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Good Mississippi Manners: A Hedge Against Sexual Harassment?

We Mississippians held out the longest: Ideas of old-fashioned chivalry and good manners by our men and women prevailed when other states scrapped such notions as being sexist.

How dare a man hold a chair for a woman! How dare a woman defer to a man in any such gesture!

When I was living in Chicago in the early 1990s, I opened a door for one very "vogue" woman entering a bookstore. She stopped, looked at me and proclaimed: "I can open the door for myself, thank you!" I was stunned.

Today, those who've long mocked Mississippians for practicing old-fashioned notions of etiquette (remember that word?) now are asking whether Americans need to return to them as an aid in navigating sexually appropriate and inappropriate behavior. (Read on for one feminist's admissions.)

The bitter irony is that too many of us Mississippians have been conditioned by TV and other media to drop our good manners.

My dictionary defines "manners" as: "a way of doing, being done, or happening" and "the prevailing customs, ways of living, and habits of people."

In today's postmodern climate ("postmodern" being a fancy way of saying "anything goes" or "relativistic"), ideas like "prevailing customs" or set ways of living" not only aren't affirmed, they're opposed.

Losing our "set ways," or our manners, is in part why we've arrived where we are today—often a man and/or woman can't be sure the extent to which something is right or wrong when dealing with each other in public or in private.

For instance, should a man ever compliment a woman other than his spouse, daughter, or girlfriend on how she looks? A recent study by The Economist shown below indicates that question, too, is unclear.

Writer Annie Holmquist of Intellectual Takeout recently addressed this issue heads on. "It seems we have launched into a full-blown epidemic of sexual misconduct in the short time since the Harvey Weinstein allegations surfaced. Roy Moore, Al Franken, and Charlie Rose are only a few of the individuals who have been outed as allegedly treating women inappropriately in the last several decades. Hearing these accounts is alarming. No woman wants to be treated in such a way by a member of the opposite sex. At the same time, however, it’s a bit troublesome to see how these unfortunate circumstances are creating a wall between the sexes. In a sense, both seem to have become so guarded that they are no longer able to interact with one another in a civil, mannerly fashion."

Holmquist asks: "Have we intensified the fight against sexual harassment to such an extent that men can no longer feel free to offer a polite, kind compliment to women on a new dress, a certain hairstyle, or a mannerism or ability which is admirable? Have we encouraged women to be on guard against men to such an extent that we set even our little girls on edge against a hug from relatives at holiday gatherings? And if so, does it not seem that our efforts to create a less toxic environment for women may actually be escalating that toxicity for both sexes?

Holmquist cites a recent discussion Intellectual Takeout had with feminist Christina Hoff Sommers, who noted:

“We have this war of the sexes and men behaving abominably. But when you had manners it (was) easier to cultivate goodness through manners than through law. When you do law, you can't have a policeman there every minute making sure you're doing the right thing. …

There may be a reason why in a civilized society we might want to develop some sort of code of gallantry and showing respect. And I know in the ’70s as a feminist I thought all of these things were demeaning and condescending to women, and oh, we're not going to have codes of gallantry! But maybe we were too hasty to throw that out and that there is value in this sort of decorum between the sexes."

Hmmm ...

Do we Mississippians need to consciously reassert the notions of good manners that helped set us apart from so many others?

Maybe in this case of being mannerly we had it right. And—no!—good manners are nowhere near a cure for sexual advances and perverse treatment, nor for holding women back in the workplace.

But good manners could be a guide for sometimes fuzzy issues that are so prevalent in 2017. Certainly a revival of good manners could be part of a helpful start for teaching our children to understand sexual and social boundaries.

Here's hoping Mississippi will lead on this issue again.

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