May 23, 2016

"Compared with dating, calling sounds unbearably repressive.... But calling gave women certain advantages."

"As the historian Beth L. Bailey argued in a 1988 book on courtship in twentieth-century America, calling, which took place in the female 'sphere' of the home, afforded women a degree of control that dating in the public, male sphere didn’t. Plus, it was up to women to pursue men. Bailey quotes a young man’s letter that was published in Ladies’ Home Journal in 1909: 'May I call upon a young woman whom I greatly admire, although she had not given me permission?' Not if he wanted to have a chance with her, came the reply. Compare this, as Bailey does, with the warning issued in a dating guide from the nineteen-fifties—representative of a genre that has survived with roachlike endurance to the present day—that for girls to ask guys out would be 'to usurp the right of boys to choose their own dates,' a custom that the guide claimed stretched back to the Stone Age, when, readers were blithely informed, men regarded women as prey and took them by force. The shift from calling to dating happened quickly, in the way that such shifts often do. The rich copied the poor; the middle class copied the rich...."

From "Work It/Is dating worth the effort?" in The New Yorker.

26 comments:

damikesc said...

Based on current Democratic philosophy, this entire article, from the start to finish, is utter bullshit.

Welcome to our Brave New World. Where all sexes are the same. Heck, men can win women of the year awards. Which means men are better women than women.

Perhaps we deserve a pay gap benefit for being so good at being either sex...

n.n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
n.n said...

Women always had a choice -- other than sanctioned elective abortion -- in civilized societies. The historical change preceded religious (i.e. moral) revival and followed the dysfunctional revolution with the resurgence of female chauvinism.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Is dating worth the effort?

That depends, rather much, on whom you choose to date.

MaxedOutMama said...

But a man would ask the lady or usually the older relative of the lady for permission to call, so in fact the man did do the picking.

In some cases the older relative (usually mother) would meet the young man at another house or at a dance and tell the man that he could call, or it would be arranged between the older generation that a son would call.

The "calling" tradition is at least English (maybe continental) and quite old. It's more a matter of generational guidance than of female autonomy.

Hagar said...

"A man chases a girl until she catches him . . ."

YoungHegelian said...

...that for girls to ask guys out would be 'to usurp the right of boys to choose their own dates,' a custom that the guide claimed stretched back to the Stone Age, when, readers were blithely informed, men regarded women as prey and took them by force.

No. Girls didn't ask boys out because it made them look "loose". But, back in those days of "boy asks girl out" dating, there was always some social convention whereby women could ask men out, e.g. the yearly "Sadie Hawkins Day" dance, or some such.

You know, it's like people think now that women & girls back then had no moral agency at all, when that's simply untrue. If you asked grandma & grandpa who ended up picking who in the couple, they'd look at each other & laugh & say "We picked each other" or "Grandma picked me". What you aren't going to hear is some modern rendition of grandpa clubbing grandma over the head & dragging her back to his cave.

Yancey Ward said...

Laslo, please wake up!

David said...

"The right of boys to chose their own dates . . . "

For that right to exist, there would have to be faced acceptances of the offer.

I was a boy, then a man now an old man. Never once has it occurred to me that I have a right to choose my own dates. I have a right to ask. She has a right to say yes or no. She has a right to ask. I have a right to say yes or no.

There is a lot of custom that impacts this simple pattern, but at base those are the options.

David said...

I dated from about age 14 to 22, and again from age 53 to my early 60's. The first stint was more fun, but the second was more successful.

JAORE said...

"'May I call upon a young woman whom I greatly admire, although she had not given me permission?' Not if he wanted to have a chance with her, came the reply."

OK then, I'll just follow her into the shower room.....

How much more advanced we have become....

Freeman Hunt said...

'to usurp the right of boys to choose their own dates,'

Nonsense. That's not why. The one asking takes the rejection risk. And they don't get to choose their dates; the girls have to agree.

Fernandinande said...

Lileks has some ladies' dating advice from 1938(?): "Don't sit in awkward positions".

buwaya said...

In the old Spanish tradition one met the girls at the evening paseo (stroll, ride) around the town plaza, where it was possible for a gentleman to address a lady in public (though young ladies, and even not so young, were accompanied by a duenna - an older female companion). It was evident where interest lay, and whether an approach was possible.
Such matters were arranged as whether a serenade beneath her window would be welcome.
More communal than the English/American one.

traditionalguy said...

