How to Treat a Lady: Reclaiming Manners Between Men and Women

…the greatest man would justly be reckoned a brute if he were not civil to the meanest woman.” Martine’s Handbook (1866)

The crisis today in the relationships of men and women is multi-faceted. The general lack of manners in their interaction is both an indication and a cause of the crisis.

Women are to be reverenced, always and just because they are women. This truth, as other basic truths, is universally knowable, even though not universally known and practiced.

The nature and dignity of woman may remain something of a mystery to most men. But nevertheless, actions that show reverence to women can and should be expected of them. It was once so, as part of a code of manners. If universally expected, these actions will be generally practiced; and among some, perhaps even many, the corresponding interior dispositions will grow.

On the very first page of Emily Post’s Etiquette we find the following instructions about introductions:

First, a younger person is presented to an older person. Second, a gentleman is always presented to a lady, even though she is no older than eighteen. Third, no woman is ever presented to a man, unless he is: the President of the United States, the recognized head of another country; a member of a royal family; a cardinal or other church dignitary.

Such instructions probably strike us, especially the young, as odd. But then again, they seem to speak to something deep within us. In every introduction involving a woman, she is to be given a certain priority and reverence. Such customary manners were an expression of a communal understanding, even if only implicit, about the dignity of woman. But more than just an expression, they were a central means of cultivating and promoting that understanding and a corresponding reverence.

There will always be men, even among those who do practice good manners, who will view and treat women inappropriately. The condition of our human nature, including our freedom, pretty much assures this. But rather than lessening the importance of manners, it gives special reason to value them. We all, especially parents, have every reason to redouble our efforts to instill good manners and customary practices between men and women.

Such practices are of course the responsibility of both sexes. But the responsibility falls first upon men, and it is there that I focus my attention. It is worth simply calling to mind some traditional practices.

As a rule, a man holds the door for a woman; he offers his seat to a woman; he offers to carry something heavy; he walks on the side closer to traffic; he offers his umbrella; he gives more attention to his clothes and grooming in her presence; he is especially vigilant about his language; he does not pry into her private life. And in all these things he is careful not to seem patronizing or pushy. Indeed, now that such practices can be seen as offensive by some women, it is all the more incumbent upon a man to act with prudence and in no way to seem to be ‘making a point’ of his manners.

The interaction between men and women in contexts either potentially or actually romantic calls for special attention. Traditional practices here, which in fact go beyond what would normally be called manners, were rooted in a two main convictions: first, romance is ordered toward marriage, and second, the human condition demands that steps be taken to protect the integrity of romance, and especially to protect the honor of women. Rather than stemming from a prudish recoiling from the romantic or from a dark distrust of people, the observance of such rules of interaction is the fruit of an insight into the very nature of man and woman and of an understanding that their healthy interaction needs fostering.

Emily Post wrote:

If a young girl’s family is not at home, she should not, on returning from a party, invite or allow her date to ‘come in for a while.’ If he persists, she should tell him firmly, ‘Sorry, another time,’ and bid him ‘good night.’ However, if her parents are home and have been notified, it is perfectly all right to invite him in for a snack. He should not stay overly long, and if he shows no inclination to leave, the girl should tell him that her parents have set a definite ‘curfew’ hour.

These guidelines might strike us as too much, or as too specific. What is worth noticing, it seems to me, is the common sense approach to addressing a real issue. Whatever their exact formulation, when rules such as the above are commonly practiced they incarnate and convey a sense of propriety and limit. Young men and women are thus given to understand that their interaction is part of something bigger than themselves, something that will demand much of them. These are points that young men, in particular, need to learn. Acting well by the women in their life will always be an arduous task. To have to work hard to ‘win’ their way into relationships is a fitting preparation.

How to formulate and promulgate reasonable practices in this area will challenge even the most vibrant families and communities today. Perhaps the most challenging aspect is to make the practices an expression not of fear but of hope. Healthy communities have always realized that the proper relating of men and women is a flower that needs careful, communal cultivation. It does not bloom and flourish of itself.

