I've found this paragraph in a book description :

Mayo has long argued for an account of learning from error that goes far beyond detecting logical inconsistencies. In this book, she presents her complete program for how we learn about the world by being "shrewd inquisitors of error, white gloves off.

I'am wondering about the meaning of "white gloves off" here. Can anyone help me to clarify it ? Thanks.

  • "Gloves off" is a well-recognised idiom, clearly describing the difference between smacking someone while wearing gloves, and with bare knuckles. Which d'you think might hurst more? "White gloves off" is a term I've never noticed in 60 years of listening. If it has a useful meaning, it might be trying to invoke an image of a matriarch… perhaps specifically of a memsahib in the Raj Commented Dec 4, 2018 at 22:13
  • It could mean something like "willing to get our hands dirty".   P.S. (1) Please identify what you're quoting from.  (2) Your quote contains only one quote character (").  That looks like an error; please fix it. Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 2:57
  • @Scott it's from this book description on amazon : amazon.com/…
    – Antarctica
    Commented Dec 5, 2018 at 15:25

2 Answers 2


gloves are off idiom TFD

People are beginning to behave in a more hostile or tenacious way. Usually used to describe a dispute or fight. The image is that of removing boxing gloves, which cushion the blows.

white gloves? M. Webster Dictionary

Definition of white-glove:

: marked by special care or attention

As in your question:

In this book, she presents her complete program for how we learn about the world by being "shrewd inquisitors of error, abandoning the delicate and polite approach.

This is a no holds barred fight, abandoning gloves, white and/or boxing!


What does “white gloves off” mean?

Equal rights and standing for women's issues; warts and all.

Forget what was learned in finishing school, there may be hair pulling, biting, maybe a little eye gouging - you will hear me, no matter how much it hurts. Something has been bottled up inside for too long, now the cork is popped. My argument may not be finely polished but I know what I want to say.


  1. There are earlier references but "Taking Off the White Gloves: Southern Women and Women Historians", edited by Michele K. Gillespie and Professor Catherine Clinton, University of Missouri Press, 1998 explains in the introduction:

"Putting on white gloves signifies a dozen different meanings, even for southern women. Among women of a certain age throughout the country, white gloves were an indispensable symbol of "ladyhood" and good breeding during their rearing. Young girls were expected to have several pairs to wear for special occasions, and, of course, for Sunday best. As southern women grew older, they learned that white gloves could disguise their calluses, their broken nails, and other telltale signs of women's not-so-genteel activities. More recently, modern southern women don white gloves for prom wear and bridal parties, or pull them out only for Easter. They seem quite an anachronism to most southern women at the turn of the twenty-first century, although white-gloved women are still more a Sunday-morning staple in the South than in any other part of the country.


But taking off the white gloves can mean shedding all of these traditions, all of these trappings, to free our hands for meaningful work. Taking off the white gloves means getting down to the "unfinished business" of southern women's history. No longer are we encumbered by these symbols; indeed most of us involved in southern women's history now find ourselves wearing white gloves only when we are handling photographs, prints, or other rare material in the archives. Otherwise we keep the white gloves off, now that we have shed them.

Southern women's historians have been taking off the white gloves for nearly thirty years. In establishing the Southern Association of Women Historians (SAWH) in 1970 at the annual meeting of the Southern Historical Association (SHA) in Louisville, Kentucky, the founders sought to formalize the study of women's history and advance the status of women in the historical profession.".

  1. "Next Monday" Blog: "White Gloves Off: A Different Kind of Leadership Podcast" - Celebrating imperfection and exposing the inner fight of women everywhere.

"Ever listen to the positive voices in your head that urge you along, daring you to try new things? If not, you should! You never know what you might learn. Our leadership podcast White Gloves Off brings women’s voices to the forefront. We present each episode with a single intention: to remind listeners that this world isn’t quite as large or disconnected as it seems. By sharing our struggles, triumphs, and experiences, we create spaces for growth and relationship building. There’s great comfort in hearing someone share a story very similar to yours, and strength in numbers when we relate to each other. There is one requirement for White Gloves Off guests: be real. Whatever the topic, whatever the theme in order to be authentic.

Our free leadership podcast episodes feature engaging discussions with brave, hilarious women who expose their inner fight, combat stereotypes, debunk myths, and encourage imperfection. It’s a welcome change from the noise and distractions we too often allow ourselves to get caught up in.".

  1. "White Gloves Off: The Work of the Ontario Committee on the Status of Women", by Beth Atchseon and Lorna Marsden:

"In 1971, we in the OCSW were part of a surge of new groups all seeking fundamental changes in the family, society, the economy, public policy, law, and institutions. We were in an emerging new constellation of loosely connected issues, ideas, politics, and structures focused on women.

Although many of the groups were explicitly feminist, what held the constellation together—old (the national women's organizations) and new stars (issue-oriented groups)—was the focus on women's issues. What made the constellation dynamic, sometimes unpredictable and even volatile, were the choices made by each group about what to do and how to do it. A full history of those times remains to be written. In documenting our work in this book, we have three goals.

  • First, we believe that there is value in detailed documentation of all types of social action, as movements are constantly making choices about what to do and how to do it. This book is our documentation of the OCSW.

  • Second, our work on the OCSW was such a rich personal experience for all of us that we would like to pay tribute to feminists and feminist organizing—exploring, learning, experimenting, agreeing and disagreeing, laughing, and mentoring—and the friendships and losses that were part of the journey.

  • Third, women's equality is far from achieved, and this book is another means to keep the spotlight on unfinished business, not the least of which is the poverty of women and children and what flows from that poverty.

Then, as is also the case today, we wanted to speak, and be heard, directly and distinctly. It is important to us that we record our history in our own voices. Of course, we made choices in our work, and also in how we tell its story, ...".

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