Unconscious Bias Paradox 1: Do Manners Maketh Man…?

Do Manners Maketh Man… or an Unwitting Sexist?
Unconscious Bias Paradox 1 : Chivalry vs Subtle Oppression (Part 1)

As a child, I was taught by my Grandpa (a gentle-man who spent his life in service to others) about manners and chivalry. I learnt, when it came to treating ladies with respect, to walk on the outside of the pavement, to open doors, to open and close car doors, to offer my seat, to serve ladies first, to lend my jacket/coat to a lady that was cold, to carry any heavy bags and cases…

When I went to university, I opened the door for a young lady who responded (rather aggressively): “I can open the door myself, you know!” At that time, I thought: “How rude!” and carried on about my day.

Nearly thirty years later, and having discovered more and more about the layers (and sometimes subtlety) of unconscious bias, I asked my wife: “All the stuff I do like opening car doors and walking on the outside of the pavement etc. Does that offend you?” We’ve been married 24 years so perhaps it was a bit late! Fortunately, Melody (my wife!) didn’t mind and thought it was rather sweet.

The challenge for me, however, was that I began to question the concept of ‘good manners’… had I unwittingly been a sexist in my behaviour for all those years? Can such positive intentions really have had negative consequences? Apart from the young lady at university, I don’t think I have irritated other people with good manners… but who knows!

The redeeming question that I ask myself (which I also call the ‘sexism test’) is “would I do the same for a man?” Some of those things, yes. I would open a door for anyone, serve others first at a meal, offer to carry heavy bags (or at east share the load!) I would also offer my coat to a male friend who was cold. However, I wouldn’t purposefully walk on the outside of the pavement or make a point of opening and closing car doors for them.

With regards to those things I might do for women and not men… are these things a form of subtle sexism or oppression? Is the ‘knight in shining armour’ no longer a useful archetype? On the other hand, if I don’t offer to help with that heavy looking suit-case, does that make me uncaring (or a selfish bounder!)? Of course, context will have a part to play, but I wished to point out the dilemma.

There is so much more to say on this particular paradox, including: how the unconscious ‘rules of manners’ apply to transgender women and men, and also how men will often use ‘manners’ as power-play against one another (e.g. trying to shove each other through a door first!)


Do Manners Maketh Man… more attractive?
Unconscious Bias Paradox 1 : Chivalry vs Subtle Oppression (Part 2)

Following hot on the heels of my scribblings a few days ago, there appeared a research report in New Scientist magazine. What I called ‘unwitting sexism’ has an official term of ‘benevolent sexism’, which I guess is more positive!

In part 1, I was exploring the paradox of chivalry more from the male side (i.e. to be chivalrous and risk accusation of sexism versus not be chivalrous and face accusation of being bad mannered!) However, the research (like some of the feedback I got from the previous article) was exploring the paradox from the female perspective.

In a series of experiments involving more than 700 women aged 18-70, the focus was on ‘attraction’ (which was not necessarily romantic… simply finding the person to be nice). In one study, a hypothetical man was described with chivalrous descriptions (e.g. putting women first in an emergency) or with neutral (‘equality’) descriptions (e.g. thinking that a person’s gender should not determine who is helped first’). To the women in the study, chivalry came out as more attractive (even though most agreed that the man would likely be more undermining and patronising).

In the research, women expressed a slight preference for male co-workers who carried boxes and held the door for them, but the attraction was stronger when it came to romantic partners. The explanation was that chivalry in romantic relationships may be seen as a man ‘investing’ in the relationship and hence more likely to commit, protect and provide.

Here’s the interesting bit (for me anyway!): women in countries with greater gender inequality place greater value on male chivalry. So, male chivalry is not necessarily innately attractive, it may simply be an attitude (and hence set of behaviours) which is valued where inequality already exists.

The article finishes with the question of whether chivalry can co-exist with gender equality (i.e. can men be chivalrous without undermining women?)

This leaves me with two responses (and I’m sure that you will have others!)

  • I return to my question from last time: “would I do this behaviour (e.g. offer to pay for dinner) for men and women?” Chivalry without sexism.
  • There was no mention in the article of female chivalry. If both genders are chivalrous towards the other (with a graceful ability to accept chivalry from others) then again, we have chivalry with equality. And in the words of Sam Cook: “What a wonderful world this would be!”

So, the paradox of chivalry may simply resolve itself as gender equality balances out. However, in the meantime, let the attitudes and behaviours of chivalry become about helping and being kind to others regardless of gender.



Klein, A. (2018) “Why ‘benevolent sexism’ can be attractive” New Scientist 21st July 2018, p7



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