For the last few months, NPR’s All Things Considered has been exploring what it means to be a man in America today. In some ways, the picture for men has changed dramatically over the past 50 years. More women than men are going to college, and the economy is moving away from jobs that traditionally favored men, like manufacturing and mining. Attitudes have also changed on the social front, with young men having more egalitarian attitudes toward women and expectations of being involved fathers.

Shifting gender roles have also brought up new questions about social etiquette. If men and women aspire to operate as equals, does a man still pay the bill on a date? Should he still hold open a door? Do different rules apply in the workplace? Are there any special situations for gay men?

They’ve tapped me, Steven Petrow, an advice columnist for The Washington Post, to answer any questions you might have about “modern man manners.”

Hey everyone. What a great turnout for my first Reddit AMA. Thank you so much for your intelligent queries. You made me think! And that's a good thing. Until next time. -SP


Bio: Steven Petrow is a journalist and the go-to source for modern manners. In addition to his five etiquette books, Petrow writes the Civilities column for The Washington Post as well as Your Digital Life for USA Today and "Medical Manners" for Everyday Health. He's a former president of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association.

Comments: 266 • Responses: 31  • Date: 

snoaj25 karma

I tend now hold the door for everyone. Has there been any change in etiquette that was traditionally male - female that is now anyone-anyone?

stevenpetrow52 karma

Love this question. Get it a lot. My general rule: If you're the first one to the door, then please hold it open for the person behind you -- regardless of gender. And that means if you're a woman and get to the door first, go ahead and hold it open for the guy who's behind you.

Egodram23 karma

Why do you think there aren't more men openly condemning misogyny (such as domestic violence, rape culture, etc...) and what do you think would get more men actively involved?

stevenpetrow24 karma

You're absolutely right that there aren't enough men condemning misogyny. Men need to understand how this impacts the women in their lives (wives, sisters, daughters, etc.) I have a niece, for instance, who is a college freshman. All the convos about sexual assault on campus have had an impact on my awareness.

solairebee10 karma

A really popular argument I see is that girls fake reports of sexual assault. This does happen and it is absolutely not okay, but I do believe that daily living for all women is impacted by the threat of sexual assault and that there aren't many women purposely faking reports of sexual assault. What is your response to claims like this?

Also, in light of the art performance being given by a Columbia student in response to her rapist's presence on campus, how do you think college campuses can improve dialogue on sexual assault?

stevenpetrow8 karma

Let me again tell you a story about my niece who is a freshman in college. Last week, her first week, the college had mandatory sexual assault/awareness trainings for all first year students. I know from her that started a conversation among her peers, which I think is great. More than anything the link to alcohol abuse was highlighted.

ggachi22 karma

What is the most productive way for parents to talk to young boys about their role in an evolving culture?

stevenpetrow34 karma

Most important is modeling the kind of behavior you'd like your young boys to emulate. If you're not doing that, I don't think talking the talk is going to have an impact.

SubJ19 karma

How should a male respond when encountering street misogyny/sexual harassment (i.e. cat-calling) to a stranger by another stranger? Is responding appropriate, or does that only propagate the idea of "White Knight" behavior?

adaruntai37 karma

I would be so, so happy if someone spoke up to a catcaller on my behalf. Keep it about the behavior ("hey man, that's not how you talk to people, leave her alone!"). If your comment respects her agency, go for it!

stevenpetrow39 karma

I agree. Let's not forget that in general: Silence = assent. It's our individual responsibility to speak up when we see a wrong.

ThisCityWantsMeDead17 karma


stevenpetrow22 karma

You should be the new Joan Rivers! Funny man. Why don't that other get up and give his seat to the woman if he felt so strongly about it? Now, if you wanted to meet her giving up your seat and engaging in some convo might have helped break the ice. Worry about something else, my friend!

The3rdhalf13 karma

Hi Steven, My Brother's wedding is coming up in two weeks and I'm his best man. This is the second wedding I've even been to and I'm pretty lost as far as my responsibilities go. My biggest concern is am I supposed to get him a special gift? What's a best man to do?

stevenpetrow17 karma

Congrats no. 2 to your brother. I'd say ask your brother what he expects of you. There's nothing like being direct about matters like these. Especially when guessing isn't likely to be helpful. No special gifts are necessary - in fact gifts are always voluntary. I know - that's shocking to hear, isn't it?

sarantopolis12 karma

How does the aspect of being manly change with age, and how drastically does that change with where you live (say the united states, Northern vs. Southern)?

stevenpetrow8 karma

I'm glad you asked this question -- as I live in the South and have often commented that manners have geographical distinctions. It's so much more common down here for men to adhere to traditional gender roles, although that's changing too. Thanks for asking.

