How To Deal When Traditional Gender Roles Are Shoved In Your Face

did woman kill chivalry?

Last week I was out to dinner with Olivier. We had gone to Normandy for a few days, and ended up in Honfleur where I had lobster with Dijon mustard for the first time ever. It was great, but not quite as awesome as lobster with butter, as we roll back in the Northeast.

Although it was I who chose and ordered the red wine, the waiter served it to Olivier to try, without even acknowledging my existence, then waited for confirmation that it was satisfactory. The fact that I was the one calling the wine shots seemed of little concern to the waiter, and honestly, I was a bit peeved. I wasn’t pissed because I hadn’t been the one to try the wine despite having ordered it (OK, the kid in me was), but because this was the first time this had ever happened to me. No matter whom I’ve been with, whoever orders the wine, male or female, tastes it. IT’S HOW DINING IN THE WORLD WORKS.

I felt like I was not at the table as Chatel, but as Olivier’s woman. Olivier, a feminist, told me that this was not the case and to calm down. I wasn’t a happy camper.

A few days later, again at dinner (there’s a lot of food to be eaten in France), I noticed I had been given a menu that didn’t have the prices on it, but Olivier’s did. I had long heard about these elusive menus, and had even been to a few restaurants in my life that had them, but they never bothered me the way it did this time. Did I look as though I can’t afford to buy my own meal? That I can’t understand numbers because I’m a girl, and supposedly math and science just aren’t my jam?

Under usual circumstances, I would have gotten over it pretty quickly by chalking it up to an archaic tradition that exists to keep that corner of the patriarchy feeling powerful. But after the wine incident, I started wondering if we were moving backward when it came to etiquette and gender roles.

If I’m the one out making the big bucks and my partner is a stay-at-home dad, does he still get the menu with the prices? Did it really seem so strange that I was treating Olivier to dinner that night? That I was the one who picked up the check although it was all but dropped in Olivier’s lap? Is this not 2013?

I’m the first to admit that I adore chivalry. Although I know I can get the door for myself, I do enjoy it when a man, or actually anyone for that matter, doesn’t let it slam in my face. I like the idea of being treated by my partner, but I also like the idea of treating him, too. I’d find it endearing if someone I’m dating would tear his coat from his body and toss it over a puddle so I can cross without getting wet as if we’re in a 18th century novel. And when a gentleman opens my car door before he gets in himself, I all but swoon! Why? Because I’d do the same thing, as it’s just straight-up manners and called being alive.

Chivalry is not dead; it just looks differently than it did in the past.

I realize for older generations and some cultures, gender roles will always be very specific for them (lady in the kitchen and man in the office). But for me, I can’t help but be mildly offended when my presence is overlooked simply because I’m a woman because of these “old” ways of thing. So, although I wanted to flip that table when the wine went to Olivier, and give the manager at the restaurant a few days later a lecture on equality, I kept my cool. (And as a hothead, I can promise you it was hard.)

It’s not an easy task to keep yourself from losing your shit in the face of sexism, even if that sexism isn’t exactly intended, but based on old ideas. Don’t you fret, my furry pets! With these few pointers, you can “Be cool! Bitch, be cool!” too.

Breathe. Breathing is important because it brings your rage down, and also keeps you alive. Counting will also help in these cases, as well as proving to those around you that women are – gasp! – good with numbers.

Hum a happy song softly. Whenever I find myself in a situation where I want to react like a lunatic and likely make a scene, I hum. Humming, apparently, soothes me. So, maybe it will soothe you, too. I’m a big fan of “Silent Night” in these situations.

Don’t flip that table. You may want to, but don’t. If ever there were a scene to be made, flipping the table would be part of it. (And what a waste of all that wine!)

Eye contact. Whether it’s a waiter, or some douchebag who refuses to acknowledge you because he just straight-up doesn’t care women, force him to SEE you. Then try not to tell him to go fuck himself.

