The Unendurable Notion Of Female Courtesy

Sixties sensibility was powered in part by hostility to standards of good manners as taught by books that none of the youngsters had actually read. In their later years, some of them have been astonished to discover that Emily Post, for example, is not about dumb petty-bourgeois regulations but clearly-stated reasons for courtesy, gentility and scrupulousness. The aim is not social-superiority games but making other people feel comfortable.

This is not, however, the only response to actually reading these things. There is Internet mockery of Thirties and Fifties dating guides, for example, that tells us a lot about our current assumptions. One I have seen considers it unacceptable to advise ladies not to flirt with the waiter or talk about old lovers with their dinner dates. A more recent advice article was excoriated for venturing to suggest that a woman ought not spend the entire date texting her friends.

We could be astonished at the people who need to be told such things, and doubly astonished by the people who, having been told them, abuse the teller. Is it really patriarchal oppression to say that flirting with the waiter when on a date is uncouth, or is it something else? Is it really pathological possessiveness not to want a woman to put love-making on hold while she replies to text-messages, or a basic human reaction to being disrespected? Why are acquaintances on a smartphone screen infinitely more important than the flesh-and-blood person in your bed?

Everyone is always telling me that I don’t have social intelligence, and yet I would never dream of spending a date sending text-messages or making phone calls. I wonder, therefore, about people who are considered to have sky-high Social Intelligence – which women have by definition, since S.I. is defined in terms of whatever articulate modern women do – but who don’t seem able even to conceptualise common courtesy, much less practice it.

One thinks of the Plastics in the film Mean Girls, who are social experts in the sense of mastery of fine hierarchical distinctions and their expression in fashion, but whose agenda is the very opposite of Emily Post’s courtesy, that is, putting other people at their ease. Their social intelligence was used solely a tool for tormenting the less popular.

My hypothesis is that female social intelligence actually offers a malignant trap, into which women could fall into the Fifties and the Noughties alike – they risk becoming so self-congratulatory on their superiority in subtle layered communication and engineering of hierarchies that they grow quite indifferent to true courtesy, in fact end up as conceited barbarians. For them, making other people feel bad is not a transgression but rather an accomplishment.

Posted on September 10, 2013 at 10:06 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink

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