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Thursday, 2 March 2006
Noonan on Embarrassing the Angels
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Peggy Noonan has a good column this week in the WSJ on the difficulties of being a lady in a society that no longer understands distinction. 

Young people are no longer taught to be ladies and gentlemen and they absolutely do not understand how to treat older people (like myself) who remember and value those distinctions.  Traveling really makes all tis plain as Noonan suggests. 

While traveling to Phoenix last week, my traveling companion (Julia Raffety) and I had to take a couple of shuttles.  Both times we were jostled around like cattle and made to stand while men (businessmen reading newspapers) sat without looking at us.  I have noticed that the climate in Washington DC is especially cruel in this regard.  Girls speak and act exactly like boys.  Is this to be our future, comrades?

A couple of months ago, while visiting New York, I was speaking to John Derbyshire (he sitting, me standing) when looking very uncomfortable, he suddenly jumped up and exclaimed, "I'm sorry, I simply cannot sit while a woman is standing.  I can't do it." 

Now, I think of myself as a modern woman, but that little courtesy almost made me weep with joy.  It was very touching, because it made me remember the way a gentleman used to treat a lady.  Civilization, we forget, is largely a product of the imagination.  Civilization reflects how we see ourselves and it is impossible to maintain when distinctions are erased in the name of some egalitarian ideal.  Culture is built on distinction.

I'm with Noonan.  The coarseness all around us is embarrassing our angels, even if it no longer embarrasses us.

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Posted on 03/02/2006 7:22 AM by Rebecca Bynum
Comments
2 Mar 2006
Send an emailRebecca Bynum
Jason, I have noticed that men in office buildings in New York are quite chivalrous about elevators, but not about going through other types of doors. I wonder why? Still it's nice to know that chivalry isn't entirely feets up...yet. The male/female distinction runs through most every living thing, everything above the simplest organisms. Even plants are male and female. It seems to me that rejecting a reality that deeply engrained in the Universe must reflect a lack of reality cognition in toto. Academics, who else?

2 Mar 2006
Jim C.
I've offered my seat to older women as well as younger women struggling with a kid or packages and an older man or two. Most of the time I've been politely declined. Jason Pappas wrote: "I see men consistently wait for women to exit the elevator first, even when it is awkward to do so" Yes, it's awkward for everyone, including the women. That's why I believe this particular action should be dropped. Just let the people nearest the door exit first, male or female, so that women at the back don't have to push past "polite" men to get out.

2 Mar 2006
Send an emailJason Pappas
In defense of the last vestiges of civilization, I am please to point out to our esteemed author that chivalry still exists in canyons of New York City?s skyscrapers ? actually, in the elevators, to be exact. On a daily basis, I see men consistently wait for women to exit the elevator first, even when it is awkward to do so ? and even if it isn?t clear if it is a woman. Rumor has it that these same men become beasts once they enter the subway but I personally avoid the ?electric sewer? and cannot speak from experience. Thus, this leads me to conclude that vertical travel is far superior to horizontal ? or maybe it?s the altitude. All kidding aside, your point is well taken and it?s only the tip of the iceberg.

2 Mar 2006
Send an emailMarisol Seibold
There's a time and a place for coarseness, namely, Sunday evenings in my living room, watching the cartoons on Fox and the Cartoon Network. Now that I think about it, all of those tend to caricature that very coarseness in society, in a context that is all the funnier because it's not real, and thus consequence-free.

But I think the loss of courtesy and civility in society as a whole is unfortunate. Coarseness is only amusing when there is a standard-- indeed, because there is a standard to poke fun at. Still, after a while, anything gets old after repeated exposure-- the economists call it "diminishing marginal utility."

Peggy Noonan seems to be addressing two facets of the phenomenon. One is the generally increasing rudeness-- if not outright rudeness, then a kind of interpersonal laziness-- of society.

The other, which can exist independently of the former, is the confused gender dynamic of our time.

While simple acts of consideration like holding doors are most welcome, I've never been much for chivalry-- very annoying when it's over-the-top, like pulling out someone's chair for them, or closing the car door. Bleagh. Perhaps it's because I work in a male-dominated field that I'm inclined to see such gestures as patronizing and condescending.

Two more items in my personal history probably contribute to that. The first is that in a household without brothers (just one older sister), gender roles were secondary to the fact there was stuff to be done-- housework, yardwork, washing the car, no problem. The other is four long years in an all-girl high school. When males simply aren't around, standard assumptions about gender roles, especially those supposed to gain the approval of the opposite sex, fall apart over time.

And yet, men and women are, as I first admitted to myself somewhat grudgingly, wired differently-- something that's been overlooked in sweeping away the external restrictions on gender. Gotta wrap this up and run to class, but it's nice to be treated like a "lady" now and then, strictly observing Noonan's definition thereof, and treating "gentlemen" as such in return.

2 Mar 2006
Send an emailskip
there's a word for that female on the DC train and it isn't "lady"

2 Mar 2006
Send an emailsecarr
Of course Derb did the right thing, he's one of the good guys. Remember, however, that most of the blame for this general lack of manners lies with the Liberal establishment that has decreed that boys and girls are exactly the same and that even the minor distinctions inherent in the exercise of good manners are verbotten. It's two way street as well. I've lost count of the times I've held a door open for a woman who proceeds to breeze through without the slightest acknowledgement. I don't do it for the kudos, but one does like to see good manners in return.

2 Mar 2006
Enoch
Hate to say it, but on several occasions (in Washington DC, as it happens), I offered to give up my seat to a female, and the offer was rejected with indignation. Naturally, I stopped doing it. In short, there are plenty of "ladies" who don't want to be treated as such. Noonan needs to get over the whole "ladies shouldn't be patted down at the airport" thing. The Chechen terrorists who blew up a plane in Russia were believed to be female.

2 Mar 2006
Send an emailskip
I completely agree, bad manners have become a way of life. It is a damned shame too. Last week a female co worker walked into my office. I stood. she looked baffled and asked why I stood up. " A lady entered my office, a gentleman is supposed to stand." she thought I was crazy. as for offering seats, sadly it's more than just our imaginary construct. It's simple coutesy that we've lost sight of. Another example: Standing in the check out line at the supermarket, I always look at the person behind me. If they have only one, or a very few items, I ask if they'd like to go first. I am saddened when people act surprised at this. I've worked hard to teach my children manners and my guess is that kids at school thought they were freaks. but we can get back to this if we work hard enough at it. In the meantime, I will continue to work on my old fashioned manners. america needs more gentlemen, we've become a post modern rabble and we're better than that.