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The use of phrase "I treat you like a lady" is hypocritical in the modern western society

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 11/18/2014 Category: Society
Updated: 1 year ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 621 times Debate No: 65409
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (4)
Votes (1)




A friend of mine recently told me "I treated you like a lady", while referring to a welcome I received at her house one evening.
I claim, that the use of the phrase"I treated you like a lady" is hypocritical in the context of a modern western society.

The term lady is outdated and refers to women of high social class largely before the beginning of the 20th century. Thus, modern westerners (of any gender) do not have a practical day-to-day understanding of what it means to be a lady, as they were not brought up in the social structures that used it consistently.

The term "lady" is mostly known to us from a romantic literature and movies with medieval topics. The term and the phrase are idealised and irrelevant to the modern context.

Thus, any modern Westerner, who uses the phrase "I treated you like a lady" is hypocritical because she/he does not have a practical understanding of the term and consciously or unconsciously attempts make him/herself and others believe that they treated a woman at exceptional romanticized standards, that in actual fact they do not possess.


I agree that the term "lady" refers to status, but I don't think it's outdated in the way Pro's friend used it. To say she treated Pro "like a lady" means that she treated her with the respect due to a woman of high status. Most people would know what she means, and that is an indication that the term is still in current use.

Status still exists in our society. There are people are of high and low status who are treated accordingly. Therefore the concept of treating a guest to your house respectfully and appropriately for their status is not outdated.

hypocritical: pretense of having virtues, beliefs,principles, etc., that one does not actually possess (1)

To win this debate, Pro needs to show that her friend is pretending to have beliefs that she doesn't actually have. In particular, she needs to show that her friend didn't really think she was treating Pro as a high status woman.

Debate Round No. 1


"Now I like openin' doors
Pickin' up (Yeah) her hanky (Yeah) off the floor
Treat her like a lady (Treat her like lady)
Light her cigarette if she smokes
Even (Help her with her coat), well
Treat her like a lady (Treat her like lady)"

So goes one oldie song. And this is another illustrative example I use apart from the story from my friend. I'd like to keep the discussion within the context of society at large.

We can discuss what a lady means. But in the context of a phrase "treat like a lady" has a special meaning. It's mostly related to an old cultural tradition where a woman is generally regarded as a fair sex (also weak, unable, to put a coat on, or to open the doors for herself - hey I can even agree with this - with the dresses of the 18th century it was difficult indeed.)

The phrase has roots in the times of greater social and economic inequality among men and women. Now in modern Western society we base our social structures and communications on the prevailing principles of democracy and equality, including equality between genders,, even if it's still a work in progress. It has been the main narrative from media for the past 50 years. People under this age have been raised in this period (majority of the population, I would guess).

On the other hand, some of the cultural remains and terms of the old system linger. According to the social psychologist, it's could be 40 years or more when the cultural traditions outlive its practical usefullness and context and still continue to be found in the society.

As a result, modern Westerners find themselves at odds with the reality of the situation - aim to equality of sexes on one hand, and all cultural terms and misplaced meanings on the other. This is why, in my opinion, a modern Westerner, can not full heartedly use the expression "treat you like a lady" and not been torn between two opposing views of the social system.

Furthermore, why use this term at all? Why not use I treated you with respect? I went out of my way to make sure you feel good? I treated you like a very good friend? - all these terms are much more relevant and easily understood in the modern context.

Apart from that, I want to thank my first oponent on the site and let's find the truth!


I'm surprised that Pro has referred to gender inequality when the example she gave was of a woman saying that she treated my opponent "like a lady". We might interpret the comment as being about gender: she treated Pro like a lady [rather than like a gentleman]. But of course, unless Pro's gender is in question, or there was some explicit reason to compare her with men, it seems unlikely that Pro's friend was making a distinction, but was referring only to class. That is, she was treating Pro like a lady, rather than like a common woman, skank, tramp, or hag.

The distinction is one illustrated best by the fairytale The Princess and the Pea. In the tale, the Princess cannot sleep because there is a pea under a pile of mattresses and it disturbs her. A common wench would not have minded a pea, obviously, and would probably have slept comfortably on a sack of nails. Along these lines, then, I think to treat someone like a lady means getting out the best plates, because a lady would be offended by crude designs or chipped crockery, and fussing about with details such as flowers, presentation, good wine, etc. This is not about distinguishing men from women. It's about distinguishing ladies from the commoners.

Pro objects that the term "lady" is outdated, and yet I challenge her to provide a modern term that encompasses this idea of delicate and refined treatment. You could say, "I treated her like a princess," but it's not ideal because it might imply that her guest behaved like a "princess" which is not very complimentary. Please compare these definitions of "princess" and "lady" from urbandictionary:

Princess: (1)
A girl that has been pampered, sheltered and spoiled her whole life to the extent that she has no friggin idea about the real world.

a girl who is stuck-up, snobby, and thinks she's perfect, but actually she's annoying and you wanna slap her

Lady: (2)
a masterpeice created by god...
One of the best things in the world. A female who you really care about.
An elegant and good-hearted woman who uses her femininity in the most dignified and endearing way possible.


In some circumstances, it could be hypocritical to talk about being treated like a lady. For example, a radical feminist who spent all day railing against the patriarchy and sexism would be hypocritical if she complained that her boyfriend wasn't treating her "like a lady" because it would imply that she wanted special treatment which would be in direct contradiction with her stated principles.

