The amazing story of two 40-something women on the path to matrimonial bliss

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Emily Post Says...

I have a copy of Etiquette by Emily Post that has a copyright date of 1957.  I used to keep this heavy, musty volume in my office for years--either on a desk or bookshelf and it provided hours of stress relief.  Somewhere along the line, however, I stopped keeping it at work and last night, I pulled it off a bookshelf here at home for the first time in eons...

This book is a treasure, not only as an anachronistic historical document, but also for the dripping classism and racism AND the fact that in 1957, Westerners were already in the quickly-moving borderland between stodgy gender stereotypes and class lines and a new world of social upheaval. You'd never guess it to read through the yellowing pages of Emily Post.

So, last night I read to Teri from some of the "Preparations for a Wedding" chapter after first reminding her that "A lady never takes off her gloves to shake hands, no matter when or where, and never apologizes for wearing gloves when shaking hands." These morsels of absolute fact have been lost on those of us born post JFK.

As you might imagine, there is no room in this 650 page book for anything non-hetero--when it comes to Weddings, it is constricted and shameful enough to be a widow or a divorcee: "The marriage of a widow differs from that of a maid in that she cannot wear a bridal veil, orange blossoms, or a myrtle wreath, which are emblems of virginity; nor does she have bridesmaids..." The divorcee is not even allowed to send out printed or engraved invitations: "engraved invitations are not in good taste; handwritten notes or possibly messages on visiting-cards are best."  There is another chapter on what exactly visiting cards are and the hard rule that one must leave no more than three of those on the silver tray when one goes calling. Fortunately for the groom, "the fact that a bridegroom has been married previously has no bearing on the wedding preparations." Whew!

Many things come to mind for me when I read Emily Post, but I mostly hear my daughter Lucy's voice.  She says that she finds it interesting when people ask the question: "What time or era would you most like to live in?"  Her answer is normally some variation of: "That depends, do I get to be any gender I want or do I stay a woman?  If I'm still a woman then this time suits me just fine!" She might add details about the fact that she can vote, go to college, have any job she wants and who knows--maybe she's relieved she doesn't have to wear gloves?

I am all for manners and respectful behavior and I definitely DO believe that one should RSVP, bring a little something when invited to a party, and write thank you notes to hosts/hostesses and in response to gifts--but I think those rules are gender-free and based more on the "Golden Rule" than on anything else.  I am with Lucy, I am grateful to live in a time where there is less rigidity and made-up propriety and that there is room for creativity, fairness and differences.  There is a haunting line in Emily Post:

     It is of course obvious that a perfect society would be composed of those who have tastes and interests and a general point of view in common, but liking, appreciation, and friendliness also can exist between those who share only some one special interest or activity.

One doesn't have to wonder how reactionary books like The Stepford Wives and The Feminine Mystique (published in 1963 I'll have you know, and Betty Friedan started working on it in 1957) were devoured so by a public stifled by rigid and exhausting expectations.

So when people ask me what era or time I'd most like to live in, I cannot help but imagine myself as I am--both as a woman and a lesbian--and I have to tell you, NOW is a lovely time to be alive.

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