When it’s time to take off the white gloves

October 1, 2018

Last week, my family flew home in the wee hours of the night after attending a memorial service back east. The next morning, we awoke not remembering what time zone or climate we were in, fumbling for a much-needed parka, a backpack and lunchbox to get our son back to school and back to routine.

That was the extent my bandwidth could manage for the day until I turned the television on.

I don’t know if it was the riveting content or my mourning for a loved one or both, but I felt deeply emotional and exhausted by the confirmation hearings of Judge Brett Kavanaugh and the testimony delivered by Christine Blasey Ford.

No matter what side of the aisle you sit on, any voter, civic-minded American, woman or assault survivor could not help but be affected by the content and the judiciary committee process on full display.

One year after I addressed the topic of sexual assault following the allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein, the #MeToo topic is still at the forefront — as it should be until all survivors are supportively looked in the eye and heard, until the naive and unknowing become “born-again empathizers.”

The dismissive excuses of “boys will be boys,” “locker-room talk” and “it’s in the past” are further assaults on survivors who serve a life sentence of trauma, wounded (or never born) confidence and impaired social and romantic development.

Respect is born from etiquette, and the guardians charged with raising and empowering our youth must cultivate a sensitive awareness of self and others from an early age. This includes social graces and physical boundaries.

Etiquette rules on physical contact are focused on greetings, not groping. My etiquette library needs a revision.

Seeing that, even 36 years later, no poor deed goes unposted or unpublished, one might wisen up to the fact that sexual assault is a no-no. But as experience has taught me, common sense is not so common. For the sake of our youth’s success as decent human beings, I argue that starting young with teaching eye contact, holding the door and reminding your 3-year-old to use “kind hands” on the playground fosters a healthy respect for peers of any gender and their bodies.

Instilling traits such as confidence and boldness over cockiness and boastfulness breed those who seek to earn leadership versus power. Both roles demand great responsibility. It takes a humanitarian to understand the nuances, but I have always questioned the motivation of those who seek a position of power for the sake of being in power.

It took me a while to find my voice to write this. It isn’t exactly tea party talk, but it does incorporate workplace protocol and common decency, topics near and dear to my mannerly heart.

This year has caused me to re-examine what it means to be a 21st-century lady. She can be both softspoken and lioness, feminine and fierce. A 21st-century lady must be raised to recognize her social and physical boundaries and how to communicate them. The same goes for all our children, no matter what gender they identify with. I saw it firsthand in my son’s preschool last year, and I see how relevant and vital it will be in his thoughtful treatment of others going forward.

Most importantly, our children must be taught (and with good rearing emulate) how to respect physical boundaries. Creating a culture of understanding about appropriate contact with the body is paramount and starts at birth. And in the unfortunate circumstance they are faced with a boar of a human whose education was lost in translation, manners don’t matter. My previous column on the topic bears repeating.

Etiquette is the sensitive awareness of people and place and thus adjusting behavior to graciously accommodate those variables but not at the risk of sacrificing one’s own safety and dignity. In the workplace, as in life, there are written and unwritten protocols on how to conduct one’s self. It’s not uncommon to use politesse to avoid conflict. But when bosses, co-workers or peers use power to intimidate, harass and bully, manners no longer matter. Street smarts, grit and honesty do.

Speaking up against abuse of power is not polished or pretty, quiet or contained. For those raised to not rock the boat, it requires immense courage. And the outcome is unknown. It’s often a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. In the Weinstein story, shock and strength came in the numbers of women banding together after years of suffering in isolation. Speaking up gives back one’s strength and a sense of control. Bringing it to light helps limit reticent witnesses and abusers from enabling and normalizing such reprehensible behavior. One offense is one too many.

There is an absolute global mistreatment of woman and girls that has gone on for millennia. And a subsequent suppression of those consequences and their voices. Raising voices has made a difference in the timeline of the Supreme Court confirmation hearings, arguably the most powerful seat in the land. This is a time and cause where the white gloves have come off and no manners are required.

Defending yourself against something that makes you uncomfortable may feel inappropriate and confrontational. Remind yourself that you were born with the unalienable right to dignity. If etiquette is about showing respect, start with yourself, continue with your children. It’s your civic duty.

Bizia Greene is an etiquette expert and owns the Etiquette School of Santa Fe. Share your comments and conundrums at hello@etiquette santafe.com or 505-988-2070.

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