Dating etiquette brochure sparks controversy

Note: This story has been edited to include a quote from parent Susan Bitar, the pamphlet’s author,  who was not informed of the deadline in time for the print edition.  Bitar was also never questioned about some students’ concern (mentioned in the editorial) with the pamphlet’s quote from Jean-Baptiste La Salle.   (Also read our editorial “Christian pamphlet inappropriate for our secular school.”)

On Jan. 30, students were given a pamphlet entitled “Dating Etiquette: It’s Always in Fashion” written by former student Sophia Davis, now a senior at Christian Brothers High School, and her mother, Susan Bitar.

The brochure—which includes a “Guide for Guys” and a “Guide for Girls”—instructs the reader on how to find the “perfect” dress, which utensils to use at dinner and what the roles for girls and boys are on a date.

In the “Guide for Guys,” under “Getting to Your Destination,” the pamphlet says “On sidewalks, guys should walk nearest the street to ‘protect’ the girl.”

Bitar said that the main reason she made the pamphlet with her daughter was to spread the importance of manners to high schoolers in a way that was more relatable.

“(It) focuses specifically on dating in high school, so distributing to Country Day was important to reach our target audience,” said Bitar, who is working on a middle-school etiquette pamphlet with her son, eighth grader Aaron Davis.

Far from finding it helpful, many students said the pamphlet, distributed during advisory, was offensive. In fact, 37 percent of students expressed some degree of dislike for the brochure in a recent Octagon poll.

Some of those polled called it “sexist” and “outdated.” One sophomore said “it had a religious connotation which I thought was inappropriate.”

Sophomore Amelia Fineberg was especially upset.

“I thought it was incredibly heteronormative and enforced outdated and somewhat sexist gender roles,” she said.

“It assumed that all guys would be dating girls and vice versa, and that girls needed to be protected, and that guys had to open doors for them and everything.

“Chivalry is dead, and that’s how it should be. That sort of ‘courtesy’ actually stems from the idea that women are fragile, delicate creatures that must be protected by men.”

Teacher Jane Batarseh felt similarly. “I respect (Christian Brothers),” she said. “However, I felt that the message of this pamphlet, which was one of compassion and courtesy towards your date, was eclipsed by a presentation that was dated and parochial.

“(It) relates to an earlier time in America when there was a definite role for the sexes. The roles today have changed.”

A high-school student who identifies as homosexual said that the pamphlet could be discouraging to gay students who are still closeted.

“I’m okay with my sexuality, but I know some people who are still closeted and who struggle with theirs,” he said. “I can read the pamphlet and realize that it’s narrow-minded and inconsiderate. But for kids who are struggling to find their identity, it can be hard to see that.”

Bitar, however, says that she believes the guidelines outlined in the pamphlet can be applied to most dating relationships.

“These etiquette principles are fairly universal in that the reader can easily relate to the expectations depending on who is doing the asking and the gender with which they most closely identify,” she said. “Respect and courtesy are always appreciated in any dating situation.”

Other students and teachers didn’t dislike the brochure. In the poll, 43 percent of students said they were neutral on the issue, and 20 percent of students expressed some degree of liking the pamphlet.

Teacher Brooke Wells said he thinks the reason for the intense reaction of many students was because Country Day had never distributed something like this before.

“The idea of being nice and respectful to people is important, but we don’t typically dictate how you do that,” said Wells, who said his advisory found the guide amusing.

“I don’t think it represents the view of the school—I mean, we don’t have a policy on dating etiquette,” Wells said.

Junior Micaela Bennett-Smith said she never took the pamphlet seriously.

“When I first saw it, I just thought that these were old-fashioned ideas that we don’t typically do today as teenagers,” she said. “I just don’t think it’s as big of a deal as other people think it is.”

Nonetheless, those offended by the guide insist it should not have been distributed at Country Day.

“What I feel would be extremely helpful would be if we put our own brochure together and gave it to Christian Brothers,” Batarseh said with a smile.

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