We’re interested in preserving (restoring?) civil society here at IWF. With that in mind, I want to call your attention to an excellent piece by Carol Plat Liebau on the demise of the lady. It makes these observations:

“Mrs. Patrick Campbell, the British actress who created the role of Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion, once remarked that she didn’t much care what people did in private, so long as ‘they don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.’ Likewise, it’s a matter of profound indifference to most Americans how Rosie O’Donnell conducts herself when she’s surrounded by her circle of personal friends. But her public behavior is another story…

“Not too long ago, it would have been completely unnecessary to spell out why the content of O’Donnell’s tirade was so completely inappropriate for a luncheon which, although sponsored by a private group, constitutes a public event. It would have been obvious that cursing, crotch-grabbing, and the gratuitous employment of sexual references were behaviors that were scarcely acceptable anywhere; if they were going to be indulged in at all, they were certainly reserved for private conversations with a few close friends.

“That social consensus has long since eroded. The leadership of New York Women in Communications, the group sponsoring the luncheon, professed to be delighted with O’Donnell’s performance. The managing director of the group actually sent an email to O’Donnell’s handlers, calling her fabulous.’ The editor-in-chief of Jane magazine told the New York Post’s Page Six that it was ‘fun to watch other people be offended.’

“How times have changed. Traditionally, people who stooped to crass behavior were understood to be implicitly conceding the limits of their own intellect, refinement and self-restraint. Even insults- at least those leveled in public – were expected to contain at least a modicum of gentility. Compare O’Donnell’s ‘Eat me!’ with Winston Churchill’s assessment of Clement Attlee as ‘a modest man, with much to be modest about’ and the contrast is clear.

“What’s more, resorting to public vulgarity at once marked the one doing so as not a lady or a gentleman. No doubt the terms ‘lady’ and ‘gentlemen’ have been devalued over time, now evoking images of simpering socialites pretentiously crooking their pinkie fingers as they sip tea. But the essence of being a well-bred, civilized person – male or female – was to behave in a way that never caused needless discomfort to other people. Good manners were understood to be primarily’ an expression of kindness and concern for others’ feelings. This was particularly true for women, who were generally seen as civilization’s gatekeepers.”