Some today might ask what basis there is for giving women special care and attention. This is of course in itself a profound question. Yet at times the spirit in which the question is posed can indicate that certain fundamental insights have simply been lost. More and more we tend to see ‘nature’ as something to re-mold according to our wishes, and we do not hear what she is saying to us about who we are.

Women are deserving of special reverence not because of weakness, but because of strength. In women, a man can intuit the presence of something that transcends his comprehension. It is in reality something of the divine, something that is somehow his to cherish, to serve, and to protect. Just what it is, and how best to respond to it, he will need to spend a lifetime trying to discover.

Good manners in the interaction of men and women is a great tool in this effort. And we can work together in our communities to reclaim and reform these expressions of an ancient wisdom.

John A. Cuddeback is a chairman of the Philosophy Department at Christendom College. His website dedicated to the philosophy of family and household is baconfromacorns.com, where he has recently written a series called Reclaiming Manners, in which this piece is the latest. He and his wife Sofia consider themselves blessed to be raising their six children—and a few pigs and sundry—in the shadow of the Blue Ridge on the banks of the Shenandoah.

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51 Responses to “How to Treat a Lady: Reclaiming Manners Between Men and Women”

  1. Chevalierdejohnstone Reply

    No. Women ought never to be reverenced. We reverence God. We are stewards of His creations, but we do not revere them. Women are no more to be respected than men. Ladies are respected because they comport themselves as ladies.
    For the most part the modern woman is a whore. Respecting whores is a great way to turn your daughters into whores.
    Those who deny this are evil people.
    Stop being such an ass.

    • You are an incredibly sad and lost person. You are part of the problem and the reason why women behave the way they do today.
      How did Jesus treat Mary Magdalene, a prostitute, like a whore? No, he treated her with respect and honor because he knew she was a human being with dignity.

    • It is said that St. Mary Magdalene was a prostitute. Yet Jesus showed her respect, He did not ignore, curse or stone her. Other men were about to, till Christ stopped them. And He shows respect and love to use, even though we are disgusting sinners. Glory be to God, and respect to his sacred creations.

    • Wow… Chavalie…blah, blah, blah. You’ve got a lot of anger, hate ? I don’t know but, the points made regarding Jesus and Mary Magdalene are pretty self explanatory – maybe you should get on some Lithium or something.

    • Are you okay Chevalierjohnstone? It appears that you harbor a lot of hate. I recommend that you seek someone you trust to discuss why you are so angry and are projecting toward others. I pray you feel better soon. God bless.

    • ChristopherSmall Reply

      I think you mistook the point of this page; it does not mean to say that women should be respected more than men, certainly not, it is merely explaining the proper manner to respect women, it doesn’t go into the way that men should be respected be women because I think it is fairly plain that this website was made primarily for men to read. Reverence toward ladies does not mean necessarily taking an interest in them, it is respect primarily for their womanhood rather than their personal disposition, and therefore a true gentleman should not be too upset if the woman does not appreciate it. In fact, it would be a profound act of humility and an effective penance for a man to do that, although it would be hard to do as all penances are. Also, the psychology of women is an entirely different thing to that of men; Men care primarily for justice and truth before feeling and emotion whereas women are just the opposite, caring primarily for the feelings and emotions of themselves and others. As such, the most effective method to convert a promiscuous woman is to still show her reverence, as she is still a woman, and from respect that you show her she will then rediscover self respect. But you must do this in such a way that none of the respect you render to her cannot be mistaken as respect for her occupation, only respect for the dignity she deserves as a woman.

  2. WOW! Chevalierdejohnstone you really need to relax, and buy a dictionary, and get off your pompous high horse and stop stereotyping women. The problem is when “younger” men in general don’t respect(what the author obviously means) women. The “younger” women now don’t expect it, and the whole society starts to fall apart- not the root cause, but what I can type in a few sentences. Besides you’ll just come back and attack and not debate because of your tone.

