In 2020, we find ourselves in an awkward place regarding etiquette. It’s either an obsolete curio from the halcyon days of misogyny or something that we’re sorely lacking. So, which one is it?
In my formative years, I was raised by two women. My mother, who never brought up etiquette, and my nan, who discussed it repeatedly. As a result, I hold all the graces of 1950’s celluloid gent should have, and I’m not entirely sure I should have them.
The fact that we’re repeatedly told that chivalry is dead makes the post-mortem a puzzling one. Is all etiquette actually dead – has it now crossed over to become grand gestures of gender superiority – or is it still accepted in some form? It’s a question I don’t know the answer to. I was compelled to write this after I saw an Instagram post where a man was awarded a trophy for affording a pregnant woman his seat.
The presenter of the award, Yvonne Lin, started the social experiment after enduring nearly two whole pregnancies without the gesture offered by her award’s recipient. “I was getting no seats from men,” she said. “If I finally get a seat from a guy then I have to celebrate this some way and make sure he knows he’s appreciated.”
This is all aside from the obvious point that someone on a New York subway giving someone else something that wasn’t abuse and/or knife wounds is indeed a miracle under 31st Street…
But, in the larger scheme of things, in this act lies a big issue: (literally) awarding this behaviour – behaviour that may or may no longer be court.
From my own personal experience, I used to always offer my seat to whoever was standing nearby on public transport, but the guarded eyes of distrust that belied polite “no, thank you” pleasantries made me begin to reflect upon this conduct. By fortune of birth, I know not of the horrors that women face – that a stranger on the train who offers me his seat out of nowhere may feel some sense of entitlement for his act of modesty (for the record, fuck that shit). It was after this realisation, if I saw someone standing on a train or bus I’d simply leave the seat and switch carriages or shuffle toward the doors without looking back.
Also on The Big Smoke
- Social media and the death of etiquette
- Noblesse oblige: Embrace the elite (…within reason)
- Slap her? No. Don’t slap anyone. Period.
Done and sorted, I thought.
Except it wasn’t.
Further education on the subject came from someone I was dating at the time, who asked me nicely to “never hold the door open for me again, please.” So I didn’t, which gave me more information, which acted as a stick to further loosen the shale of an already muddied body of water: the reason I did these inconsequential little things is that they seem to be the right thing to do. However, if efforts in such etiquette were to make me anything but the stand-up guy I cling to being, then it could be dispensed with it.
What we need, I feel, is a consensus; because I’m absolutely certain I’m not going to ask people I don’t know, individually, if I make them uncomfortable.
So, Australia, can we finally banish the shuffling mummified corpse of etiquette, or will we exhume it and let it aimlessly roam the landscape for another generation?