tkmountainman10 karma

As a labor Union representative I often have to be present in highly charged emotional situations. In order for me to properly represent folks I must remain analytical and observant. I often feel deep empathy but fight it off in order to deal impartially with facts. I fear to be described as cool or cold. Is there best practice professional mannerisms to show empathy to an emotionally distraught colleague?

stevenpetrow12 karma

I think there's a time and a place for different behaviors and one of the major distinctions is between the professional and personal spheres. what you describe as 'cool or cold' can also be interpreted as "fair," which is key for your role. At the same time, don't underplay how your body language can help you express empathy. Eye contact. No crossed arms. Etc. Good question, Mr. Mountain Man.

thethirst8 karma

What are your thoughts about culture clashes between generations in the workplace? I work for a big company, and there's a lot of tension between younger and older LGBT people. There's an official lgbt employee group that's kind of getting caught up in it.

Things like young people being out immediately, and taking their SO's to events, identifying as queer, bucking gender norms more. Older ones tending to want to fly under the radar and not really talk about trans or queer people. Any thoughts on how to bridge the gap?

stevenpetrow13 karma

I've seen this same trend in my workplaces and among my LGBT friends in general. As you can probably tell from my other responses here, respect, especially mutual respect is so important and often so lacking. I know many of the younger folks often forget the sacrifices the older generation made for them in creating a much more open society. And I know that there are older folks who don't understand transphobia and have a deep seated revulsion to the word 'queer.' Mutual respect and mutual education is my RX.

johnnynoname127 karma

I don't think this has been addressed but I'll ask because not only are you a expert of modern manners but you were the former president of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association?

I don't mind getting hit on by gay men.

Btw- I don't make a big deal about if a gay man hits on me

However what is the right way to tell a man that hits on you that you are flattered but that you're not gay

is "I'm flattered but I'm not gay" the protocol?

EDIT: I actually am flattered when it happens :)

stevenpetrow12 karma

I'm really not a fan of people "hitting" on others, regardless of sexual orientation. Simple flirting is fine but anything that makes another uncomfortable is problematic. But, in your situation, I'd either avoid the advance (move on, look away, etc.) or just say I'm not interested in what I think you're interested in." Humor is a good tool. I'm flattered you asked me this question:)

karmanaut7 karma

Who do you think the best person would be to make an example and take that "first step" in going outside the norm and changing social standards so that others will follow suit? Who bears the burden of trying to change social norms?

stevenpetrow16 karma

Who bears the burden? Those who want to make changes. I think we often forget about the power of individuals to do that. As I noted to the parent above, we must model the behaviors that we want others to emulate. Great question.

Hawkeye596 karma

This is what it's like to be a gentleman, a mother father gentleman that is.

Okay, in all seriousness. A theme I keep identifying in this debate is the idea of a gentlemen. It seems like now with the shift of gender roles and view points about equality, the role of the gentleman seems outdated and even a foreign concept to most men and women. I get a Arthurian vibe from it as I try to reconcile the idea of it with my own life. It's even hard for people to agree on who would make the perfect gentlemen because there's a lot more subjective view points on it now.

My question is, do you think it would be a great idea of tossing the "gentlemen" concept out of our culture? Is this a possibility and if so, what kind of steps can we take to go in that direction?

stevenpetrow8 karma

"Gentleman" and "Lady" both seem outdated to me. Either throw them out or I say let's reclaim them:) Still, there are some positive virtues associated with each -- but too much baggage.

melodykramer6 karma

What's the best way to respond to misogynistic or yucky online comments online? Should one respond?

stevenpetrow16 karma

Great question. Half the time I feel that responding to people only empowers them to continue with whatever "yuck" they're spewing. But if you think it's a rational person, I'd engage them and explain why a particular comment struck you as misogynist, etc. Make it a teachable moment.

baerga5 karma

I loved the support that Michael Sam got from his Mizzou and his St. Louis Cardinals teammates and hope same continues in Dallas. Do you think his experience will prompt more in NFL to come out this season?

stevenpetrow11 karma

Of course it's the Rams and now Sam is a Cowboy. I don't have a crystal ball on this one but the fact that Michael Sam has broken what is often called the "lavender ceiling" in the NFL (and elsewhere) is powerful and will make it easier for others.

misongrey4 karma

Perhaps the better question is -- should a woman now give up her seat for a man?

stevenpetrow12 karma

If that man is visibly disabled or seems in need of a seat, why wouldn't a woman do this?

srick9293 karma

While the internet has generally been a positive force for change, I find many messaging boards, comment sections, and even facebook and twitter posts have a mysigonistic tone to them. Do you think the internet is a positive or negative force for combatting sexism?

stevenpetrow7 karma

There's no question that the anonymity of the digital world allows for people to say things they NEVER would say face to face or with their name attached. I think we need to find ways to hold people more accountable for what they say/do online ... especially when it comes to young people abd bullying.

