Social Sciences (2019-02-01)

Ladies, Gentlemen and Guys: The Gender Politics of Politeness

  • Sonam Pelden,
  • Elizabeth Reid Boyd,
  • Madalena Grobbelaar,
  • Kwadwo Adusei-Asante,
  • Lucy Hopkins

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 8, no. 2
p. 56


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Are there ladies and gentlemen in the 21st century? Do we need them? In the 20th century, lady became particularly unpopular with second wave feminists, who preferred ‘woman’. Gentleman was seen as similarly politically incorrect: class, race and culture bound. Following previous research on the word lady, we explore here some current evocations and debates around these words. We consider how the more casual, etymologically gendered term ‘guy’ has been utilized for men and women, and how it functions to reflect and obscure gender. While the return of the lady might be considered a consumer fad, a neo-conservative post-feminist backlash, or nostalgia for an elite ‘polite society’, it also offers an opportunity for a deeper discussion about civility as part of a broader conversation that is gaining impetus in the Western world. Politeness is personal and political. Whilst evidence for a comeback of the gentleman is limited, we critically consider the re-emergence of the lady as reflecting a deeper desire for applied sexual and social ethics. Such gender ethics have global, social and cultural ramifications that we ought not to underestimate. The desire for a culture of civility is gaining momentum as we are increasingly confronted with the violent consequences of a culture without it.