  3. There are not two types of women – those you you respect (ladies) and those you don’t (whores).

    Women who are treated badly by men from childhood onwards have no self-respect. That’s why they become whores. No man ever showed them a different way.

    Jesus won the souls of degraded women by treating them with respect and love and tenderness. You could be a true chevalier if you learned to treat all women as worthy of protection and respect.

  4. The Marble Man Reply

    Reverence true ladies and the women of your family, but never turn yourself into a doormat for promiscuous harpies that try to pass themselves off as ladies. They will chew you up and spit you out. Many a good young man has wasted his youth putting women on pedestals and having his heart broken in turn. You don’t have to be a manosphere jerk to recognize this as folly.

    • ChristopherSmall Reply

      I am inclined to disagree, Marble man, Reverence toward ladies does not mean necessarily taking an interest in them and therefore a true gentleman should not be too upset if the woman does not appreciate it. In fact, it would be a profound act of humility and an effective penance for a man to do that although it would be hard to do as all penances are. Also, the psychology of women is an entirely different thing to that of men; Men care primarily for justice and truth before feeling and emotion whereas women are just the opposite, caring primarily for the feelings and emotions of themselves and others. As such, the most effective method to convert a promiscuous woman is to still show her reverence, as she is still a woman, and from respect that you show her she will then rediscover self respect. But you must do this in such a way that none of the respect you render to her cannot be mistaken as respect for her occupation, only respect for the dignity she deserves as a woman.

  5. “Women are to be reverenced, always and just because they are women. … The nature and dignity of woman may remain something of a mystery to most men. … Women are deserving of special reverence not because of weakness, but because of strength.”

    No, no, a thousand times no.

    Women are no more virtuous than men, indeed arguably less, and can be very great sinners (and not just sexually). Women can exhibit great selfishness, thoughtlessness, and cruelty, right up to the extreme (cf. female murderers). Women have the same obligations to die to self and seek the good that men do. Thanks to original sin, holiness does not come naturally to anyone.

    See Joseph Shaw’s blog http://www.lmschairman.org/ he has a long multi-part series about how this attitude that women are “special” in some way (which is of relatively recent vintage) paved the way for feminism and all the destruction that has come in its wake.

    Be polite, fine. We all owe that to each other as common courtesy. But “reverencing” women “just because they are women” is utter nonsense.

  6. Excuse me, but I think we might need to back up a bit. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that Mary Magdalene was a fallen woman. It says that Jesus drove out seven devils, which could have been a reference to some type of mental illness. (For those who might disagree, please do not reply to me. Rather, go to Google and you will find all the scriptural references.) How sad it is to see one of the greatest women of the New Testament still being maligned.

  7. Wow, I can’t believe these comments! Interesting. Certainly the attitude that women are special is not of relatively recent vintage. It can be found in the Middle Ages with chivalrous knights and gallantry and I am all for it! Who would not want a return to that sort of treatment?

  8. One of the tests of Christlike character is how you treat others (men and women both) who’s behavior / clothes / language / attitude / etc… you believe make them unworthy of your respect. Do women deserve respect? Of course. But in Christ Jesus there is no slave or free, rich or poor, male or female. To have the heart of Christ is to treat everyone with respect. Especially when they don’t deserve it. Aren’t you glad God didn’t wait to love you until you deserved it?

  9. Angela Goddard Reply

    Chevalier I think I understand the point you are trying to make. It may seem wrong to ” reverence” another human being. But, the truth behind it is that you are revencing the special gift God gives women, cooperating to bring new eternal souls into the world. Also, there seems to be some confusion about condoning a woman’s evil behavior and respecting the woman despite her behavior. Think of how Christ dealt with the woman at the well who had seven husbands. He certainly didn’t condone what she was doing nor ignore her fauls. But, He gave her loving respect which dynamically changed her life. Men have no idea the power for good which they possess! If your daughters see you treating women with that kind of respect they will admire you and strive to be worthy of that respect! It really can change a woman’s life! So, a thank you and round of applause to all Catholic gentlemen who try to treat all women with dignity and respect!

