Being a parent, you constantly re-examine everything you ever thought about everything. Some notions fade, some remain and become better understood, and others become redefined altogether. And, just as the idea of what makes a gentlemen bears reconsidering, so too, does the notion of what makes a lady.
The lady is the counterpart to the gentleman and the standards and expectations should be the same with one notable exception: a lady should be taught to own who she is, not hide it. Being pretty, subservient, and silent has as much to do with being a lady as machismo and repressed feelings has to do with being a gentleman.
Thankfully, this understanding has become more evident in society (e.g. Goldieblox now appears on the shelf as an alternative to either Barbie or Bratz), but it is a lesson we are still learning and should continue to teach our daughters.
As Shakespeare so brilliantly wrote:
to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man. (Hamlet)
Without being true to yourself, you cannot begin to be true to others. And if you can’t be true to others, the first step of being either a lady or gentlemen will be forever lost to you. That starting point to value the feelings of others.
When you value others’ feelings, then you truly listen and you choose your thoughts and speech accordingly. The end result is interaction that lifts both parties: you are richer for understanding them, and they feel good for being appreciated by you. It communicates not only sophistication, but maturity that everyone from friends and acquaintances to employers and employees place high value on.
But valuing others’ feelings never means subjugating your own. And teaching our daughters that society’s image of a lady is more important than their own self-image is not only misguided, it is unhealthy.
As a writer, one of my pet peeves is the damsel in distress. Beyond being an unhealthy female stereotype, the DiD is simply a bad character and lazy writing. Any character who waits around for another character to take action is no better than scenery or a prop. And I, for one, am neither writing furniture nor rearing it.
This is not to say that proficiency with place settings isn’t important. Knowing where the salad fork goes, being able to two-step, how to wear a gown have their place. However, until a young woman is comfortable in her own skin and allowed to be so, whether it’s fixing a car or a meal, she will never find her proper place in society.