Thursday, May 17, 2007
Manners -- the Quiz -- Answer to Question I: A woman and her name
Manners are the happy way of doing things.
Congratulations to Courtney, who answered correctly that an old etiquette rule was that a woman's name should appear in the paper only three times in her life: when she was born, when she married, and when she died.
Of course, as Courtney pointed out, a woman's birth could hardly be mentioned without also mentioning the name of her mother. Therefore, in reality, a woman's name appeared in print at least a fourth time in her life: when she gave birth.
Though this rule has often been repeated, I suspect that it might have first been said in a tongue-in-cheek way. Some people say that this saying started with the Victorians. But, others claim that First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was the first one to put the unspoken principle that a lady avoids undue publicity into these exact words, "A lady's name must appear in the paper only when she is born, when she marries, and when she dies." If this is so, I have an idea that Mrs. Roosevelt was simply making a witty observation about the attitudes of her upper class family and friends. She, herself, was outspoken when it came to her political views and was often quoted and mentioned in the press.
No matter how the saying started, it was based upon a real principle of manners. It used to be considered that a true lady would be confident and fulfilled in her life. Thus, she would not feel the need to push herself forward to gain public affirmation. She would not live her life in a way that was calculated to attract publicity. She would not seek media praise for her good deeds. Nor, would she ever want her good name to be tainted by any hint of scandal, particularly a scandal that would be repeated in the news.
In actuality, women's names have long been mentioned in the media on a variety of happy occasions. We've all read about women who graduate from high school or college, who are among this year's debutantes, who raise money to help disaster victims, who are named as teacher of the year, who win ribbons at the state fair, who share recipes in the food section, or who attain to some worthy career achievement, etc. We also read about women who are responsible for advances in science, medicine, and other fields.
When I was a little girl, many newspapers in small towns even mentioned whenever a family had a relative visiting from out of town! Since my relatives came from tiny Southern towns, I enjoyed the special feeling of being welcomed in the newspaper whenever I was "in town". The local editors had so little news to print that they had room to graciously mention the arrival of one, ordinary little girl.
In fact, 27 years ago, my about-to-be-fiance accompanied my parents me to church in one tiny town where my mother's family had settled for generations. I think everyone for miles around guessed that there would be an engagement announced soon. An elderly relative of my mothers, an gentlemanly old cousin whom I loved dearly, took my now dear hubby aside and grilled him to make sure he was a worthy suitor. And, "sure enough", it was mentioned in the paper that my parents and I had attended church along with a guest. We got a chuckle out of that one.
There used to be some regrettable snobbishness connected to the idea that a true lady would not want her name mentioned in the news. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, more and more families achieved wealth through business. These "new" families, as they were called, sought to gain entrance into the upper circles of society. Sometimes, they would let it be known to the press whenever they hosted or attended fashionable charitable or social events in an effort to call attention to their rising status. But, women from "old-line" familes looked down their noses at women who used the media as a means of climbing up the social ladder. Eleanor Roosevelt, for example, had relatives who came from "old families".
There was another consideration, as well. Just as now, the lives of actresses and other celebrities were often described in the press. Sometimes, the celebrities were cited for good things. But, then, just as now, some celebrities got into trouble and stories about them could be lurid. Some people found these details to be glamorous; others felt that such gossip about celebrities was unwholesome.
Also, just as now, there have been periods in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when some young men and women had too much time and money on their hands and too little guidance. These young men and women often were proud of being noticed in the papers for their party lifestyle. They vied with each other to spend the most on clothes, to be seen at the most fashionable places, and to attract the notice of the press. It's understandable that many families did not want their children to adopt this lifestyle.
Sadly, at the moment, many of today's young heiresses and actresses are being hailed in the media for excessive drinking, excessive partying, and impure behavior. But, it's not just heiresses and actresses who draw media attention; a whole young generation is being characterized in the media as living a hedonistic lifestyle. How many stories have we seen about young men and women who have been involved in tragedies because of poor parental guidance and indulgence in excess? And, today, young people don't even need the media to publicize their antics; they can make noteriety for themselves through venues like My Space.
Unfortunately, the lurid stories about youth gone wild attract far more attention than the ones about the many, many young people who are doing worthy things with their lives.
Some of the men and women who are now delighted to find themselves in the media for dubious reasons will not be so happy about this later on in life. Happily, many will grow up, change their attitudes and their lives , get married, and have children. Of course, their past lives can be forgiven and forgotten. Only, some painful consequences may remain because their former actions will be a matter of public record, for all -- including their children and grandchildren -- to see.
So, this brings us to the good and protective aspect of this principle. Young men and women would do well to live in a way that if they ever do find their names broadcast on TV or in the papers, it will be for positive reasons and not for sad ones. As adults, we should consider this as well.
"If a reporter wanted to write a story about me, what would he or she say?" is a good question to ask.
Now, we do have to remember the verse, "Woe to you when all men speak well of you." (Luke 6:26) Paul also reminded us that all who will live a godly life will be persecuted. Sometimes, a man or a woman who humbly, but boldly takes a stand for Christ will be villified in the press. But, if we suffer reproach, it's far better to suffer it for the sake of Christ than because we've lived in a way that brings shame upon us.
Perhaps, you may think, "I'm not famous or talented, and I haven't done anything big. I don't think a reporter would find much to write about me."
But, if you are living a life of wholesome and positive influence, even within a very small circle, now that's news worth hearing about!
So, despite the old rule, let your name appear in the media as many times as you wish. After all, if you're blogging, you're actually creating your own press! Only, do your best to live in such a way that only happy and productive things are associated with your name!