It's a man's world, at least around my house. With my daughter off at college it's just my husband, two teenage sons, and me; even the dog and cat are of the masculine persuasion. I've seen some majority-male households that have slipped toward caveman conditions, where underwear is washed by wearing it in the shower and dishes are washed by giving them to the dog. I am determined that that won't happen here.

Rather than draw up a long list of rules covering minute aspects of behavior, I have found that one general principle covers all circumstances. It's one my boys actually came up with on their own. The rule is (and this must be hissed in an urgent whisper): "Not in front of the chick!"

Yes, in my house, as far as I know, no one drinks from the milk jug. No one burps. Dignity and decorum rule the day. When I phone home from a business trip, I can almost hear the dishes being whisked out of the living room and the orange juice being wiped off the kitchen floor. The dog, I am given to understand, has been creating these unauthorized situations, grievous and clearly unworthy of chick review. Good thing my boys are there to maintain order. "Bad Sparky!" I hear over the phone line and picture the bewildered dog ducking his head.

The most obvious charge one could lay against this standard is that it's sexist, and indeed it is. The "Not in front of the chick" rule (or NIFOTC) colludes in a tacit assumption that, if given half a chance, men unsupervised by women will indeed behave badly. Women demand something finer of them: respect, protection, the kind of cherishing (Saint Paul suggests) with which men regard their own bodies.

I would have rejected this idea vehemently a couple of decades ago, but I gradually realized that when ...

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