Don’t make assumptions. Considering this particular waiter’s age, I could have assumed his behavior was just based on his upbringing in an era long gone. And depending on where you are in the world, you could also assume your treatment (or lack there of) is because of cultural or religious reasons, but don’t do that. Sexism doesn’t solely belong to one group of people, and to stereotype makes you no better than them.

Assert your “I am woman…” theme song. There’s nothing wrong with speaking up by asking for a menu with the prices, stepping in front of a man who just walked in the shop and is being catered to although you’ve been ignored for 15 minutes, or kindly pointing out to a waiter that you have a tongue for tasting, too. Depending on where you are, you may not get the sweetest of responses, but there’s nothing wrong in showing someone that you’re alive. You know, because you are.

Yes, this may be 2013, and yes, feminism may be celebrated in different ways all around the globe, but the truth is that we still live in a world that has a hard time seeing women as equals. Yes, the wine and menu scenarios are ridiculously small in the fight for equality, but they’re also the results of the trickling down effect from a faucet that someone forgot to turn off long ago.

Let’s keep that faucet off so we can all avoid flipping tables and making scenes in the presence of Dijon lobster. Deal?

Photo: MadameNoire

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    • SomminSneakers

      Aw hell naw. Just wait until this happens to me: ‘Excuse moi, je suis l’SOMMELIER!!’

      • SomminSneakers

        (Fishing for confirmation that I said that correctly ;))

      • Sean

        Sneakers I think it’s le sommelier, you only add the apostrophe and contract where there’s two vowels together. Oh, and it would be “je m’excuse mothafucka, je suis le sommelier”.

        Also, I think that merits a double air snap as you say it.

      • Eileen

        You can say “excuse-moi,” but it has to have the hyphen – and that’s informal, because you’re using “tu.” If you’re going to invert with someone you don’t know, it’s “Excusez-moi.” Although personally, I would probably just say, stiffly, “Pardonnez?” and stare the guy down.

      • Sean

        You’re right. Once again my ancient and overly formal French has betrayed me. :)

      • french girl

        le sommelier is not the person who tastes the wine, it’s the person who is in charge of the wine in a restaurant. So you should go with “je vais goûter le vin” (i am the one who is going to taste the wine)
        and don’t say sorry because
        a) you are in France
        b) a good waiter should have make the one who order taste it

    • Eileen

      The wine thing is weird. The person who orders the bottle tastes it. But I kind of like the menus – not necessarily the assumption, but if I were taking someone/people out to dinner, especially a business dinner, and especially if this were the future and I was the senior person to a bunch of junior coworkers, I would want to be the only one with prices, just because you do look at them and feel uncomfortable sometimes. So maybe Olivier just looks a lot older than you?

      (I doubt it, but it could make you feel better)

      • Amanda Chatel

        Well, he is 11 years older than me… I keep telling him he looks old enough to be my dad! Mystery solved.

    • anna

      “why have gender roles when you can have pizza rolls”

      • Amanda Chatel

        Pizza. Rolls. FTW.

    • Mehiella Satchi

      I live in Europe but I come from Canada. I get you think the wine stuff is weird but here it’s just normal for the man to treat the woman no matter who makes the most cash. If you happen to be treating just ask to taste the wine or switch the menu yourself. What, everybody needs to baby because your a hardcore feminist? Fuck that, real feminists do what needs to be done and don’t bitch and whine about it. Do that enough and things will change on their own.

      • Beth

        I am totally in agreement. I have always referred to this as anti-feminism… and the only feminism that doesn’t annoy the hell out of me. I don’t need to have my equality recognized, I AM an equal. I don’t need to bitch and moan because some dry and stuffy waiter isn’t recognizing my equality as I sing ‘I am woman, hear me roar!’


        All of these qualities I totally forgive the author for just because she linked the “Tell that bitch to be cool” scene from Pulp Fiction. Well played.

    • Jenni

      I get it. This hasn’t ever happened to me, but I would probably flip my shit and stew over it for days afterward. My husband does the opening-the-car-door-for-me thing, and other things that make me happy. But I also return the favor.
      My mom just started dating a guy that orders her food for her. He at least asks her what she wants, but then he orders it for her. Weirds me and my husband out.

