Miss Manners by Judith Martin, Nicholas Ivor Martin and Jacobina Martin

On Rules ‘Protecting’ Ladies

DEAR MISS MANNERS: What do you think of the so-called Billy Graham rule, practiced by the vice president and some other politicians, where a man refuses ever to be alone with a woman who is not his wife?

Isn’t that exactly what etiquette has always preached, in its rules about the necessity of chaperones and its shaming of women who were told that they deserve what they get if they go to a man’s apartment?

GENTLE READER: What do lawyers and judges think of laws that upheld human atrocities, even including slavery?

Etiquette, like the law, is tradition-based. But when there is good reason to change, both law and etiquette authorize change -- if sometimes centuries after horrendous damage has been done.

Note the word “authorize.” This process is not license for people to go about discarding obligations they do not like. You did well to check with the highest authority.

In the matter of chaperonage, etiquette finally came to realize how vulgar it was to assume that given the opportunity, any man and any woman must be engaging in only one activity. So, a century ago, Miss Manners’ distinguished predecessors abolished the rule requiring social chaperones for respectable young people. That they were not following it anyway may have had something to do with this leniency.

It had always struck Miss Manners as strange that lingering forms of protectionism have restricted the lady, rather than the assumed predator. She recalls making this point in regard to the women’s dormitory curfew rules of her school days. (Nobody listened, but 10 years later, another student -- a future politician -- successfully canceled the curfew.)

A paramount consideration now is the devastating effect that such appendages would have on female careers. And in the cases you mention, it is the males who are calling for supervision. Perhaps they have the decency to realize that they cannot trust themselves to behave professionally. In that case, they should, indeed, provide chaperones to keep themselves in line.