Proposing Courtship

With Amy A. Kass, First Things, October 1999.


Anyone interested in improving relations between men and women today and tomorrow must proceed by taking a page from yesterday. For today’s tale regarding manhood and womanhood is, alas, both too brief and hardly edifying. True, as they multiply taboos on speech and gesture, our sexual harassment police emphatically prescribe how not to behave toward the opposite sex. But outside of certain strongly religious communities, we have no clearly defined positive mores and manners that teach men how to be men in relation to women and women how to be women in relation to men. What instruction there is for relations between the sexes is largely gender–neutral: respect the other person’s freedom, avoid sexist speech and unwanted advances, be sincere, sensitive, and caring. Even the prominent descriptions of pairing–off are neutered and unerotic: people have a relationship, not a romance, with a partner or a significant other, not a lover or a beloved. In our increasingly androgynous age, sexual speech and mores are designed to fit all couples, homo– and heterosexual, and all manners of intimacy, serious or frivolous.

First Things