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Urban Etiquette

Ellen Vanstone answers your questions about the annoying behaviours, poor manners and impatient encounters that dot the days of a city dweller.

Urban Etiquette: How can I smash the patriarchy at my next dinner party?

Ladies cook and clean the kitchen while the guys watch a ball game. I refuse to participate, which is uncomfortable for me and embarrassing for my husband. But if I participate in this unfair dynamic I’m supporting the patriarchy!

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Ani Castillo / For Metro

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Dear Ellen,

I grew up in a “machismo” country. My mom would cook and send me to buy tortillas while my brothers relaxed on the couch. I would walk to the tortilla shop boiling with anger, kicking every single stone I saw, furious about the injustice. Now at get-togethers in Canada, ladies cook and clean the kitchen while the guys watch a ball game. I feel my childhood anger boil all over again and refuse to participate, which is uncomfortable for me and embarrassing for my husband. But if I participate in this unfair dynamic I’m supporting the patriarchy! What should I do, Ellen?

N.E.

Dear N.E.,

I relate to your struggle and applaud your resolve. I will also assure you that refusing to participate in “this unfair dynamic” is perfectly acceptable behaviour in terms of proper etiquette. Just because something is uncomfortable for you and embarrassing for others doesn’t mean it’s rude. It just means people are thrown off balance by a new or unwelcome idea.

And, to be fair, you can’t blame folks for feeling confused or miffed when you suddenly tell them that the traditional, patriarchal gender roles they’ve taken for granted their whole lives — and which have been the norm for millennia — are actually ridiculous and unacceptable.

For this reason, good manners dictate that you make it a fair (philosophical) fight — explain your position; and leave the other side some room to manoeuvre.

For example, it would be rude to just mysteriously skulk off at the end of the meal and disappear until the dishes are done. Similarly, storming off, screaming in rage at the patriarchy, would also be quite inconsiderate, and possibly alarming for all concerned. 

Instead, give everyone a heads-up. Tell the story about being sent off to buy tortillas while your brothers were treated like little princes. Talk about how important it is to set good examples of non-sexist role models for the kids. Invite the guys to either cook before or clean after, or suggest mixing it up right at the outset — divide into two groups of any gender for pre- and post-meal duties.

At no point should you apologize! You’re not doing anything wrong. In fact, you’re doing the right thing by trying to change a system that hurts boys as well as girls. Truth be told, girl, you’re a damn hero! Mantente fuerte, chica.

Need advice? Email Ellen: askellen@metronews.ca

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