Sounds like asking for her phone number. Then when you get her to risk going out, you kiss her and see what she thinks.

At that point most women will signal yes or no strongly.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Back in the olden days calling on someone meant that you got dressed up. Went to their house in a carriage or perhaps one of those fancy new automobiles. Presented a calling card which was deposited in a special tray. If the owner of the home or the person who you wished to call upon was home, the card was then presented to that person. They would decide if they were available at the moment and either see you or request that you call back at another time.

Alternately, you could send a note to them asking for permission to call and they would send a note back. You could also ask for permission to call on a more personal way, as if you were wanting to romantically see that person. Generally that permission was requested from a parent or directly to the object of your desire, if they were "of age" and not still living at home.

Telephones didn't exist. You had to call in person. Life was a bit more difficult back then to navigate. Slower in pace. Yet everyone knew the rules and therefore life was a bit more predictable. A more stately dance.

traditionalguy said...

Juanita Broadderick learned that saying no to a Clinton doesn't work. She made a mistake and called on him.

Franklin said...

Do people that read the New Yorker really not understand that our ancestors recognized the downsides of their system and yet still chose to conduct themselves the way they did because society was the better for it?

Neal Stephenson called it in The Diamond Age or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer. Victorianism is due for a comeback.

buwaya said...

The drivers of the change in customs -

- Respectable women living independently. Did not happen in the past, unless under exceptional circumstances. Widows, etc. They have no support, protection, backup, advice from trustworthy sources.

- People living in anonymity. It used to take a village, clan, family to vet and certify appropriate liasons. People had reputations, and were well known from birth usually. These days people have to individually filter each prospect, each time.

- Numbers. There were only so many marriageable men and women in a locality. It wasn't difficult to figure out what the options were. Leaving for fresh territory was difficult and risky. Now? The number of prospects is vast, leading, I think, to confusion and an inability to choose.

Modernity is not necessarily a good thing for the human animal. The more modern the population gets, the more of the communal survival skills are lost, and these are critical as we are a social species. Technology protects against death from natural causes, but sabotages human nature. One result is reduced fertility. Some other problems are also evident. At some point I think this will lead to a demographic disaster on the scale of the black death, or worse.

coupe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wilbur said...

A good song about courting:

Lights in the parlor
Fire in the grate
Clock on the mantle
Says it's a gettin' late
Curtains on the window snowy white
The parlor is pleasant on Sunday night

Lamp on the table
Picture on the wall
There's a pretty sofa
And that's not all
If I'm not mistaken, I'm sure I'm right
Some other ol' boy's in the parlor tonight

"Ida Red" Bob Wills

Peter said...

" Never once has it occurred to me that I have a right to choose my own dates. I have a right to ask. She has a right to say yes or no. She has a right to ask. I have a right to say yes or no."

Males display, females choose. That's pretty much the rule, at least for mammals.

Methods have changed, but, has the principle itself really changed all that much?

Sebastian said...

What I learned: "calling" is bad for women because it confines them, dating is bad for women because it is a form of social control, internet dating is bad for women because it commodifies them.

aritai said...

I always thought the practice of giving "your card" to the butler who would then take it the mistress or master of the house and ask if they'd like to see this person was very civilized. Caller ID comes close but would be better if it was human to human to make the caller understand they were intruding, and not appreciated when the caller was told "thanks but no thanks" - made for a much more polite and civil society. Maybe our new AI overlords will be able to do this.

SGT Ted said...

What I learned: "calling" is bad for women because it confines them, dating is bad for women because it is a form of social control, internet dating is bad for women because it commodifies them.

If something from the Evil Patriarchy can be used to privilege a woman, feminists will attempt to justify its use, because, evidently, women have no agency and are silly little fluff heads always in need of protection from the consequences of their actions by society.

SGT Ted said...

Never once has it occurred to me that I have a right to choose my own dates. I have a right to ask. She has a right to say yes or no. She has a right to ask. I have a right to say yes or no.

Rape Culture propaganda requires pushing the mythology that men are taught "by society" that they have a right to dates and sex. Never mind the complete lack of any evidence that this is so. Like rape accusations on a college campus, assertion is proof of guilt.