Q. You have been so helpful in the past to those of us who still don't quite understand how equal rights for men and women could be dangerous. We beg to impose once again.
Upon earnest study of the sayings of Chairman Phyllis Schlafly, notably her testimony before the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee last April, we are horrified at our past errors and extremely nervous about future gaffes. We feel confident you will guide us in charting a correct course through the troubled waters of Ms. Schlafly's latest Sermon on the Hill.
On sexual harassment: "Virtuous women are seldom accosted." This has an eerie ring of the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. Is our virtue documented only by the absence of propositions? Once pinched, is it all over for us?
"When a woman walks across the room, she speaks with a universal body language that most men intuitively understand." Help! Why aren't we given this intuition? Will the ladylike gait we all polished as teen-agers be safe? Should we now affect the movements of stevedores?
On paid employment and affirmative action: This one's a bit easier, but we still need your advice. Ms. Schlafly reminds us that motherhood is " . . . honorable and the most socially useful of all careers." She further reminds us that a homemaker is one whose " . . . cash wages amount to significantly less than her husband's." Widowed, deserted or divorced mothers of dependent children may have some difficulty meeting this ideal, but the rest of us know we can somehow keep our earnings below those of our husbands.
However, those of us who lose our virtue by means of the uninvited pinch are next liable to have a raise or promotion thrust upon us (see "discrimination against virtuous women"). Others of us, provided we are "less-qualified," will surely be offered a job in place of a man, though it is not clear we would be paid as much (see "affirmative action").
Can Miss Manners show us the ladylike way through this swamp?
A. Swamp it is, indeed, muddied by ignorance and not a little dirt.
Surely we all--you, Miss Manners and the lady you quote--agree on the importance of ladylike behavior. But many who prattle of this do so without understanding the social context in which such traditions evolved.
Certainly, no lady is ever accosted improperly--in the work place or any other place--because no gentleman would do such a dastardly thing. If one who is not a gentleman--namely a cad or a villian--would venture to do such a thing, the full wrath of the society, including all gentlemen, ladies and the majesty of the law, should act immediately to expel this person. An injured lady will naturally call any transgression to their attention as quickly and loudly as possible.
The notion that financial inequality should exist between husbands and wives has no basis in civilized tradition. In the upper classes, no one would have dreamed of doing useful work to get money, however badly it was needed; only among the crassest social climbers did the division of labor exist, where the husband earned money while the wife devoted herself to society and the arts.
Dear Edith Wharton mused how "gold fever" had ruined the luncheon parties of her youth, where the men were as much at leisure during the day as the women. In the lower classes, also, men and women espoused this principle, sharing the amount of toil and starvation not only between husbands and wives, but with their children, as well.
Please do Miss Manners the favor of telling your friend to cease putting the claim of propriety and virtue on the manners of cads, villains and other social climbers.