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What's good for the goose is good for the gander

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What is good for a man is equally good for a woman; or, what a man can have or do, so can a woman have or do. This comes from an earlier proverb, “What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

BEHIND THE PHRASE

What does What's good for the goose is good for the gander mean?

If you take a gander at the saying, What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, it may sound like guidelines for cooking poultry. In a way, it originally was! But, What’s good for the goose is good for the gander is a proverb about equal treatment—specifically against double standards and hypocrisy.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander was historically used to say that, what’s good enough for a man is good enough for a woman. It is now also used not only to examine all gender equality, but to express the idea that, if one person or group is held accountable or subjected to scrutiny in some way, so should another.

Where does What's good for the goose is good for the gander come from?

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander is a modern form of a proverb recorded in John Ray’s 1670 “A Complete Collection of English Proverbs.” Ray was a prominent English naturalist and botanist who often incorporated religious views into his works.

His collection of English proverbs documented hundreds of sayings taken from English life way back when he was alive. You probably know (and use) many of these in one form or another, such as (The road to) hell is paved with good intentions. And, What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

Ray cited this goose proverb in a slightly different form in his book, and that version gives us some insight into its original intent: “That that’s good sauce for a goose, is good for a gander.” (This original expression likely draws on even older sayings, but this is the earliest recorded version.)

OK, first off: what’s a gander? It’s a male goose. Most of us today don’t make a distinction between a female goose and a male goose, but historically, a gander was the male, a goose the female. (Goose also doubled as the general name for the bird, which may be why gander became less well-known over time.)

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander draws on cooking for its wisdom. If you’re preparing goose, does it matter if you use a different sauce for a female bird or a male bird? Nope. Goose is goose.

The idea, then, of What’s good for the goose is good for the gander is that both men and women should be treated the same, regardless of gender: “What is good for a man is equally good for a woman.”

Funnily enough, Ray noted the saying as “a woman’s proverb.” This explains the cooking context—which, of course, was historically a female task. Although today the expression can be used to argue that what is good for a man, something like a privilege, should be available to a woman as well. The original proverb is about the goose. And often this expression is used to talk about the scrutiny or restrictions that are applied to women, children, members of minority groups, etc., and how these rules should be applied equally to people in positions of power.

Over time, Ray’s “That that’s good sauce for a good, is good for a gander” evolved to What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, which is more common in British English. American English favors What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

How is What's good for the goose is good for the gander used in real life?

So, What’s good for the goose is good for the gander sounds like a rallying cry for gender equality. Not exactly. In its current use it speaks to issues other than gender. Instead, the proverb can urge that different people be held to the same standards.

For instance: If high school students are being told it’s rude to be on their cell phones while a speaker is giving a presentation, and that they have to put them away, adult teachers should have to as well. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.

The proverb is commonly used as a commentary said or written after a summary of a situation, such as we see in the above example. The expression is pretty common in informal speech and writing. In American English, occasionally people cite just the first part of the phrase, What’s good for the goose, which gets the point across without having to say the whole thing.

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander is frequently seen in political and social contexts, especially where there are perceived power imbalances or significant differences between people, as between genders, employers and workers, conservatives and liberals. Here, the phrase acts as a call to make sure everyone has to face the same consequences or scrutiny.

 

 

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