However, Pro is arguing that ANY westerner who uses the phrase is being hypocritical. However, a woman treating another woman "like a lady" is not necessarily being hypocritical because she may mean the term to differentiate between classy refined treatment and coarse common treatment.

In any case, a lot of people are anti-feminist. On this site alone, there are scores of people who advocate for gender roles (for example (3)), and for them to use terms such as "lady" would be entirely consistent with their stated principles, and so it would not be hypocritical for them.

Apart from that, I'm honored to be part of Pro's first debate on this site, welcome, and thank you for initiating this interesting topic.

Debate Round No. 2



Thank you for elaborating your point of view further.

You mentioned, that in your view, people who subscribe to anti-feminist and anti-egalitarian points cannot be hypocritical in using a phrase "I treat you like a lady".

I ask a question: why would people use this phrase? In my view, it's instrumental. Unnecessary, exagerrated and decorative signs of attention in small trivial things associated with being a proper gentleman or lady themselves in treating another person.
What do people want? I argue, that they want to:

-be proper, thus acting in accordance with societal conditioning which devides everything into proper and improper, acceptable and not acceptable - just as their parents told them to do when they were kids.
-using the term "lady" also elevates them into a setting where they consider themselves "a lady" or "a gentleman", thus psychologically raising their status in their eyes (even if the status is anachronistic)
-get certain results and favours from the person who they refer to as "a lady". Be it sexual favours, a feeling of guilt, or a feeling of being obliged for all of the "treating like lady".

I believe, that "treating like a lady" refers to a particular play, a role that two people are supposed to play, thus making someone who uses the phrase to achieve either emotional satisfaction or other rewards.

This is where hypocrisy lies - in manipulation.
This is why I believe that the use of the term "I treat you like a lady" is hypocritical in a context of a modern western society.

We stopped wearing dresses and suits of the 19th century, riding horses, and going to a post office to send a telegram to a friend. Even if we do it for masquerades and themed parties once a year, it's a game, not a real thing. It's time to stop masquerading with words and start living and having open communication by saying what we really want.


Thank you to Pro for this debate.

Pro said: "What do people want? I argue, that they want to:

-be proper, thus acting in accordance with societal conditioning which devides everything into proper and improper, acceptable and not acceptable - just as their parents told them to do when they were kids.

Yes indeed. There is good and bad behavior, with its subtle insistence on hierarchy and status. I wouldn't say that this is hypocritical unless people are insisting that there is no class difference. However, using words such as "lady" seems to recognize these distinctions, which is not then hypocritical.

-using the term "lady" also elevates them into a setting where they consider themselves "a lady" or "a gentleman", thus psychologically raising their status in their eyes (even if the status is anachronistic)

I disagree with this. I don't think that saying you are treating someone "like a lady" is implying that you, the speaker, are a lady. Or even that they are a lady. Rather, that you are treating them in a way that a lady would be treated.

Consider the phrase, "she treated me like a dog". There is no implication that "she" is a dog herself or even that the speaker is a dog - only that he was treated in a manner that is usually reserved for dogs.

It's a comparison, and a description. That's why it doesn't really matter if society has moved on from the days of ladies and gentlemen. Companies can treat employees like serfs. Men can have chest hair like woolly mammoths. It's the idea that matters.

-get certain results and favours from the person who they refer to as "a lady". Be it sexual favours, a feeling of guilt, or a feeling of being obliged for all of the "treating like lady"."

I don't know enough about social history to know if people treated ladies well in the olden days because they wanted something from them. It seems highly likely though, especially the middle and lower classes who probably wanted her patronage, cachet and money. Therefore, I don't think it's necessarily hypocritical to say you're treating someone like a lady when you want something from her.

Pro argues that treating someone "like a lady" is manipulative. This may be so. Most of our social actions are intended to affect others and to elicit responses from them. This is different from being hypocritical, which means pretending to be something you are not, especially pretending to have virtues that you don't have. It would be hypocritical to say you treated someone like a lady if you obliged her to sit on a dirty floor and eat meat with her bare hands, for example. One might argue - as early feminists did - that society itself was manipulating higher class women to be too dependent and refined and thereby was reducing their scope of activity and influence. Therefore, it is entirely consistent to be treating someone like a lady in order to gain influence over them in some way.

We know what it means to treat someone "like a lady". It means to treat a woman in a polite, respectful way that it suitable for a high status woman. That is the idea, and as words are used to communicate ideas, it is not hypocritical to use those words if that is what you mean.
Debate Round No. 3
4 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 4 records.
Posted by wrichcirw 1 year ago
Anachronistic, maybe. Hypocritical? I don't think that's the right word to use.
Posted by kbub 1 year ago
Fair enough! Sounds justified to me.
Posted by Pfalcon1318 1 year ago
Do you even know what "hypocritical" means?
Posted by Harold_Lloyd 1 year ago
I won't debate it, but I disagree with it.

Being raised as a Southern boy, I was taught to respect and show good manners to everyone, but especially those of the fairer sex.

I just don't believe you can logically think of 'modern western society' as any sort of unified culture, and any statement you make about it will be so riddled with exceptions that it becomes useless.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by FaustianJustice 1 year ago
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Total points awarded:06 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro just failed to tie together the case. I don't fully understand the reasoning behind the premise that was presented, and what was stated is subject to great speculation and informed opinion. Con was able to make a good case for common parlance (sp?).