Depending on where you are from, the word “Lady” has a certain connotation. I grew up in the late seventies/early eighties in a family that moved a lot. To me, “Lady” was a Kenny Rogers song, a room where women went to use the facilities, and the name my aunt had given to her dog. In some parts of the American South (and the North, too) being a Lady means that a woman carries herself in a way that does not bring shame to herself or others. In the United Kingdom, a Lady could actually be the female equivalent to a titled gentleman, or a Lord.
However, I think that it is widely accepted that Lady is a term of respect for a woman. Usually.
But something’s happened over the past 50 or so years; somewhere along the way, it became uncool to be ladylike. Maybe it was sometime during the opening of warships and other combat roles for women in the 1990s, the Title IX passage in the 1970s, or even the womens’ rights movement that commenced during the late 19th century. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t bemoan those wonderful movements, as I have benefited from them directly. As a single, divorced mother, my mom was able to buy a house under her name (thank you, Homestead Act of 1862 and Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974). In the mid-1990s, I was allowed the privilege to join the U.S. Navy; during that time, I was able to be part of the first generation of women who were allowed to serve on warships (in 1997 I had the privilege to meet the first enlisted woman who had served on an actual warship - I wish I remembered her name!)
But we women have lost some ladylike qualities. Before you jump to conclusions, I will not say that it is our femininity; even while I wore my dungaree uniform (and then utilities), I still wore feminine lingerie underneath. During time off duty, I wore as much pink as I could. I’m not the only one, either; we need to look no further than the awesome Williams sisters to see how high-level sports and femininity are combined.
What I think some of us have lost is the ability to empathize with other women. We’ve come to the conclusion that we have to act as manly as we can to be accepted. I know this because I practiced it. Because all of the male sailors I worked with could drive a stick; I went and bought a car that had manual transmission. A lot of them smoked (a lot of the women did, too), so I began to smoke (and quickly quit). Sailors - being sailors - cussed all of the time. I tried that on for size, as well. Many of them made jokes about women (while telling me that I was “cool” first). I accepted those as gospel, and repeated the same jokes. But then something surprising happened. I found my sympathy in the female berthing of the warship I was stationed on. In there, tough and hard women dropped their masks. We laughed with each other. We stopped cussing so much. We talked about perfume, dates, books, and what we would do after the Navy. It was almost as if when we walked through that door (hatch, technically speaking, but it wasn’t watertight) we left certain behaviors behind. One day, I realized I liked the berthing me better than I liked the “out of berthing” me. When it was my time to leave the Navy, I jumped at the chance to be able to be the most feminine, nicest version of myself as I could. For the most part, I’ve kept at it.
But I think there are other women out there who are unable to realize they are behaving in a way that cheats them and other women out of great friendships. I know why I did it - I had a misguided idea on how I had to behave in order to make it in the adult world. But not all misogynistic women wear military uniforms, sports uniforms, or business suits. Some of them are married to men who wear them. I’ve read their harsh commentary regarding feminine behavior such as dependence and vulnerability (against other women) in online military forums. Some of them have even commented on articles and essays that I’ve written. They have railed against active duty females, against female military spouses, and even against having friendships with other females because of “the drama” they bring.
I wonder why they do it. Do they think men will like them better if they insult women so much? Is there a man in their lives that makes them think so little of their own gender? Is it because they feel limited in their own roles - or even their own bodies? I don’t know where all of the anger comes from, but I wish that it would go away.
We women are excellent people to know. We especially make great friends to other women, because we have so much in common. But in order to get to a place where we can safely befriend each other, we need to behave as ladies would.
If I were in the position to describe what a lady should be, I would say this: a lady should be a kind person to herself and others. A lady should say what she means while taking the feelings of others into account. A lady thinks about the value of every single person she meets; she knows that every single person she encounters has walked an unique path. A lady knows that she can affect a person in a more effective way by asking questions and not making assumptions, as opposed to standing on a soapbox (or social media) while ranting on how good her opinion is and how every else’s opinion is flawed. But most important, a lady knows that wearing a mask is not a good idea; a lady knows that she should be her truest self in all exchanges she is a party to.
Perhaps I am judging too harshly here. Maybe the women who express themselves with such awful opinions are suffering the most. If so, I apologize. I welcome you to start a conversation with me on how it is I am misunderstanding you; I hope that you offer me the same courtesy while I do the same.
Photo Credit: Flickr