I consider myself a lady. And I was raised to be one. But I think there are quite a few misconceptions that go along with that title, and so I’d like to go into a more clear definition. It’s not as simple or superficial a term as you might believe.
(If there are any men reading this, you can easily just substitute “gentleman” for the word “lady” and read on. Or, hey, let me know if I should do a separate post for gentlemen).
Let’s address the biggest misconception right off the bat:
Especially if you’re from the South like I am, this may very well be the kind of image that comes to your head when you hear someone called a lady (or a young lady). Smiling and sweet, fairly modest–a gentle soul who wants to get married and have kids one day.
Well, yes, she’s a lady, sure. But she doesn’t represent what you have to be in order to be considered one. I think that mindset is actually quite stifling and harmful.
So, want to distinguish yourself as a true lady? Consider this post something of a speed course through finishing school.
- A lady is courteous
I’m starting with this one because it’s the most crucial. You could break just about every other rule and still be a lady if you are courteous. And let me spell out exactly what that means…
It means that you say things like please and thank you, obviously, but it there’s more to it than that. It also means that you make a conscious effort to make others feel at ease. If your waitress makes a mistake, be patient and understanding. If someone asks to be addressed in a certain way, oblige them without question. It’s not your place to make things harder for them. Don’t look down your nose at people.
If you make someone uncomfortable on purpose, you are no lady.
- A lady doesn’t swear (in front of children or the elderly)
Allow me to share a damning personal secret: I swear like a sailor. And I do it almost every single day. Terrible, terrible words. You may be shocked.
The difference is that I am selective about my company when I do. I have no desire to introduce someone’s child to colorful language, nor do I feel like being seen as the rebellious whipper-snapper. Rule of thumb: if it’s likely to offend someone’s sensibilities, try to hold back.
But censorship itself is a form of control, and one I can’t abide, especially as a writer. You have the right to think and speak as you see fit. If anyone ever tries to shame you, ever tries to make you believe that you’re worth less because of the way you talk, tell them to fuck right off.
- A lady is an ally
If it is within your power to defend others, it is your duty to do so. A lady’s heart is ruled by compassion.
Do not bully or degrade. Do not use slurs or engage in hate speech. Racism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. are never acceptable.
Look out for other women. Look out for those who are vulnerable. Learn to spot signs of abuse or neglect. Educate yourself about different people’s situations.
Sometimes a kind word can save a life. It’s a cruel world. You should be a safe harbor.
- A lady understands hospitality
Hospitality is actually an ancient concept, and one considered sacred by many cultures. In other words, it goes a lot deeper than being a “good hostess.”
The old Law of Hospitality dictated that a guest was under the protection of the host during their visit. Essentially, your home should be an extension of yourself. That is, a safe place. If you are ever in the position of having visitors, make a point to see that they are comfortable and have their needs met.
But remember that courtesy is a two-way street, and if a guest becomes unwelcome, it is within your rights to ask them to leave.
- A lady is poised and polished (when she wishes to be)
You don’t have to be elegant or graceful to deserve respect. That being said, most people want to make that kind of impression on occasion. Here are some tips:
- Don’t be in a hurry. If you’re rushing, you might trip. If you’re eating quickly, you might spill something. Practice moving deliberately.
- Maintain good posture. Consciously roll your shoulders back every once in awhile. If you always slump forward, you’ll develop a hunch as you get older.
- Sitting like a lady 101: Don’t cross your legs. Instead, cross your ankles. To do this properly, keep your right foot flat on the floor and cross your left behind it. Fold your hands in your lap as the finishing touch.
- Drinking with your pinky up isn’t necessary.
- Graciously accept compliments. A lady does not downgrade herself. A simple smile and ‘thank you’ will do.
- Ideal eyebrows are sisters, not twins. Don’t fuss with them too much.
- Pointing is rude. If you must point, use your pinky finger and be discrete.
- Work towards a good sense of balance. You don’t have to walk around with a book on your head, but things like yoga (or walking with a brimming mug of coffee like I often do) can help strengthen your poise.
- The fork always goes on the left. Knife and spoon on the right.
- Always be willing to learn new etiquette. Different cultures have different ways. Ask what is proper and then adhere to that.
- A lady dictates her own style
Part of being an adult is making your own choices. And when it comes to personal style, you get to decide what empowers you.
Now, to me, being empowered means exercising your freedoms and eradicating shame. Especially shame connected to one’s body–which women are subjected to all the time.
Here’s where we get into what a lady is supposed to look like…
If you are a courteous human being, if you do your best to be a pleasant addition to this world, then you are a lady. No one has the right to tell you what to look like. No one has the authority to demand modesty or a certain type of behavior from you.
Children get told what to wear and how to act. A grown woman is not a child.
Lady is a term used by our society to connect a woman with respect. I don’t dispute that. The only thing I dispute is the idea that being a lady is conditional, that the moniker can be stripped at any time as a consequence for not fitting the mold.
What exactly does it mean to be a woman worthy of respect?
Here is the usual mold: a demure, smiling, church-going virgin who has nice manners and never swears.
Women who fit that mold are certainly worthy of respect. But so are those who don’t.
And for all those women who don’t, allow me to give you the reassurance you absolutely deserve:
You are worthy of respect (the respect due to a lady). You don’t have to be modest. You don’t have to be quiet. You don’t have to be a Christian. You don’t have to want children. You don’t have to get married. You don’t have to be heterosexual. You don’t have to be feminine. You don’t have obey your husband. You don’t have to smile.
You can drink. You can get tattoos. You can have sexual desires. You can question the way things are. You can get a divorce. You can get piercings. You can get angry. You can be on your phone all day. You can stand up for yourself. You can be ambitious. You can dye your hair.
The people who look you up and down and decide that you’re not a lady are peasants. They have no authority over you, and they do not get to judge your worth. (If I’m sounding pretty aggressive in this portion of my post, just know that it’s on purpose).
The truth is that I can fit the mold if I want to. I turned out to be very naturally feminine, and I meet a lot of those typical gender stereotypes. But I know women who are ladies through and through, yet do not get treated with the same level of respect that I do. And why? Because they don’t meet someone’s arbitrary standards.
That will never be acceptable to me.
So if you are a lady by the proper standards (i.e. a decent human being), I hope you feel validated by my blog today.
And if you were ever unclear as to how to spot a lady (or discern which women deserve your respect and which don’t), I hope this has been educational.
All my love, you guys.
Have a beautiful week.