Feminist Praises Old-Time Values, Manners, Extended Families

from an article by John Crouch

Lawyer-turned-freelance writer Charlotte Allen brought a wholly unexpected message to the College of William and Mary on March 29 and 30. Traditional manners and extended families allowed women more freedom, privacy, power and self-worth than they gain from the fragmented families and communities produced by the modern "cult of self-fulfillment," she argued.

Extended families have been the basic social unit worldwide and throughout history, even when people physically reside in nuclear households, Allen claimed, citing several studies. People in such families have important relationships with different family members, so that their self-worth and contentment do not depend on a lifelong emotional and intellectual romance with their spouses.

Allen described a way of life that is now largely abandoned. It was characterized by families who were bound by duty and necessity rather than by a quest for self-fulfillment. They were economically productive units in which women did socially respected work in or near the home, children helped with chores, and older people helped raise children....

...Allen also read extensively from Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady, the autobiography of Florence King, who is the National Review's spinster columnist. Miss King was raised by her forceful maternal grandmother and her father, while her mother worked to support the family. Her parents were strong-willed people with very little in common, but they stuck together contentedly as long as they had Miss King to raise and the grandmother to put up with.

Miss King's grandmother raised her to be a "lady," one who outwardly observed certain proprieties and thus was able to insist on respect and deference from men. As her father observed, quoting Cervantes, "A lady is a woman who can make herself respected even among an army of soldiers." Miss King's most important lesson in the book was that, as a "lady," she was able to do exactly as she pleased in private and still get along perfectly with her conservative neighbors.

This neglected concept is the key to current problems of sexual harassment, Allen argued. Rigid, formal systems of manners put a high value on human dignity and privacy, and frustrate the aims of overreachers and control freaks. Being inflexible, they protect everyone equally and constrain the powerful.

Therefore, Allen blamed the explosion of sexual harassment cases on the trendy informality adopted by workplaces in the 1960s and '70s, and on the utter abandonment of any predictable rules governing social life and mating. Both these trends unfortunately coincided with women's increasing presence in the workplace.

Allen said employers … and women themselves … should insist on observance of the formal, businesslike manners that used to be standard in the workplace. She thought this would prevent harassment more effectively than more laws would, because the law only sets a minimum, while manners set a higher standard.

For the full text of this article, click here. Visit the website of John Crouch, Attorney at Law, Crouch and Crouch, 2111 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 550, Arlington, Virginia 22201; and read other great articles about the strange twists and turns of divorce legislation.

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