Are we ready yet to acknowledge that there are differences between ladies and gentlemen?
An ardent feminist since she first noticed that she was a girl (which was some time ago and quite before feminism became fashionable), Miss Manners would not for the world start one of those dreadful competitive discussions. It is only in the hope that we have firmly behind us any question of differences in rights and abilities that she would dare to bring up the question of cultural distinctions.
It is true that some of these distinctions may have come long ago of unacceptable, not to mention foolishly inattentive, ideas of relative weaknesses and strengths. But even then, the male pattern is not necessarily preferable to the female. Miss Manners happens to be one who believes that riding sidesaddle gives one more control over a horse than riding astride.
And even distinctions that may seem to relate to real physical differences don't really make much sense: An open-minded young lady of Miss Manners' acquaintance once suggested to her how much more suitable to gentlemen's bodies it would have been for them to develop the tradition of wearing skirts and similarly for ladies to wear pants.
But none of these things matter once folk tradition has taken hold of the habit and heart. Then we do things because we were taught to do so as we grew up, and therefore they seem right, while anything else seems wrong.
Changes are made, yes. But they take a great deal of getting used to, and tolerance is required for those who change faster or slower than oneself, or than the general society. We are moving gradually into a social system of precedence based on age rather than gender (business precedence has always been based on rank), but we are not quite there yet.
People who insist upon analyzing every little habit for its efficiency or symbolic content only make themselves tiresome. And those who take insult when obviously none was intended, because others treat them with minor courtesies that they have declared philosophically unacceptable, are just plain rude.
Here, then, are a few of the remaining differences that Miss Manners finds rather charming. You will note than none of them is connected with business life, which is properly genderless, and none has to do with such crucial matters as who gets the seat in the bus, pays the bill or proposes marriage.
Ladies properly applaud differently from gentlemen. While a gentleman bangs his vertically held palms together in front of him, a lady claps by holding her left palm upwards without moving it, and hitting it with downward strokes by her right palm.
When wearing skirts, ladies sit differently from gentlemen, but not the way most of them seem to think. Gentlemen either keep both feet on the floor, with the legs slightly parted or, less formally, put the right ankle on the left knee. Females who are not ladies cross their knees. Ladies cross their ankles, keeping the knees together. This is actually very comfortable when you get used to it.
Ladies do not put their names above their return addresses in social correspondence. As their social correspondence, as well as gentlemen's, is in their own handwriting, it is not generally necessary to expose their names to public view in order for them to recognize their own returned letters. (If they must for practical reasons, Miss Manners will try to overlook it.) Those letters are written on double sheets of paper, while gentlemen's are on larger single sheets.
Ladies do not pour their own wine when gentlemen are present. They hold their empty wineglasses casually in front of their noses while staring fixedly at the nearest gentlemen, who then falls all over himself to do it for them.
Ladies do not have to push revolving doors if they are with gentlemen who are not going to leave them trapped forever in a glass compartment. They go first through doors but last down steps. None of this excuses ladies who sail through life letting doors slam in other people's faces or who fail to perform obvious courtesies for those who need them.
Ladies who are escorted by gentlemen only begin carrying packages when the gentlemen are fully loaded up, so to speak. Ladies who are out shopping with uniformed officers who do not carry packages either, may insist that these gentlemen bring along their orderlies.
Ladies wear hats (except in their own houses) as a token of respect, while gentlemen with the same motivation take theirs off. And of course ladies' buttons and belt buckles are on the left sides of their clothing, while gentlemen's are on their right.
When they are on the sidewalk, ladies keep to the side away from the curb. Never mind the old stories about that being so that gentlemen can take upon themselves the mud from the streets or garbage from upper-story windows. It is perfectly acceptable and even endearing for a lady to grab a quick look at herself in a reflecting window as she passes. For a gentleman to do so is vulgar.
Q. I have received several invitations to what I initially thought were social occasions, only to learn that the purchase of a ticket was required.
Considering the nature of the functions (a faculty dinner-dance, a pregame ball), I can understand the necessity for cost recovery and/or charitable contributions, but I cannot understand my hosts' inclusion of "RSVP."
Am I considered rude if I do not send my regrets? Can a computerized mailing register a social gaffe? Or should I simply ignore all invitations that are not hand-addressed?
A. While quite aware that people who plan ticketed events want to know who is attending and who is not, Miss Manners refuses to concede to them the same response rights as those giving purely social functions.
In the first place, they may with complete safety assume that people who do not send in checks do not plan to attend. (And if those people try it, they need not be admitted.)
Second, Miss Manners is wearing herself ragged trying to get people to respond to social hosts and is not going to extend herself to business events, no matter how charitable.