cjc13033 karma

1) In one sentence what do you consider to be modern day manners? 2) How long till you think that someone's homosexuality will be an afterthought and society will focus more on what that person contributes to society? I find it very frustrating how society is so focused on individuals' personal lives and tend to overlook what that individual is actually bringing to the table.

stevenpetrow10 karma

Are you a teacher?:) Modern day manners reflect kindness, respect, and civility. Old time manners didn't. I don't know how long it will be til homosexuality is an afterthought. Many, wrongly, think that the acceptance of same-sex marriage is the only litmus test. There are many other issues: bullying, employment discrimination, transphobia, etc.

cjc13031 karma

Thank you for the response. And no I am actually a medical student. Your one sentence is exactly how I feel about modern day manners.

stevenpetrow1 karma

Oh good.

globetrekpro3 karma

Some women consider chivalry (things like opening doors for them, etc) misgynistic or patronizing. Do you agree?

stevenpetrow5 karma

It's not for me to tell someone how they should feel. If they feel that way, which I can understand, I'd suggest saying a few words or letting your actions do your speaking: Get to the door first, pick up the check first etc. What do you think?

[deleted]3 karma


stevenpetrow4 karma

I always think it takes two to create a "sh-tstorm." And we have too much of a tendency to blame others. How does that resonate with you?

Kimbolimbo2 karma

Do you have suggestions on how to handle and detour extremists from hijacking a civil productive gender discussion?

stevenpetrow6 karma

Call them out on what they're doing. In a sense I'd call them bullies and bullies thrive on others not standing up. I'd say something like: "We're trying to have an open discussion here. Please stay if you can be a part of that. Otherwise...."

cvillemade2 karma

How long do you predict it will take before real gender equality is achieved in America?

stevenpetrow7 karma

I wish it would be sooner. That's my best answer.

chahatji2 karma

Hi Steven! a lot of the transition in gender roles that have occurred can be associated with the subtle feminist that exist in all women these these days. Subtle being the keyword cuz stigma that is now related to feminism is such that not many want to be termed as one. I am often a little shy to voice my fully feminist opinions too. Do you think all the change that has happened is only out of legal and social obligations towards equality of women? The often condemned feminist acts say so.

stevenpetrow2 karma

Why are you shy about expressing your "full feminist opinions?"

Atnevon2 karma

Thanks for doing this AmA Steven. I've been a huge fan of NPR for years.

How do you view the world of dating and courting for men in todays time? In my own view I feel there is an overabundance of clouding messages showing how men could or should be. Bad boys, James Bond, the sensitive type, the woman supporter; all at once with no clear answer.

stevenpetrow9 karma

First of all, thank you for the nice words. Much appreciated. I love my NPR audience. (and my Wash Post one, too). I like your question because you're right about all those messages. Here's my advice: Be yourself. Be your authentic self. Unless you're a sociopath, this will advance your cause.

CertainAmountOfLife2 karma

I have a three month old son. What do you think is the most important thing I can teach him about being a modern man?

stevenpetrow4 karma

To sit up properly. To eat when fed. To sleep through the night. OK, seriously, he's probably a little bit young for "lessons" but as I've said to a few others here, model the values and behaviors you want the little guy to emulate. Good luck!

[deleted]1 karma


stevenpetrow4 karma

On a first date? The one who asked the other out. It works for opposite-sex and same-sex couples.

Martient7121 karma

How has legalized cannabis affected your city so far Steven? It's always nice to get the insider perspective about how a resident feels about it.

stevenpetrow4 karma

I live in NC. No legal weed here, my friend.

Tri-Mage1 karma

Do you believe that modern women, who lean towards more egalitarian values should celebrate "Chivalry's death?"

Should social etiquette such as holding the door for women, or 'ladies first,' be completely abandoned, or is the opposite (women holding the door open for men) more of a testament to the culture in which young boys are raised?

Hope I was clear enough. Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions!

stevenpetrow9 karma

I don't think that common courtesies, like holding the door for another, need to be abandoned. We just need to apply those courtesies without regard to gender. I love when someone actually holds the door open for me and doesn't let it slam in my face.

MissCherryPi-1 karma

If you are so in favor of mannerly men, why are you doing an AMA on a website with so few? Reddit hosts a wide number of misogynistic subreddits, which are all allowed within the site's rules.

Jzff17 karma

Would that not make this the perfect place to have this discussion? To show the value of manners to some folks who don't currently understand?

stevenpetrow7 karma

I hope so. And we'll see.

stevenpetrow13 karma

Welcome, Miss Cherry Pie. This is actually my first time on Reddit and I know that my host, the good folks at NPR, thought that this would be a good environment to reach men with questions. I think that's true -- and talking with each other is always valuable.