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Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016 12:15 am

Knight shift

PHOTO COURTESY AMY ALKON
Amy Alkon
My boyfriend of a year is a big sweetheart, but whenever we go out to eat, he always orders first. It really bothers me, and I feel disrespected and embarrassed that people are seeing this, despite how this probably makes me a bad feminist. How do I ask him nicely to let me order first when we dine out? – Irked

Suddenly, he’s shoving you out of the way to get to the lifeboat – yelling back, “Babe, you’ll be fine! You were on the swim team!”

At least, that’s the way the older couple next to you are likely to see it when he orders his meal first, and that is embarrassing. Sadly, it doesn’t help that feminist academics have deemed customs like women ordering first “benevolent sexism” – casting women as weak and in need of protection and coddling by men (aka patriarchal cockroaches).

Males, throughout human history and throughout the animal kingdom, did evolve to be the protectors and defenders of women. This makes biological sense, considering that women provide a cozy bed-and-breakfast for the developing fetus plus liquid refreshment and child care after the kid is born. And even a relatively wimpy man is likely to have more muscle mass, upper-body strength and aggression-energizing testosterone than most women.

A number of modern behavioral protocols come out of these sex differences. For example, there’s how the man’s the one to walk closest to the curb, open the car door, and act as a human shield against a gun-toting mugger – despite how, these days, even the itsy-bitsiest woman can make quick work of an attacker with her sparkly My Little Pony-emblazoned Smith & Wesson.

The reality is that the psychology driving these customs, which evolved over millions of years, doesn’t just change all “presto gloriasteinemo” because women now have ways to defend themselves. That’s probably why you feel embarrassed about others’ eyes on you. Evolutionary psychologist Daniel Sznycer, who researches shame, explains that shame is not just a feeling. It seems to be an information-management program that evolved to help us protect our reputation. That feel-bad that rises up in us is a signal that we’d better do something pronto to stop our slide down the social totem pole.

As for how to tell your boyfriend, keep in mind that you can school a guy in social customs but you can’t school him in being “a big sweetheart.” Use a compliment as your launchpad – about wonderful things he does for you – and then throw in a “I know you didn’t realize this, but …” This way, it’s not so much a criticism as a pointer on how to make you happier.

And the truth is, if you’re like a lot of women, you might find it sexy when the physical differences between men and women are emphasized in small symbolic ways like this. No, you aren’t a traitor to womankind if you say “Thanks … that’s so sweet” when a guy puts his coat around your shoulders – instead of “Get that thing off me! I’ll do the feminist thing and freeze.”

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