As little girls we are socialized into manifesting certain graces in our speech, gestures, body language and general deportment; despite the collapse of the archaic finishing school concept.
Specific refined behaviours were formerly exclusive to the wheel house of the rich or at least bourgeoisie, yet even the less fortunate would strive to properly groom their children, particularly girls – as some would call it – providing home training. This meant that some things were explicitly stated and the dos and don’ts were clearly outlined, while other things were only mentioned when you erred along those lines.
So we were taught to sit, stand and walk a certain way, groom ourselves, style our hair and of course not commit the thousands of atrocities vile enough to label us as unladylike. I am not ashamed to say that I drank the kool-aid and took great pains to be a proper young lady of some ‘class’ and ‘upbringing’ – despite the unlikely environment in which I was raised. My various mentors all seemed to unanimously agree on the required rules and regulations of ladylike behaviour and ensured that I obeyed them.
Of course, I excelled in some areas and failed in a few. While I could eloquently express myself, I did it too often and with too strong an opinion and while I mastered a good stride, my posture is terrible beyond words.
But what does “act like a lady” mean in our modern society. Our elders and mothers taught us to be demure and charming and our mentors urge us to “lean in”. Then what happens when the two schools of thought collide?
I am a feminist and believe wholeheartedly in the concept of equality between the sexes. My question is – can I then still expect to maintain some level of ladylike decorum? My thinking is yes, surely we can be equal and different. Thereby respecting our differences without exploiting any perceived weaknesses.
I believe that allowing a man to open the door for me, pull out my chair or demonstrating any characteristics of genuine feminine deportment does not lessen my stance as a feminist. In the same way that speaking my mind, punctuated by the occasional swear word and sincere passion does not in any way take away from me being ladylike.
In essence, our concept of ladylike behaviour must evolve to include modern concepts and attitudes. Certainly, there are vulgarities and obscene behaviours that should not be tolerated but instead of suggesting that such things are unladylike – how about removing the gender restrictions and calling them what they are – ignorant, boorish and rude – even if the offender is female.
Instead, let’s look at acting like a lady in its most positive light – not as a recrimination of the female sex but as a gentle vastitude of the subtleties of femininity that provides pulchritude, allude and elegance to an otherwise dull and churlish world.
To summate, I am a lady in so much as I am female but do I act like one? That can only be determined in the eye of the beholder. I ask only that you not judge me too harshly as I straddle the legacy of my elders and the teachings of my empowered mentors.