Ladies Set the Standards

Some would question whether it is even desirable for a girl to be feminine in a traditional sense, fearing that it will signal a return to the oppression of a patriarchal era when women had to hide their intelligence and conceal their accomplishments. Hear me out, moms. Not for a moment would I try to take away the hard-won achievements of respect and emancipation enjoyed by today's women. Those cultural advances are here to stay, and may they long endure.

On the contrary, I would point out that femaleness and weakness are not synonymous. Femininity and strength of character are often very close neighbors. I come from a family of strong women who knew who they were and where God was leading them. They took a backseat to no one. My grandmother copastored a thriving church with my grandfather. She could preach up a storm. I can't imagine anyone telling her to sit down, fold her arms, and keep her mouth shut. One of her daughters became my mother, who was also a very confident and accomplished lady. Yet my mother and her sisters were undeniably feminine.

My mom and dad loved each other deeply and had a very healthy relationship based on their identities as a woman and a man. He was very respectful, protective, and supportive of her. I never saw him treat her rudely or harshly. After I was grown, I remember getting upset at my mom for something she said that irritated me. I made the mistake of telling my dad about it. I'll never forget him turning his steely blue eyes on me and saying angrily, "Listen, Bud, your mother is the best friend you have, and I won't stand for you saying anything disrespectful about her." It was the end of our conversation. When Dad called me Bud, I knew it was time to back off.

On the other side of the ledger, my mom honored my dad, not just as her husband, but also as a man. She would not have thought of failing to have a meal waiting for him when he came home. Being from the South, she was not offended when he called from his big chair where he was reading a book. He would say, "Hey, Myrt, bring me a cup of coffee, please." He was her man, and she took care of him. It was a relationship based on mutual respect, and it was highly successful. They both understood manners and morals, and their relationship to spirituality, masculinity, and femininity. My parents modeled them consistently throughout my childhood.

I displayed that training on my first date with a cute coed named Shirley. I took her to a classy restaurant in Hollywood, California, where I told the host where we wanted to sit. Then I helped Shirley with her chair. I asked what she wanted to eat and conveyed her order to the waiter. We engaged each other in conversation for more than an hour, mostly about Shirley. Then I paid the check and took her to my car. I walked on the outside of the sidewalk nearest the street, which was (and still should be) symbolic of a guy's responsibility to protect the woman in his care. I opened the car door for her, and we drove back to our college. I parked, came around to her side of the car, opened the door, and walked Shirley to the front door of her dorm. She thanked me with a smile, and we said good night. I didn't try to kiss her, since that would have put her in a compromising position on a first date—as though she owed me something as a "payback."

I must have done something right on that enchanted evening, because we have now been married for forty-nine years. I think it's going to work. I still try to show her the same courtesies and respect that helped me win her heart in the first place. And she knows all the ways to please me.

By the way, two weeks ago, my wife and I were back in Southern California, and our daughter asked me to take her and her mom to that restaurant where it all began. I was delighted to do that. I pointed out the very table where we sat fifty-two years ago and talked about what we said and did on that significant night where love began.

So much has changed in the culture since then. I will tell you that I am disgusted by the way young men treat their girlfriends today. Some guys will honk from the street, waiting for a girl to come out. They stay behind the steering wheel while she opens her own door, and then they take her to a McDonald's or a Taco Bell. Often, the guy will even expect his date to pay for her food! Do you know why this happens? Because girls tolerate it. I would advise a young lady who is expected to pay for her meal to do so only once. She should then ask to be taken straight home and never agree to see the dude again. Any man who is that disrespectful doesn't deserve a second chance.

Women hold the keys to masculine behavior. Guys are inclined to take what they can get and be no more accommodating than they have to be. To some degree, the lack of culture and refinement we see in many of today's men is the fault of women who ask for, and get, little or nothing. If a girl sees herself as a lady, she will expect her escort to behave like a gentleman. He will respect her if she respects herself. If she wants him to be spiritually sensitive, she should go out with him only if he accompanies her to church. If she objects to his use of profanity, she should simply not accept it. If she wants him to think of her often and call her on the phone, she should wait for him to get the idea himself. Female aggressiveness is a turnoff to most men. I don't care if the rules have changed; it is still a bad idea for a girl to pursue a guy breathlessly. She should let him be the initiator. That is the way he is made.

Parents, teach these concepts to your girls! If your daughter wants her boyfriend to take her to nice places, she should expect him to make the plans for an evening together and to ask her out at least a week ahead of time. If he shows up unannounced on Friday night and says, "Wanna hang out?" she should tell him she has other things to do. If she wants him to be a gentleman, she should require him to act like one, and she should always remember that she is a lady.

If a woman wants a man to marry her, she must not make herself avail- able sexually. That wrecks a relationship. Besides, it is morally wrong. Under no circumstances should she live with a guy before marriage. She will probably wind up getting hurt and living to regret it. He will get what he wants, and she will get nothing. The number one reason men give for marrying late or not at all is because they can get everything they want— including love and sex—without commitment.14 A moral, self-respecting woman simply will not play that game.

If it becomes obvious that a guy is not going to commit, she should send him packing. Period! Don't argue with a jerk about it. Just cut him loose. Don't blame a guy if he is unmannerly and exploitative. Show him what you expect, and if he balks, move on—quickly. If he is a big drinker or uses illegal drugs, run from him. He is trouble on the hoof. Don't give him a beachhead in your heart. There is someone better out there for you if you set your standards high.

It comes down to this: the relationship between a man and a woman throughout their lives together, if indeed they do marry, will reflect the ground rules set by the woman when they are courting. She can change him then, but probably not after. She should not settle for anything less than what she needs emotionally. High on her list of priorities should be a mutual understanding about manners and morals. It is the way men and women have related to each other for thousands of years, and it still provides the basis for healthy families that are equipped to go the distance.

However, teaching girls to be ladies is not enough. We must also give them a strong biblical foundation from which morals and virtues can evolve. Our hope is that our daughters will someday pass along those verities to the next generation. No other priority comes close to this one in significance.

For now, it seems appropriate to return to the words of President John Adams, who gave this solemn charge to the nation's women. You'll recall that he said:

The foundations of national Morality must be laid in private Families. In vain are Schools, Academies and universities instituted if loose Principles and licentious habits are impressed upon Children in their earliest years. The Mothers are the earliest and most important Instructors of youth.15

It was true in 1778, and it is still true today.

14. Wendy Shalit, Girls Gone Mild: Young Women Reclaim Self-Respect and Find It's Not Bad to Be

Good (New York: Random House, 2007).

15. Adams, The Works of John Adams, 171.

Book: Bringing Up Girls

By Dr. James Dobson

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