  10. Katie, I don’t think anyone was saying women are more virtuous than men. Regarding everything else, JPII has the best wording on his writing on the dignity of women.

  11. A message for Larry: More’s the pity.

    I was watching a program that first aired in the 60’s. It starred a young cadet who was considered by everyone to be perfect and well bred. He rose whenever the mother on the show entered or left the room. His perfect manners and comportment enthralled those around him.

    I myself was taught to always revere the old, not because they were necessarily good or deserving people, but because they had spent many years upon this earth and deserved my respect and care regardless. As a result I give them my place in line, stand so they can have my seat, help them with packages and defer to them in every way. I notice many men who will not do these things. I find that shocking. No, 1936 is not coming back. People have lost their love and caring and respect for one another and that is a shame.

    Men, you can be a creep and a cad, or you can be a gentleman and be admired for your polish and manners. The choice is yours but it reflects on no one but yourself.

  12. Don’t misunderstand. I holding doors and am generally polite in public. To both men and women.

    But not out of any misguided 14th-century belief in “reverence” for women, or indeed for anyone. It’s strictly a Golden Rule thing. It doesn’t offend me if a woman holds the door for me. Hey, women barely notice me so I’ll take what I can get.

    But reverence? As someone said above, “no, no, a thousand times no.”

    • Larry, I think you, and some people on this board have no idea of the definition of the word, “reverence” . In the noun form it is: Deep respect for someone or something. The verb is: Regard or treat with respect. I am beginning to think most people on here are confusing it with worship or adoration. So for you to say you do not have reverence for women or for anyone actually, strictly speaking, means you have no deep regard or respect for anyone, nor would you treat anyone with regard or respect. If women barely notice you, you might try some old fashioned manners. That might get the attention of a nice woman. Worth a try but it should come from the inner core of a civilized gentleman, otherwise it would be a sham.

      I remember when men wore hats and when meeting a woman on the street, would tip it. The woman could be old, young, a neighbor, a stranger. Men tipped their hats to women one and all. I thought it was a small gentlemanly gesture, a sweet one and one that disposed the woman to grateful and kind feelings towards the gentleman. It was a rite of a civilized society. For these objections to be brought out on not only a Catholic site, but a gentleman’s site as well is truly an eye opener and not a good sign.

  13. C.S., I appreciate your comment very much. Thank you. I would only add that while many have lost their love and caring and respect, and the common signs by which we should express these things, we can always keep working together to cultivate these dispositions, and their signs. Ultimately, it is of course not about going back–though in humility we can often learn from the past–but about going forward, trying to live the amazing vocation of being true to ourselves.

  14. One anecdote from my own life. I had a boss who used to, among many other gentlemanly gestures, guide me around the cracks in the sidewalks of Manhattan so I did not catch my heel in them. That was well over 30 years ago. Those gestures and his true love and reverence for women, live in my heart and thoughts TO THIS DAY and will till the day I pass. Because of his gentlemanly behavior and the deep impression it made on me, I remembered him at Mass every Sunday and still do. He and his gentlemanly comportment were transformational in my life. Men, do you want to live in the hearts and memories of women? Be a real man. Be a gentleman.

  15. C.S., your longings for a bygone era are wistful as well as futile. The behavior you remember as “gentlemanly” from your former boss, were recharacterized as “sexual harassment” at about the time I started working myself, just over 30 years ago. Your generation decided this was inappropriate behavior. Don’t blame us.

    And as for your desire to rewrite the dictionary, don’t insult my intelligence. We know that “reverence” is a level way above simple politeness. And “reverence” must be earned; it is simply not automatically granted to the female gender. No, no, a thousand times no.

    “Manners” are simple respect, simple politeness. No more and no less.

