“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?