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April 30, 2007

The demise of the lady

Carol Platt Leibau has written a thoughtful essay on something that should concern us all: the need to restore decorum (a sense of what is and is not appropriate public behavior) in our increasingly vulgar culture. What prompted her article, called "The Demise of the Lady," was yet another Rosie O'Donnell rant, this time at the Matrix Awards luncheon, which celebrates women in the media and which included 17 high school girls being awarded scholarships. I won't repeat the offensive details here, nor will I claim to be shocked by anything Rosie comes up with these days (it's hard to believe that a few short years ago, she was called "The Queen of Nice"). It's the event's sponor, New York Women in Communications, that reveals a deeper problem. According to Leibau, the group's leader called Rosie "fabulous" and one magazine editor in the audience actually praised Rosie for being offensive. Here's Leibau's response:

How times have changed. Traditionally, people who stooped to crass behavior were understood to be implicitly conceding the limits of their own intellect, refinement and self-restraint.... What's more, resorting to public vulgarity at once marked the one doing so as not a lady or a gentleman. No doubt the terms "lady" and "gentlemen" have been devalued over time.... But the essence of being a well-bred, civilized person -- male or female -- was to behave in a way that never caused needless discomfort to other people. Good manners were understood to be primarily an expression of kindness and concern for others' feelings. This was particularly true for women, who were generally seen as civilization's gatekeepers.

Liebau goes on to encourage the women in the audience who were offended to protest Rosie's speech, but also to make certain that they follow a different and more wholesome path in their own careers. And that's good advice for all of us. Imagine how different our public debates on important issues would be if we would all follow Paul's admonition in Ephesians 4:29: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."

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