The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 26, 2023 - 4:17:59

On the drastic need to recover a sense of what it means to be a lady

Katie van Schaijik, Feb 05, 2013

I love Peggy Noonan's recent column, called "Embarrassing the Angels", on the loss of the cultural sense of personal dignity.

She starts with a bold assertion:

America has become creepy for women who think of themselves as ladies. It has in fact become assaultive.

Then she describes her experience of being searched by airport security personel.

I was directed, shoeless, into the little pen with the black plastic swinging door. A stranger approached, a tall woman with burnt-orange hair. She looked in her 40s. She was muscular, her biceps straining against a tight Transportation Security Administration T-shirt. She carried her wand like a billy club. She began her instructions: Face your baggage. Feet in the footmarks. Arms out. Fully out. Legs apart. Apart. I'm patting you down.

She was treated this way not because she had done anything wrong, or was suspected of having done anything wrong.  Random searches are standard procedure. No doubt had she objected, she would have been advised not to take it personally.  Her point, though, is that what is now standard procedure is, objectively, a violation of personal dignity.

I experienced the search not only as an invasion of privacy, which it was, but as a denial or lowering of that delicate thing, dignity. The dignity of a woman, of a lady, of a person with a right not to be manhandled or to be, or to feel, molested.

And it's not only airport searchers.  Pop music, ads on TV, explicit discussion of sex in public.  All of these things are offensive to women who want to be ladies.

She explains what she means by "lady".

I start with a dictionary definition, from American Heritage, not that anyone needs it because everyone knows what a lady is. It's a kind of natural knowledge. According to American Heritage, a lady is a well-mannered and considerate woman with high standards of proper behavior. You know one, the dictionary suggests, by how she's treated: "a woman, especially when spoken of or to in a polite way." Under usage, American Heritage says, "lady is normally used as a parallel to gentleman to emphasize norms expected in polite society or situations."

I would add that a lady need not be stuffy, scolding, stiff. A lady brings regard for others into the room with her; that regard is part of the dignity she carries and seeks to spread. A lady is a woman who projects the stature of life.

I love that way of expressing it: A lady projects the stature of life.  And she brings a regard for others into the room with her.

Another thing I appreciate in the column, which is worth reading in full: She implicitly recognizes that women are also in an important way the custodians of the dignity of human life.  We are responsible for cultivating a sense for it in ourselves and in others.  It's past time to re-assert ourselves in that role.