Is “Good for the Goose” a Gendered Phrase?

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“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” is a phrase I haven’t heard in a long time.   A friend used it  yesterday to describe  why an individual, whom I will call Person B, engaged in particular behavior.   My friend’s reasoning was that if  Person A engaged in this behavior, then  Person B could also.   What is good for or permitted to Person A should be good for or permitted to Person B, he reasoned.   Incidentally, the real Person A and and the real Person B are of the same gender.  

For the first time, the phrase struck me as more odd than antiquated.   I wondered, does the phrase mean what my friend intended, or could it possibly have a gendered meaning?   Is the notion that if women (geese) are permitted to (or do) engage in a particular behavior, then men (gander)  should be permitted to do so, too?   After all, the phrase is, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” not, “What’s good for one goose is good for another goose.”

The OED doesn’t help much:

a1704 T. BROWN New Maxims Wks. 1720 IV. 123 What is Sawce for a Goose is Sawce for a Gander. 1881 SAINTSBURY Dryden v. 102 But what is sauce for the nineteenth-century goose is surely sauce for the seventeenth-century gander.

The Dryden example would suggest that the phrase does not draw a distinction between women  and  men, but rather describes one person who is similarly (but not identically) situated to another.  

While  I’m on this subject,  why is it geese, not gander,  that are silly?

-Bridget Crawford

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0 Responses to Is “Good for the Goose” a Gendered Phrase?

  1. bob coley jr says:

    though I can not say for sure, on the farm I grew up on, geese was plural and non gendered (flock of geese) while goose and gander were singular and gendered. What the proper term for the species is I don’t know. As for the saying…hmm, equality maybe? Of course since gender does not preclude mistakes, sometimes what’s BAD for one is also BAD for the other. Just a thought. Silly goose would be a sexist remark with a negatiive implication toward the female of the species (both geese and humans) and as such it should disapear from use. But who am I to tell the world anything? Telling someone something for their own good seldom does any.

  2. bob coley jr says:


  3. jhmccabe says:

    The bit about “sawce” makes me wonder if the original meaning wasn’t about actual sauces, and the taste of a goose versus the taste of a gander, rather than the relative wellbeing of geese…

  4. Ralph M. Stein says:

    Well the Cambridge International Dictionary (below) provides a domesticated example of the old maxim. And in ordinary parlance today it’s hardly reflective of a gendered outlook-it simply expresses what we teach about Equal Protection in Constitutional Law: that if one person claiming a denial of a right/privilege is similarly situated to another who enjoys that right/privilege then he/she/it should enjoy the same rights or privileges.


    What’s sauce for the goose (is sauce for the gander). (British, American & Australian, old-fashioned, American & Australian, old-fashioned)
    something that you say to suggest that if a particular type of behaviour is acceptable for one person, it should also be acceptable for another person. If your husband can go out with his friends, then surely you can go out with yours. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
    See also: goose

    Cambridge International Dictionary of Idioms © Cambridge University Press 1998

  5. Ralph M. Stein says:

    From a news story about new federal regulations concerning poultry promulgated by the Department of Agriculture:

    And while the proposal is silent on what a silly old goose might be, it did offer a not totally appetizing definition of an old goose, as an adult of either sex “that has toughened flesh and a hardened windpipe.”

    Sounds like some of my colleagues!

  6. bob coley jr says:

    most sayings (and or legends} start simply and truthfuly, then morph with time, location and applicatiion. The meaning may well have more to do with wellbeing, now. But I think the “sawse” predates the saying.

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