International Women’s Day arrives at an auspicious, turbulent time. The Women’s March in January galvanized women throughout America, but more recent events underscore the necessity to continue to speak out against sexism and for Perfect Propriety. And because the perceived value of being civilized unravels more each day in this annus horribilis, Etiquetteer has to come right out and state something that ought to be obvious.
Sexism is not Perfectly Proper.
Two current situations threw this into relief for Etiquetteer, one involving a woman and another an army of men.
Kellyanne Conway has come in for a lot of justified criticism about the way she is handling her position as one of President Trump's aides. From “alternative facts” to the “Bowling Green massacre,” to the embarrassment of being photographed sitting on her knees on an Oval Office settee*, Ms. Conway seems neither Perfectly Reassuring nor Perfectly Proper. But that hardly justifies wisecracks about her sexual behavior, whether from the Internet or from Members of Congress Who Ought to Know Better. Etiquetteer was appalled to read about Congressman Cedric Richmond’s poor ad lib attempt to tease Ms. Conway about kneeling on that settee, sadly inspired by Senator Tim Scott’s jocular speculation about how previous Oval Office occupants had used it. Etiquetteer could not help but wonder if the congressman would have made the same joke about Steve Bannon or another of the White House male staff.
But Ms. Conway, abused, is not in a unique position for a Woman With Political Power. Hillary Clinton, throughout her presidential campaign, suffered many of the same slings and arrows, but for different reasons. In the words of The New York Times, "Misogyny, it seems, remains a bipartisan exercise." And notice the tweets that are referenced at the beginning of that article, posted by women.
Then we have the horrifying news that a Facebook group of tens of thousands of United States Marines called Marines United had stockpiled a ferocious amount of information, including nude photos, of female Marines. Now, it is one thing to swap dirty stories around the dinner table over port and cigars after the ladies have withdrawn; the portieres should muffle any sound and any French postcards getting passed around end up back in one’s billfold. What happens in the dining room stays in the dining room. But it is quite another to violate the privacy on the Internet of colleagues - of anyone, to be sure, but colleagues - who happen to belong to a gender you find sexually desirable. Because what happens on the internet stays available forever. This is not chivalry.**
General Robert B. Neller, Commandant of the USMC, has made the best possible case for collegiality and chivalry Etiquetteer could imagine in this video:
“What we say and do each day represents who we are, and there is no time off for Marines,” General Neller says. Well, there’s no time off for any of us, actually. Perfect Propriety takes no holiday.
It’s sad Etiquetteer even has to mention this all this, isn’t it? Not that civilization has ever been free of the stain of sexism. But women are not only achieving more goals, they have been achieving more recognition and respect on the world stage. So for us to jolt back to a less dignified and more denigrating place is something that should alarm us all. Women deserve more Perfectly Proper treatment, from men and from other women. A woman can be called out for professional missteps without having her appearance sexualized or being accused of prostitution. Or death threats. It's just not necessary.
With another year to go until the next International Women's Day, let's stay vigilant about how women are treated, so that next year's day can be an unqualified celebration.
*And if she isn’t embarrassed about that, she should be. One might be able to do that at home, but not in the Oval Office. And don’t you start pelting Etiquetteer with pictures of various Presidents of the United States with their shod feet up on their desks. First of all, it’s his desk, and second, it’s a desk, not a settee.
**Etiquetteer is reminded of the anecdote about Representative Nicholas Longworth, famous not only for marrying Alice Roosevelt but also for his bald head. One afternoon on the floor of the House, a rival passed his hand over Longworth's head and said "That feels just like my wife's bottom." Longworth felt his own head then and answered "You're right, it does!" Everyone had a good laugh, but Etiquetteer can't help but be outraged on behalf of that Congressman's wife, whose body became the object of a joke. Whoever she was, she didn't deserve that.