As teenagers, most women of a certain age, will recall that we had a fairly long list of do's and don'ts. We were admonished not to "swear, smoke, sweat or chew gum in public." Eve's high school English teacher would make girls recite the following if they were caught chomping a piece of Doublemint:
"The gum chewing girl and the cud chewing cow, are somewhat alike but different somehow; what is the difference? Oh, I see it now-the look of intelligence on the face of the cow!" Charming, don't you agree?
In a speech to 600 teachers about 15 years ago, Eve related that story and the poem. At least a dozen teachers approached her at the conclusion of the event and asked her to repeat it one more time so they could jot it down! Poor Eve…she did not by any means think that was the most profound portion of her address.
By the time we were all grown up, someone had devised a bumper sticker that said, "Good girls go to heaven-bad girls go anyplace they want to." NOW, they tell us.
You have to admit, looking back, that the expression "she's a fast girl" is pretty hilarious in retrospect. Particularly because the definition for fast was "loose." It never occurred to the rest of us to be insulted at the implication that we were all, "slow and tight!"
Well, it's all a matter of semantics you say? There's a continuing furor today about the meaning of the first amendment. For our youthful censors, Fathers/Mothers, other family members, teachers, and anyone in a "position of authority"….which seemed to be everyone but us, freedom of speech and all other varieties fell within the purview of a strict parent who routinely stated, "I'm laying down the law!" We broke those "codes" at our peril. One particularly commanding force for many of us was our personal religious persuasion. In Eve's case, "it was against her religion" (she was regularly reminded) to go to movies on Sunday for example. One episode involving the cinema haunts her to this day.
The first X rated film, "And God Created Woman" starring Bidget Bardot, arrived and being admitted to see it became an almost instant, "right of passage." Only theater goers 16 years old and up were permitted to buy a ticket (it didn't matter if you brought along both your parents, all your grandparents, and your church pastor-no proof of 16 ID-no entry!). Eve was chronologically eligible, however she did not have a driver's license. Her three companions had no problem-the dilemma was "what about Eve." They informed her that the temperature wasn't "that" cold and she was banished to sit in the car until they returned.
She made one stab at calling for help. Unfortunately, her father answered the phone and she quickly hung up. Slinking back to the car, humiliated and defeated, she vowed that when the day came that she was finally on her own, she would go to every X rated movie ever made-and only on Sunday's! Of course, when that time arrived, she was so guilt ridden that it took all the pleasure out of finally rebelling. If only she been able to adopt Marlon Brando's youthful bravado. When asked as a young actor what he was rebelling against, Brando reportedly replied, "Whatta ya got?!"
In our reflective moments, many "women of a certain age," rather long for a return to "some" of those limitations-for our children. Under the heading of "must dos" there were a number of rules which now don't seem so "quaint." Sending a thank you note for even the smallest gestures of kindness or gifts. Showing at least a measure of respect for those who are "older" even if they are not so much wiser. Feeling confident that when you buy a movie ticket you will not be assaulted with a barrage of obscenity and nudity. Adhering to conduct prescribed by Miss Manners is no longer viewed with the same reverence. Thoughtlessness has gained an acceptability that means a loss of respect. There is hope. We're reminded of an insightful quote. Although we live in a highly advanced, technological nation, some attitudes are universal and timeless.
"Our youth now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love to chatter in places of exercise. Children are tyrants, not the servants of the household. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers."
The language probably sounds outdated but certainly the sentiments expressed are not. The speaker was Socrates and the year was 44 BC. In spite of everything we object to in our society, there is a perspective, which is worth considering:
"Censorship, like charity, should begin at home; but unlike charity, it should end there."
Clare Boothe Luce
"Good manners-the longer I live the more convinced I am of it-are a priceless insurance against failure and loneliness. And anyone can have them." Elsa Maxwell, Elsa Maxwell's Etiquette Book (1951).
Oh, by the way. If you're free this Sunday afternoon, Eve would love to take in a movie!