being Boys. Women were usually left to deal with such matters themselves, and deal with them they did:

    From the New York Daily News, October 16, 1950:


    Wolves On The Run!

    Manhattan -- That male who wrote the Voice the other day and said he hadn't ever seen a subway masher must be blind. My high school daughter and her girl friends could tell him plenty. Until they took matters in their own hands, they were frequently annoyed by such men. Then my daughter used a hatpin on one, and cracked another in the face, and another girl let a pest have it with her umbrella. Try it, girls. They'll always slink off at the next stop. --- A MOTHER

    Aside from hatpins, fists, and umbrellas, women were often encouraged to carry small handguns as protection -- flip thru the back pages of many working-class oriented magazines of the Era, and you'll see little ads offering cheap little .22 and .25 automatic pistols, with "protection against mashers" named as one reason for ownership.
    M Hatman, AmateisGal and Feraud like this.
  3. I think the Rules of Etiquette unfortunately completely focused on the victims rather than the perpetrators of such predatory behavior. In an nutshell, society would rather teach girls "How Not To Get Raped" than teach boys to not rape.
    Edward, scotrace and LizzieMaine like this.
  4. scotrace

    scotrace Head Bartender Staff Member

    Let me clarify that I don't intend to say that women were less likely to be assaulted back in the day (or that they were assaulted politely). The idea is that the rules might have been intended, in some way, or have had the unintended effect of keeping males visible, less threatening and supervised.
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2017
  5. Without commenting on the rest, I wanted to point out I was always taught that a chivalrous gentleman always keeps himself on the down side of a staircase from a woman, leading her down, following her up. This is to act as a break in case she loses her footing on the staircase.

    Sent directly from my mind to yours.
    M Hatman and Edward like this.
  6. scotrace

    scotrace Head Bartender Staff Member

    Ladies first except:

    Approaching the dance floor. The gentleman goes first (he is clearing the path).
    Alighting from a car. It comes from the days of getting out of a carriage first in case the horses startle.
    Climbing stairs. Gentleman goes first on the way up to void the aforementioned butt staring impression. Also first on the way down if the stairs are steep or slippery, otherwise she goes first.

    But again, few people know this stuff or care anymore.
  7. I don't want any man following me up a ladder.
    M Hatman likes this.
  8. scotrace

    scotrace Head Bartender Staff Member

  9. I was taught differently, for the reasons stated.

    Sent directly from my mind to yours.
    M Hatman and scotrace like this.
  10. Such rules of etiquette were based on the notion that women were the"weaker sex". So the intention was to protect them from the rigors of the world, at the cost of being considered a lesser human being.
    Edward and scotrace like this.
  11. This is what I was also taught. I wonder is it a regional /national and/or generational variation?

    It's an interesting debate more generally. I think ChrisB might have hit the nail on the head that some of the benefits were rather outweighed by the limitations they placed on women. Nowadays, I'm not sure how far it is that people don't care about such etiquette rules, and how far it is the case that we're evolving a new set that closer match how we interact differently now. I do tend to the view that people in general are becoming ruder and more aggressive, biut I think that has more to do with deeper-rooted issues than simply a case of manners.

    IT's intersting how things change, too - I tend to find I'd never step onto an escalator or into a lift in front of a lady I didn't know, as to do so now would, I think, be considered a bit rude (by those who care, at least - "ladies first" having become a much stronger, general rule).

    In terms of the old etiquette / manners distinction, I always liked the maxim that etiquette is known which fork to use; manners is not pointing out that someone else has used the wrong one.
    scotrace likes this.
  12. I've always enjoyed the maxim that a gentleman is one who knows how to play the bagpipes, but doesn't.:cool:

    ...and I love the sound of the pipes!
    M Hatman and Edward like this.
  13. Well, if it's regional, it's intensely specific, as Scotrace is not located far from me in Ohio.

    As for caring. Hey, it's important to me and proper etiquette, behavior, mores, whatever, has served me well over the years, so I ain't messing with it. ;)
    M Hatman and Edward like this.
  14. This stuff has always been completely alien to me -- in my world nobody cared what fork you used -- we only ever had one fork per person anyway -- or what side of the street you walked on or who went down the stairs first. We weren't taught it, nobody we knew practiced it, and it just never came up. Our own approach to "etiquette" boiled down to one thing: Don't Be An Ass, Because If You Are An Ass, Someone Will Probably Hit You.

