Lost Gems: Being Ladylike

I often refer to my cat, Myra, as “Dainty Princess Goals”; I’ve honestly never met a Cat so prim and proper… But I think the world could likely learn a thing or two from her.

In How to Be All Classy and Shit, DGGYST talked about the concept of class- and who she thought was the classiest person she knew.

After thinking about it for exactly two seconds, I did what I always do when this subject comes up: I commented that, when I think of class, I’m always reminded of women like Grace Kelly and Dita Von Teese; women who are businesswomen and who exude confidence and intimate self knowledge… But also Women who have integrity and stand by their values even when it’s inconvenient to do so. Women who don’t turn their nose up at others for lacking what they have. Who have something of value to offer the world; who do what they can to make the world a better place in their own little ways- and do it while being immaculately dressed, to boot.

A lot went unmentioned, though. Like how her post reminds me of something I said forever ago about ladyship… How the concept of “having Class” is an integral element of “being ladylike”… Or how these are also two Women I consider ladies– and so, quite hilariously, is my cat Myra.

Myra is a beautiful Chocolate Point Siamese that my Husband and I rescued from a shelter 4 years ago (boy how time flies).

She’s quiet, doesn’t chitter at the birds in the bird feeder, and gets grumpy when others are too loud; she also knows the appropriate time to play vs the appropriate time to sleep (or eat), and she’d never climb you like a tree- unlike some cats she could mention; she likes her pets and won’t take no for an answer, but she’s also considerate about how she gets them from you- and whether or not her kneading hurts (she tries to be gentle. She really does); she’s careful about where she steps, what she knocks over, and when she’s in your personal space; but she’s also not afraid to knock you on your ass with a well placed paw if you’re being rude.

I love Myra… Myra is #DaintyPrincessGoals and if she were a human? She’d no doubt be one of those perfect Victorian ladies of the olden days; the ones who are meticulously dressed, have the best manners, and know all the social etiquettes like the back of their hand (and wouldn’t be caught dead violating any of them).

The world could learn a lot from her.

When people hear the words Lady and Ladylike, though, their response usually falls into one of two categories: Haters and Romanticists- both of which come with their own unique set of problems. I could care less which camp you fall into, however… What interests me more is what it actually is. And what it is for most, is fucking complicated.

“Being a Lady” and “Having Class” are two things that are hard to pin down; with near absolute certainty, the majority of us know instantly when we’ve met someone who fits the qualifications. We flock to them when we find them- and for good reason: We like the way they make everyone feel special, how they appear to be compassionate and empathetic, and how they care for their fellow human beings. We like how they epitomize a certain timeless beauty and grace, how they’re well read and excellent conversationalists, and more.

But when pressed to define what any of those traits that make them “ladylike” or “classy” actually are? We’re usually left flabbergasted and largely without an answer to the question… Hell, not even the Dictionary seems to be able to pin it down in any concrete manner despite trying- and oh, it does try.

Despite being so nearly impossible to pin down, however… When you look online, article upon article, upon article, upon article, upon article still talks about the “requirements” for being a Lady. What’s particularly interesting to me, though, is how almost all of them focus near exclusively on how a Woman should dress and care for herself above all else; very rarely do any of these articles ever actually pay attention to the behavior that makes someone a lady- and when behavior does get the rare spotlight, it’s hardly a positive one.

But all these articles miss the mark entirely.

See, I’ve been giving the term ladylike some significant thought over the last few years. In doing so, I’ve come to a couple important conclusions about it: Firstly is that people now a days have quite a strange view of what a lady actually is- and what “being a lady” actually means… And secondly, that the concept of ladyship we subscribe to today is about as far removed from its historical employment as a tree is from a frog.

But if being a lady isn’t about how you do your hair, dress yourself, or do your makeup. If it isn’t about being a #GirlBoss, having leadership skills, or being confident. If it isn’t about being meek, or quiet, or a doormat for everyone else. Hell, if it isn’t even about the language you use, the subjects you understand, or following specific arbitrary social rules concerning things like how to set a damned table… Then what on Earth can it possibly be about?

The answer lies in stripping ladyship of all the surface fluff and figuring out what the hell lies at its core. And for that, you need to go back to history.

Ignoring its uses as a ranked title in Monarchies… To break it down simply, the terms lady and ladylike (or, alternatively, ladily) were used as early as the 1400’s to refer to “a woman whose manners and sensibilities befit her for high rank in society”. Now a days the definition is still pretty similar: “a woman of refinement and gentle manners; a courteous, decorous, or genteel woman”; the same can be said for ladylike: “behavior appropriate for or typical of a well-bred, decorous woman”.