      • Samantha_Escobar

        I do the ordering-for-the-other-person thing a lot because I grew up with a family whose indecision leads to every server being forced to wait for them to make choices, so I’ll ask what they generally want and then pick for them in order to save time. They never have issues with this. However, it’s something I need to learn not to do on dates because the servers often seem confused and the person I’m with occasionally feels weird about it, haha. Bad habits :(

        As for gender roles, there are some pretty unpleasant ones that are imposed upon us all every day (as well as some that are neither here nor there, they just exist). I don’t mind them too much usually, because I think a lot of people don’t even think about them and I cannot blame them too much for that, but I do think that as soon as you make it clear about something like the wine tasting or paying a bill, they should listen up. I phrased that poorly but hopefully my point came across.

    • osteopathosaurus

      As a female physician who is constantly assumed to be a nurse, I enjoyed this and think it’s great advice :) When this happens to me (whether professionally or in “real life”) I try to consider the source and let it roll off. When one of my elderly or uneducated patients clearly assumes I’m their nurse, I ignore it or politely correct it if it comes up. You can’t expect to upend someone’s worldview, especially when they’re sick and probably scared. On the other hand, when we were shopping for my husband’s wedding band (which I was obviously paying for) one salesman asked about our work and proceeded to talk about what a good nurse he had during a hospitalization (which is great, I’m just not a nurse). Despite several corrections and me being the one inquiring about prices, quality, etc he kept treating my husband as the traditional “man in the relationship” so I got my panties in a wad and we left.

      Another thing that I do to help me through this is to cherish the times when a person pleasantly surprised me with their assumptions about gender roles. Once when I was rounding with my team an elderly gentleman smiled sweetly at me and said “Are you studying to be a doctor?” I was actually thrilled to tell him “I already am a doctor!” He smiled even more and said “Oh that’s wonderful! You look so young, I thought you must still be in school.” (Mega-bonus points for my vanity there, since one of my colleagues is actually several years younger than me). Another time when I was applying to medical school I was working in a doctor’s office and a little boy with big serious brown eyes stopped me in my tracks by looking up at me and saying “Hello Miss Doctor Lady”. And of course, there are the times when I have been telling a tale about my grandmother, one of the first “Lady Marines”, and some jackass tries to correct me with “Don’t you mean your grandFATHER?” and I get to show them some of that sass my Marine Nana passed down to me.

      Ladies, keep being badass, live for what you think is true and good and makes you happy, and if traditional gender roles are getting in the way of that knock them down, but if they aren’t don’t let them ruin your day or your life. (In my opinion.)

      Thanks for all the great reads :)

      • osteopathosaurus

        PS–sorry such a long post.

      • Samantha_Escobar

        Don’t be sorry — this is an awesome post!

    • Girl Detective

      I struggle with this as a bartender – moderately often a couple will come up to me, the woman will say her order quietly (but audibly) to her boyfriend, and the boyfriend will turn to me and order both drinks. I find it creepy. I deal with it by addressing the woman directly and confirming her order. I also try to pre-emptively ask the female half of couples what they want as they approach, to head it off. I have no idea if that’s unnecessary or obnoxious or what.

      • Lola

        I do this, because I like my husband ordering for me… it makes me feel like I’m being taken care of and that my needs are being recognized, in a sense. My own father was a huge jack@$$ to my mother, and I’m sure this has a great deal of influence on how I like to be treated. To me, it’s an extension of chivalry. To each her own!

    • La

      how do you know he didn’t just get confused and forget which one of you wanted the wine?

    • Eliza

      Love this. I live in Italy where “traditional” gender roles are alive and well. Sometimes I love it, a lot of times I don’t. Useful for keeping it all in perspective.

    • Katie

      I am always amused by the reaction I get when I go out to dinner with my family for small plates or tapas or sushi, where you order as a table and I order for the whole table. The waitstaff is usually just mild,y surprised that the youngest female at the table is ordering 14 dishes for everyone, but every once in a while you get a nice look of astonishment and I have to repeat the whole order. But my dad always gets to taste the wine…