    The idea that women in general were delicate flowers who needed to be protected and shielded from life's rough edges would have made any woman in my family laugh out loud, because we knew full well that life was nothing *but* rough edges.
  15. As my mother was a well accomplished woman and a strong person, I never had the thought women were delicate flowers; however, I was still always taught to treat a woman with a certain level of respect/deference not accorded a man.

    We, too, never had to worry about forks or the like, but I think Mom also had an attitude of being prepared if the situation arose. We never scoffed at it, but recognized it and I think I'm better for it.

    Thanks to that upbringing, and sacrifices made for me by my parents, I am fortunate to be in more situations that require a different degree of etiquette. I am thankful now I was made aware of such things and can easily adapt to the situations.

    Sent directly from my mind to yours.
    M Hatman likes this.
  16. The way I look at it, I've been lucky enough to be able to avoid situations where such things are expected, because I fear that if I were required to seriously mingle with such people I'd have to fight really hard to resist slipping a prop set of false teeth into the soup tureen.

    I've been brought in to entertain at "society" events at various points in my life, and once I've done my bit I prefer to retreat to a far corner where I can exchange snide comments with the catering staff. The stiffness and the oppressive ritualized formalism encountered in such events is not something I enjoy being around.
  17. I think we may be talking about two different things. I'm not talking High Society/Beacon Hill. I'm just talking about going to a nice restaurant or banquet. I've been to plenty of functions, such as USAF banquets and dinners, where this comes into play. Or going to a nice play or show at a theater.

    Most of the folks I meet and mingle with at such things are still pretty unpretentious. Those that are seem to stand out - and not necessarily in a good way.

    Sent directly from my mind to yours.
    M Hatman likes this.
  18. This good question has been stuck in my head.. Who wrote these rules? Men, women, or a combination of both? How did women of the era feel about these rules? Did women feel safe knowing someone finally codified ideas they've been complaining about since forever?
    Did a woman really need a man to walk behind her on a staircase "just in case" she fell backwards? Is there a recorded account of a man catching a woman on a staircase who slipped and fell backwards?

    I've observed the things men think women want or need are vastly different when expressed by a woman.
    scotrace, Edward and LizzieMaine like this.
  19. Most of my experience has been in the context of fundraising events, "galas," and other types of activities where you have, basically two types of people -- elderly old-money people smelling of mothballs and social-climbing bourgies who want to be sure they're "seen" mixing with the right crowd. This type of event is extremely common here, and my workplace is a common venue for them. They are among the most distinctly joyless events I've ever had to be around -- nobody laughs, nobody smiles, nobody seems to be enjoying themselves. The phrase "working a room" was coined to describe these horrors, where "etiquette" and "form" are frozen substitutes for any sort of soul. You attend enough of these, and you pray for Harpo Marx to come running into the room, upending the registration table and pouring cheese dip down some dowager's decolletage. I just don't understand how people can take such things so terribly, terribly seriously.

    I used to have to go to banquets when I was in radio, and do not have fond memories of having to sit opposite the station owner and pretend that I wasn't secretly dreaming of gutting him out with a serving fork. The food stunk, too.
    vitanola likes this.
  20. There are those who theorize that all "etiquette" is an attempt to enforce the power of the dominant social order -- a way of assigning every individual a "proper place" and keeping every individual in their proper place:

    "The ritual order of etiquette, by sternly guarding against slips in bodily and emotional control, ensured the individual's deferential participation in the dominant social order. Instead of allowing any relaxation, bourgeois etiquette drove the tensions back within the individual self, providing ritual support for the psychological defense mechanisms of repression, displacement and denial necessary to cope with the necessities of the urban capitalist order. "

    John F. Kasson, Rudeness and Civility: Manners in Nineteenth Century Urban America, p.165

    I tend to agree with that, myself. History shows us over and over again that power uses all possible mechanisms to perpetuate itself in social, cultural, and political relationships. Ritualized etiquette is one of those mechanisms.
    lolly_loisides likes this.

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