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What Are Manners For, Anyway?: A Response to Miss Middot

In the last issue of The Commentator, Talia Kaufman wrote an article entitled "Miss Middot: Manner Up. Don't Date Down."  Kaufman argues that manners in dating have become neglected among "YUskies and Sternzies," and as a result, dating has become unnecessarily ugly.  As Kaufman puts it, "in the world of dating there is no place for ugliness."

To resolve this behavioral epidemic, Kaufman finds it important to return to what she sees as the fundamental rules of dating. "Please remember: these rules are not meant to intimidate us," she writes. "They were put in place in order to guide us on how to respectfully communicate with our potential mates."  Kaufman proceeds to do an excellent job at highlighting the bad habits that men often fall accustomed to.  After all, she warns, "ladies overanalyze just about everything that you say or do." Consequently, Kaufman is simply trying to help guys out by preparing us with some seemingly basic ground rules.

In the beginning of Kaufman's piece, it seems that her article is intended for both genders.  For example, in "Researching For Love," her section regarding the beginning of a relationship, she writes, "While a person's seminary/yeshiva can certainly tell you something about them, you need to truly get to know them to learn what it actually says."  This seems to apply to both men and women.

Kaufman similarly believes that characteristics such as outward hashkafa don't have to match up perfectly in order to form a relationship.  She writes, "I know that I most certainly would not have played shadchan with the future Mommy and Daddy Kaufman if I had known them in their Stern/YC years."  Once again, her intended readers seem to be both men and women.

However, in the section entitled "The Mating Call," Kaufman discusses the initial conversation over the phone, which she points out should be carried out by the man as soon as possible.  Here is where Kaufman seems to shift gears and change from her multi-gendered audience to one exclusively of men.  From this point onward, Kaufman lists rules by which men alone must abide.  But when the focus turns towards men, it also acquires a negative tint.

When writing about the aforementioned phone conversation, she voices a concern about its going awkwardly and says that the man should "try to charm her a bit over the phone.  Worried that an extensive phone conversation will cause you to run out of things to say on your date?  If this is indeed a legitimate fear for you then perhaps try being more interesting."  While a guy should certainly be the one to call, it is definitely not his fault alone if the conversation is uncomfortable.  What do you expect?  More times than not, the two have never even met before.

Kaufman continues her argument, with apparently no intent to stop her critical tone.  When speaking of choosing a location for the date, she writes to men, "You must have a game plan, and you need to use whatever you have, be it money, creativity, or some talent.  Have nothing to offer?  Then perhaps you should be going to therapy instead of on dates."  While a guy should certainly plan ahead, a common place does not always indicate a lack of imagination and ingenuity. More often than not it may simply be an attempt to take things slowly.  And by the way, when did going to therapy become a bad thing?

And just in case you thought that these comments were the end of her crusade, Kaufman backhandedly assures her readers that picking an interesting place to date will not come at the cost of the conversation, for "there I am sure you can talk about how many children you would like to have dirtying up your white Shabbat table cloth."  Here she further criticizes men's lack of creativity by suggesting that they can't even think of original topics of conversation.

In isolation, each one of these statements seems to be nothing more threatening than some feminist's light, satirical comments on the simplicity of men.  However, collectively these comments form an image of men with the characteristics of uninterested, boring, and therapy-needing yeshiva alumni.

In contrast, to describe women she uses adjectives such as "interesting," "empowered" and "confident." Women appear ideal in relation to the inadequacy that is man.

Kaufman is doing two things wrong here.  First, of course, she is blatantly and unfairly criticizing men.

But second, and more importantly, she is putting the responsibility of the date entirely on the man.  And what is man's responsibility to his superior lady?  "To woo her with [his] excessive displays of chivalry."

The image that Kaufman creates from this dichotomy is one in which man is expected to serve his date while she stands upon her high platforms.  Man is expected to fill the role of a servant at the throne of his queen.  This inequality is even seen in her complaint of men not walking into the Stern lounge to pick up their dates.  "Gentlemen, please man up and come into the lounge," she writes. "We know that Stern dorm lounges are super intimidating, but don't worry—the security guard[s]…might be a little scary, but they are just being protective of us."  Although it may be true that the security guards are there to protect, the article makes it sound as if these "Sternzies" are some princesses at the top of the Brookdale Tower being protected from invading marauders.

Not only is this image frustratingly condescending toward men, it also is totally counterintuitive to the original thesis of the article.  If men and women are not equal, then how can respectful communication ever exist?  Respect (to risk sounding like a first-year undergrad) is a type of social contract that is based off of mutual admiration.  Thus, without equality, there is no respect, and without respect, ultimately, communication is jeopardized.  Therefore, a healthy dating relationship must be founded on equality.  Men and women must be on the same playing field, and a man cannot be expected to perform like an entertainer for his date.  This would endanger the entire point of the relationship – and that would be ugly.


The author would like to recognize that this article was largely inspired by talks with Yoni Mandelbaum.