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Books Teach Modern Women to Be 'Ladies'

A "lady" doesn't ask a man for a date, eat grits, forward joke e-mails or cuss at work — and she always knows which teams are playing in the Super Bowl.

According to the slew of new books on women's etiquette, a gal must follow the above rules or her reputation, and possibly her career and love life, will pay the price.

"Somehow as women moved forward the little things got left back. And those are the things that separate us from the masses," said Dini Von Mueffling, who with Noelle Cleary co-authored The Art and Power of Being a Lady.

In their book, Von Mueffling and Cleary say a lady takes care of her appearance and doesn't suffer through offensive remarks. They also speak with disdain of the "big shoulder-padded Dark Ages" that were the 1980s.

"When we started getting into upper management, the only cues we had to take were from the men who were in those positions previously. But there are many women known for the fact that their aggressive behavior worked against them," Von Mueffling said.

"We believe you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar," she added.

Candace Simpson-Giles, author of How to Be a Lady: A Contemporary Guide to Common Courtesy, agreed with Von Mueffling's workplace advice, citing the same flies-with-honey expression.

She also said that members of the opposite sex appreciate the effort.

"Many men have thanked me for writing this book," she said. "They say they feel overpowered by female aggression and would love to see more ladylike behavior."

Men may also approve of Giles' advice about football, which she says is such a big event that "ladies" can't ignore it.

"A well-rounded lady doesn't say she couldn't care less about a national pastime," she said.

All of the authors more or less agree that their books are part of a larger, "post-feminist" trend, in which women are enjoying their roles in the workplace but also reclaiming traditional roles.

"Women are realizing that girly things are OK, that they can be a good cook and good mother and a feminist too," said Honore McDonough Ervin, who with her co-author Lesley Carlin wrote Things You Need to Be Told: A Handbook for Polite Behavior in a Tacky, Rude World! and produces the Web site etiquettegrrls.com.

This well-intentioned advice, however, has not been well received by everyone.

Karla Mantilla, member of feminist news journal Off Our Backs, said the call for more ladylike behavior is "absolutely dangerous."

"These types of books prey on women's fears that unless they act a certain way they won't be liked or loved," she said. "You can't be committed to social justice and be ladylike."

The authors have also encountered accusations of snobbery. Giles was taken aback when the host of a Boston radio show said, "I can tell you right now I'm not a lady and I'm proud of it" during a live interview.

Ervin said these criticisms are due to the "misperception out there that having good manners is only for rich people," and said her advice for women, like not to eat grits or ask a man out on a date, gives people "the information they need to know regardless of income bracket."

Molly Wright Steenson, editor of the former feminist Web site Maximag.com, said the books are just part of yet another backlash against feminism.

"A lot of these books enforce stereotypes. One thing we have feminism to thank for is we don't need these rules. I can swear like a sailor, knit, garden and be an Internet consultant all at the same time," Steenson said, muttering the f-word as she watched her car get ticketed across the street.

"I want to be a woman, not a lady," she concluded.

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