Ladies First? Indeed! Here’s Why. (Hint: Think Canary)

Ladies First

December 28, 2013– Dear Secret Diary, basic Internet searches and what I have picked up suggest many reasons for the “Ladies First” policy.  “Chivalry” is of course an important one, but it is just one. 

I’ll share with you a couple of other reasons for “Ladies First” that might surprise you, one which might even come in handy in everyday life.

The first of these is not so chivalrous Diary, but please don’t shoot the messenger.  Over the years, many men of means and status have enjoyed advertising their means and status by giving their wives and girlfriends fancy dresses and expensive jewelry to wear.  But the message can only be delivered if the women, their attire, and accessories can be seen. By allowing the ladies to enter rooms first, men ensure that folks already in the room see the women first and that this view is not obstructed at all by the men!  A “Grand Entrance” if you will.

Diary, the second reason for “Ladies First” has even less to do with chivalry.  I call it the “Canary Reason” or “Canary” which I derived as follows (and yes, this time you can shoot the messenger):


Before machines were able to detect dangerous gases in coal mines, miners would take canaries into the mines.  If gases leaked into the mine, the canaries would die first, and the miners had their warning to evacuate.  Thus the phrase, “Canary in the Coal Mine.”  The “Canary” reason is basically the “Canary in the Coal Mine” applied to people.  In other words, the other person goes in first in case there is danger.  I note with emphasis, political correctness, and also sincerity that, while the person can of course be a woman, the person can also be a man.

To illustrate the concept, a few days ago on Christmas Eve morning, my wife (who I named Chocolate Malt Shake) and I were waiting for an elevator with another gentleman.  When the elevator arrived, the other fellow and I appropriately let Chocolate Malt Shake go in first.  The other fellow then encouraged me to enter.  Although I did, I got feisty:

Me: Oh I see, let [me be] the canary in the coal mine.

Fellow: [Laughed]

Me: It’s like “Ladies First!”

Fellow: I like the way you think.

Clearly, there were no dangerous gases or other hazards in the elevator… this time.  But Diary, I have to share with you that I have read there were hunting based societies or tribes thousands of years ago where women did act as “canaries.”  You see, the hunters, on whom the people were primarily dependent for food, were mostly men.  Therefore, the survival of the men was prioritized, and women went first in case there was real danger around the bend.  This gave the men extra time to respond, just like the canaries gave miners more time in the coal mines.

Fortunately, just like the gentleman and I had fun with the “Canary,” I have found that properly recalling the above unfortunate piece of history history lays an amazing foundation for using the “Canary” to justify the practice of “Ladies First.”  In doing so, a lot of fun has been had, and a number of potentially awkward moments have been converted into Milkshake Moments.

To demonstrate, two hypothetical and representative coworkers, John and Jane, approach a door together.  John might open the door for Jane and encourage her to go first.  Among many possible responses, Jane might say thanks and go through, or she might offer, “Thanks, after you.”

Regardless of how Jane responds the first time or on subsequent occasions or before she even responds, John can say, “I assure you I’m not encouraging you to go first to be polite.”   He can then explain about those older societies where the women served as actual “canaries” and perhaps the “Canary in The Coal Mine” concept.  He can finally close the loop with, “I’m just trying to get you go first in case there danger is waiting for us.”

I am pleased to report that Jane generally laughs and goes through the door and that much of the awkwardness that sometimes accompanies these “Who Goes First” interpersonal interactions disappears.  Now that John and Jane both understand the “Canary,” future situations can go in any number of fun directions.  John and Jane can argue knowingly about who goes first, or more appropriately second.  Or either can be brave and offer when approaching the cafeteria, “After me.  See, chivalry is alive and well!”


(Ladies First Image @ Wiktoria Pawlak from Shutterstock)

(Canary Image from Ivan Kmit |