“The more you act like a lady, the more he’ll act like a gentleman.” This was one of the quotes on the wall of Gregory-Lincoln Education Center for the Performing and Visual Arts, an elementary and middle school in Houston, Texas. Though the quote had been displayed there for the past five years, it was removed last week after Twitter user Lisa H. Beckman, whose child does not go to the school, saw the quote, found it offensive, and posted a photo of it on Twitter. Her accompanying comment called the quote “sexist, mysogonistic [sic], and discriminatory!” The quote was removed from the wall within 10 hours of Beckman’s tweet.
This is the wall at Gregory-Lincoln Middle School in Houston ISD.
It's perpetuating horrible gender stereotypes, shaming women, and relinquishing boys of all responsibility. It's sexist, mysogonistic, and discriminatory!
— lbeckman (@lbeckman) August 17, 2018
“It’s perpetuating horrible gender stereotypes, shaming women, and relinquishing boys of all responsibility,” Beckman explained. In an interview with CNN affiliate KTRK, Tish Ochoa, a parent at the school, said, “Look at the climate in which we’re living in. We’re supposed to be teaching people to be responsible for their own actions. What is this teaching little girls?”
Beckman’s tweet has been liked over 24,000 times, and retweeted over 9,500 times. Many Twitter users agreed with Beckman. Frederika Jenner called the quote “unpleasantly retro.” Tanya Littman said the quote was “exactly why the #MeToo movement started,” adding, “A man should be able to have self control no matter what.” Cathy R said the quote was indicative of the South: “Fighting so hard to remain in the 1950s.”
As a teacher, I wonder how the staff feels about this message. It is so unpleasantly retro. A little spray paint would go a long way. (Be sure to disable hall cam lenses first.)
— ((Frederika Jenner)) (@fsjenner) August 18, 2018
Ahhh the south. Fighting so hard to remain in the 1950s.
— cathy r (@leadahorse2) August 18, 2018
But others disagreed. Fabrizio Gowdy said, “Chivalry is not sexism.” Gregory Thomas quipped, “How dare they tell boys and girls to act like ladies and gentlemen. Seriously, it sounds as if they are trying to teach good behavior to their students.” Tex said, “Best advice ever dished out at a Middle School.”
Chivalry is not sexism.
— Fabrizio Gowdy (@FabrizioGowdy) August 18, 2018
How dare they tell boys and girls to act like ladies and gentlemen. Seriously, it sounds as if they are trying to teach good behavior to their students. Something we could use a lot more of.
— GREGORY THOMAS (@gt6103) August 18, 2018
Beckman — and everyone who agrees with her —- clearly thinks this quote is saying that women are responsible for the bad behavior of men. But is that really what it’s trying to say? School officials seem to think so. They removed the quote and issued a statement which reads: “Please be advised that the quote on the wall of Gregory Lincoln PK-5 Education Center has been removed. Overnight, the wall decal letters were taken down, the wall was floated out, and [a] new slab of drywall was installed and painted.”
Interestingly, the quote has been attributed to Sydney Biddle Barrows, AKA the Mayflower Madam, who ran a “high-class” escort service called Cachet. She pled guilty in 1984 to promoting prostitution. But Beckman and her supporters don’t seem to be complaining about the quote’s source. Would it help their case to know the speaker was referring to prostitutes? Or would it suddenly become “empowering” since “sex work” is feminist now?
Regardless of the quote’s source, it seems fairly clear that this idea of acting like “ladies and gentlemen” ought not to be dismissed by supporters of the #MeToo movement — or anyone else for that matter. A woman who allows herself to sleep with strangers, party hard, or become so intoxicated so she doesn’t know where she is or what she’s doing, is not “empowered.” None of those behaviors — or others like them — speak to high self-esteem.
More than that, a woman who acts that way is going to attract other people who act that way too. That’s why the guy in this situation won’t be a gentleman. Not because it’s the woman’s responsibility to turn a jerk into a great guy, but because a woman who is acting like she doesn’t care what kind of people she attracts, will attract the kind of people who don’t care either. For Barrows, presumably, this meant that her prostitutes should act “high-class” so as to attract the kind of “high-class” clientele she was looking for. But, for those of us who aren’t prostitutes, the idea is that we are responsible for our own behavior, and our behavior signals our sense of self-worth, and our willingness to associate with people who hold themselves to similarly high standards.
Now, obviously, a woman is not responsible for the criminal behavior of the men she might encounter, or for turning bad men into good ones. So, perhaps the quote should read, “The more you act like a lady, the more gentlemen you’ll attract” or something like that. But feminists love a good victim narrative, so the idea that a woman might be responsible for the way she presents herself to the world, and the consequences of that behavior, doesn’t jive with modern feminist philosophy.
To me, the scariest part about all this is how quickly the school jumped to toe the party line. The quote had been on the wall for five years — it was not a relic of a bygone era — so presumably someone in leadership deemed it a sentiment worth promoting. But, the minute some lady — whose kid doesn’t even attend the school! — questions it on social media, the quote is down and the wall is painted over. Perhaps someone at the school could have come forward to offer an explanation as to why that quote was up there, and what values the school holds that the quote upholds. Something — anything but this immediate retraction.
If the school is trying to teach values — which the inclusion of these wall quotes would imply that it is — perhaps they should have thought more clearly about what this blanket capitulation teaches their students. Hold a debate, have a discussion, ask the students to weigh in, but don’t give in to bullies. That is a lesson middle schoolers ought to learn.