    • Larry, your intelligence needs no insulting by me.
      rev·er·ence
      ˈrev(ə)rəns/
      noun
      1.
      deep respect for someone or something.

      verb
      2.
      regard or treat with deep respect.

      And if you were beginning to work 30 years ago and I was beginning to work 30 years ago, how are we in different generations? The time span between generations, by the way, is 25 years.

      But finally, fear not, you are in no danger of becoming a gentleman and great men who were of my bosses’ generation, who are now unfortunately leaving us, would have choice words for you, which by the way, they would not repeat in front of a lady.

      • You’re playing fast and loose with your generational facts. Your boss anecdote was “well over 30 years ago”. And you “remember when men wore hats and when meeting a woman on the street, would tip it.” and that’s not 30 years ago, not 50 years ago, maybe not even 60 years ago.

        Like I said, my generation was indoctrinated with “the rules” regarding sexual harassment. Your generation decided to do that. We still hold doors but we dare not do much more.

        As for your personal attack, thank you. You’ve only proved my point that real respect must be earned and not automatically granted based on gender.

  16. Again you insist we are of different generations. We are not. Men wore hats into the 60s’s. I was a child. 25 years mark different generations. Not 5. Not 10. 25. I do not play fast and loose with generational facts but you. My boss and the gentlemen I worked with WERE of a different generation and glad I am of that. Otherwise I would have little or no idea of what real men can be like.

  17. I fully agree with this article. But it overlooks important practical benefits from the proper treatment of women.

    A few years ago I went to pick up my wife who was working late. I was escorting her from her place of work through a dark parkade to our car. While opening the passenger side door for her, I noticed some loiterers watching us. After she got into the vehicle, I closed the door and walked around to the driver’s side. I looked up just before getting into the driver’s seat and noticed that both loiters had come closer, but had stopped and were looking at me with stunned expressions. I got into the vehicle and drove off without incident.

    Later, I realized that we may have narrowly escaped a robbery or worse.

    My point is that men who treat women with respect project a sense of power and strength that could save you from serious harm in some cases, and make life easier in most cases.

  18. Regis Flaherty Reply

    Also, those acts of respect shown by a man toward a woman have a deeper meaning. They are training in charity – the love that was manifested by Jesus who laid down His life for us. When I hold the door for my wife, it says that I value her enough to inconvenience myself for her. Yes, it is a small act and the inconvenience (suffering) is small, but it is through many small acts that we prepare ourselves for the more difficult challenges. Perhaps my spouse will fall ill, perhaps she will have dementia; I must be well trained in dying to self so that I can live for her. Martyrs, I believe, could stand for Christ and die because they had been dying for Him daily in many smaller ways. And Christ died for all, so our charity must extend to all. Certainly the married relationship is to mirror the love of Christ for the Church. And when I hold the door for any woman, give up my seat, or defer to her, I am mirroring the love of Jesus and giving witness (and a reminder to me) to charity that always means dying to self for the wellbeing of the other.. By the way, my wife – who is far better than I in living charity – has found her particular feminine sacrifices where she regularly dies to self for me!

  19. In reply to the comment: “Now that males and females are equal, should a male treat a female any differently from the way he treats another male?”

    In a dark parkade with hooligans present, my wife is definitely less than equal. A female boss at work with power to fire me is more than equal. A young boy or elderly man in a bus is usually less than equal.

    Declarations of equality do not make people equal. Ignore them. Observe the reality of the situation, and base your charitable behavior on what you see.

  20. If men are to reverence women, what must women do for men? That is the question which everyone is afraid to answer. But it’s right there in St Paul.

  21. J.M.J
    Men, you need to respect all women, no matter what they are like. If you treat only good women with respect, how will other woman know how to be treated or who they are. God dose not treat sinners like dirt, they do it to themselves or were raised only knowing that way. He shows sinners how valuable they are, we men must do the same with all women. Women are Gods most beautiful creation.

    Ladies, know this and live this. No matter what you or anyone says or thinks about you, you are magnificent.

    God Love You,
    Patrick

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