I’ll start out by saying that feminism and equal rights are not the realm of “etiquette.” It is “good manners” to treat people with respect on a one-on-one basis, but systemic disenfranchisement is something far bigger than these rules and guidelines tackle. But you wouldn’t know that after reading Sheryl Sandberg’s and Adam Grant’s New York Times piece, “How Men Can Succeed In The Boardroom And The Bedroom.”
It starts innocuously enough by attempting to debunk the myth that gender equality is a zero-sum game, which I understand some people still need to be told. However, it quickly devolves into explaining to men how including women in business decisions, doing housework, and being nice to them can benefit them personally. Apparently men who do chores are happier, live longer, and have better sex with their partners. If we can convince men that they can get something out of it, they argue, equality will happen. “We need to go further and articulate why equality is not just the right thing to do for women but the desirable thing for us all,” they write.
Except we don’t.
What we need to do is teach everyone that sometimes you do things because they’re the right thing to do, regardless of how this benefits you. This is a common tenet of etiquette. You give up your seat for an old man even though now you have to stand. You don’t cut in line even though it’d get you out of the store faster. You learn that not everything directly benefits you, and you are okay with that because you’re an adult. Needing to be told personal benefits or rewards for actions is how a child’s mind works. The article explains that both the Women’s Suffrage movement and the 1960s Civil Rights movement found success after they proved how their causes would benefit everyone. They use this as proof that modern equal rights movements must do the same. However, we should have moved past this by now.
That’s not to say you’re doomed to put up with “bad” things happening to you just for the betterment of society, though if that were the case, it still wouldn’t be a problem. There’s an episode of Friends where Phoebe attempts to find a completely selfless act. Throughout the episode she does things for other people, only to realize that she benefited from the interaction in some tangible way as well. Eventually she donates money to PBS, an organization she hates, in an attempt to be completely selfless, but it unintentionally gets Joey (who’s manning the pledge drive phones) on TV. She’s still out of money, and she still gave it to a place she doesn’t actually support, but she feels good because she helped someone. If anything, that is what manners are for. We learn to feel good not because something good happened to us, but because we contributed to the ease and comfort of all the lives around us. That should be motivation enough.