We were talking about rules and decorum in society. There was a time in my life when I saw these societal norms – things like “politeness” and chivalry – as arbitrary and annoying. But talking with Gabe one day, I was led to rethink this.
As Gabe put it, there’s actually something really good about these rules: They give us some sense of an understood mutual contract in society that tells us how we are to relate to the people around us. True, rules can sometimes be annoying and restrictive; but when articulated and implemented well, they actually bring stability, joy, and freedom to our relationships. So when a man knew that it was his role to open the car door for his date, or to stand in the presence of a lady when she entered the room, there was a clear understanding of how mutual honor and respect could be expressed. (“Namaste!”) Both could rejoice in this ceremony: the woman joyfully received the honor and care that was given to her from the man; the man rejoiced in lowering himself to honor the woman.
[ If you google-image “chivalry”, this is something that comes up: ]
But when we eliminate these rules, we lose that mutual contract that governs our relationships. We no longer know what it means to honor and respect one another. (“If I open the door for her, will she feel honored, or will she feel offended, as if I think she’s inferior as a woman and can’t open the door for herself? I’ll just back off and let her open it… better to not risk it.”)
Of course, there are many ways that the individualism and anti-authority bent of Western culture affects our lives – both positively and negatively. But as I said in my first post on this topic, I’m thinking now about sex.
When we lose touch with our sense of what it means to be a man or to be a woman, there can no longer be any mutually understood contract of how we are to relate to one another. What are our roles? Who should ask who out on a date? In my life (and long history of screwed up relationships with both sexes), I’ve often thought things like, “I don’t know what it means for me to relate to her as a woman. So what do I do? Do I just treat her like any other friend? Should there be a difference between how I talk to a woman-friend and how I talk to a man-friend?”
If you’re reading this, maybe it’s because you’re really interested in finding out what I think. But that’s not why I’m sharing this with you. Rather, I’m sharing it because our society is clearly asking these questions, and hasn’t yet come up with any clear answers.
I love looking at pop culture for trace evidences of underlying intuitions that the creator of this or that piece of art may have had. So let me pull out an example or two (or three).
COMING UP: The next three posts will be ultra-exciting analyses of three recent popular stories, and a short look at what they tell us about our sex.