Sexism In Chivalry? A Defense From Darwin To The Dinner Tab

When a feminist argues that male courtship rituals toward women are a form of gender subjugation, a Portuguese journalist takes his own kind of offense on behalf of the male sex.

Male attention
Male attention
João Pereira Coutinho


SAO PAULO — We all have our doubts about marriage. But Charles Darwin faced the dilemma with a typical 19th-century rationalism. In 1838, as he wondered whether to marry his cousin Emma Wedgwood, the eminent scientist drew up a list of pros and cons to help make up his mind about tying the knot.

I had heard that story before, but I confess I'd never read it with attention until it was published by British newspaper The Daily Telegraph for Darwin's birthday (Feb. 12) and ahead of Valentine's Day. We're presented with two columns — To Marry, Not To Marry — the latter containing significantly more arguments.

Among the first reasons not to get hitched, Darwin mentions the "freedom to go where one liked," the need to "visit relatives and bend to every trifle," less money to buy books and less time to read them, and the potential quarrels that are a waste of time (true that, Charles).

Charles Darwin and wife Emma Wedgewood

He was much more more concise about the reasons to marry, writing that it's good to have "companionship" (especially in old age), to have someone to take care of the house, and all things considered, that a woman is "better than a dog anyhow." Though his pro-list had fewer arguments, Darwin still ended up marrying Emma. In the end, no list can defeat the love a man feels for a woman.

That was almost 200 years ago. Perhaps the love Charles Darwin felt for Emma — visible in his most personal writings — isn't suited to our modern times. Demonstrations of male affection nowadays can in fact be considered subtle forms of female degradation. Odd, you say?

It's not just being nice?

Far from it. A recent article published in the British magazine Prospect, written by Jessica Abrahams, attacks Valentine's Day, arguing that it's "a classic example" of men's "benevolent sexism" towards women. Just another way of overpowering the feminine gender, assigning women an outdated and frankly inferior role.

Offering flowers, chocolates or simply courting women is merely to reduce them to a passive and — who knows — sexually available subject. The exact same dynamic is at play when a gentleman opens a door for a lady or pays for dinner.

Abrahams is brave and spot on. For years, I was actually lost in conservative clichés myself. I also used to open doors for women and to wave my credit card at the end of fancy dinners, even at the risk of maxing out. But one day in Lisbon, a woman growled at me and my "benevolent sexism."

I woke up from my bestial slumber and was born again in my liberated masculinity. To begin with, dinner expenses were thoroughly divided — drink by drink, olive by olive — and paid separately. The money I thus saved was used in books, travels and other solitary endeavors.

Photo: Chodhound

Of course, as far as relations between the two sexes are concerned, I've kept from time to time some archaic notions of chivalry. Flowers, chocolates, private messages. But thanks to Jessica Abrahams, I've finally understood how I had been reducing women to a submissive and shameful role. A thousand pardons to all of them.

And a warning to all men: Don't be savages! For to treat a woman as a woman is, according to Abrahams, to act according to "assumptions about gender roles." It's best not to act at all, not to make any assumptions. And if that means a permanent separation between women and men, well, the extinction of the species would be better than "benevolent sexism."

And for those who are thinking about tying the knot, there's nothing better than to take Charles Darwin's list and cross out all arguments in favor of getting married. Turns out Darwin was wrong. Is a woman "better than a dog anyhow"? This is benevolent sexism. There's women, and women. And there's dogs, and dogs.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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