To understand this, however, you have to understand that all social groups throughout history have always had written (and unwritten) agreements to abide by certain (sometime strict) rules which govern their behavior; rules which define what behavior is appropriate or inappropriate in any given circumstance- and sometimes, even, depending on your social rank.

That system? Social Contract.
Its rules? Etiquette.
Abiding by them? Manners.
Being adept at abiding by them? Social Grace.

The concept of social contracts, manners, etiquette, and social grace… Even the idea that there’s such a thing as “appropriate behavior”… All of it dates back practically to the dawn of human civilization; the first written records of what we would consider an Etiquette Manual today was a document written by Ptahhotep- an Ancient Egyptian Vizier- in C. 2400 BCE… So while the concept of being a lady is quite a modern one in the grand scheme of history? The idea of social grace in general isn’t a new concept at all.

The specific ideas we subscribe to today, though, are a heavy hitting holdover from the fact that lower ranking social groups have historically attempted to emulate the behavior of the highest ranked in society: People who’ve historically been pretty fucking snobby if you didn’t meet their expectations where it concerned manners (but especially if you were poor, lesser, or just lower ranked than them in general), and had some of the strictest rules meant to set them apart from those that were “lower” than them; if you didn’t meet those expectations, they considered you things like “uncultured”, or “unladylike”- and being ladylike and cultured was… Well… Pretty essential to maintaining your social status in a number of ways.

Of course, we don’t live in a society where the rich lord over the peasants and those low on the socioeconomic food chain attempt to emulate those higher up (or do we?). You probably won’t lose your social status, either, if you decide to buck all your group’s social rules (or will you?)… But- shockingly to some, maybe- these concepts of Manners (or behavior toward others which reflects polite consideration, kindness, and respect) and Etiquette (or a code of social conduct meant to facilitate positive interaction, based on cultural ideas of social acceptability) still sit at the core of ladyship.

In other words, it’s actually quite clear that being a lady is about so much more than how you dress or whether or not you’re confident… It’s about how those things impact those around you; recognizing that your behavior, your words, and (yes) even your manner of dress impacts people other than yourself. More than that, means treating each person with the dignity and respect that a person deserves; it’s understanding that social contracts mean something, and that etiquette and manners have value in society- and respecting your fellow Human Beings enough to view them as worthy of employing it.

Despite all of this, however, the rules aren’t steadfast… How you get there can vary wildly from France to India, to the Amazonian Rainforest- and from the Edwardian Era, to the Victorian, and even the Byzantium. It can also vary from Outdoorsmen to CEO’s, Bloggers, and even Parents. This is because the rules dictated by Social Contracts depend on several important factors: Culture, Era, Social Group, and even Generation; each of those have their own opinions as to what’s appropriate or not- or their own Social Contracts. As a result, what can make you “a lady” to one can easily make you crass and vulgar to another.

Regardless of how it’s achieved, though, the ultimate goal isn’t selfish or vapid… It’s actually fairly selfless because you’re putting the safety, stability, and wellbeing of your group above your personal desires to be a hot, selfish, mean ass fucking mess (emotionally, behaviorally, and even physically)… And while that can sometimes manifest itself in a number of incredibly toxic ways? It’s not inherently- or always- necessarily a bad thing.

I do think it’s a commendable goal which inherently requires several traits- like a willingness to invest in your personal hygiene…. Maturity, personal responsibility, reliability, integrity, and fairness… Empathy, compassion, sympathy, sincerity, and understanding. Gratitude, grace, and humility… A willingness to give back to society, respect for your fellow people, and so on; when you strip everything down to its core, it’s arguably the presence- or lack- of these traits that really determine whether or not someone’s “a Lady” (or, conversely, a Gentleman).

It’s hard not to argue that we could all use a little more of that in our lives; it’s a far more valuable trait than people will ever give it credit for- especially in a world that values selfishness to the near point of toxicity.

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6 thoughts on “Lost Gems: Being Ladylike

  1. Kelly Koutahi says:

    I think “being a lady” primarily means to be a leader in exemplifying the behavior that a particular society thinks is right. However, the particular society is based in geography, culture, and time. So one of my favorite “ladies” of all time, Jackie Kennedy, fit this definition in her time. But now, in my time, her acceptance of her philandering husband seems not ladylike to me. It is definitely indefinite, this trying to define what “ladylike” means!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anna B. says:

      I don’t think the definitions are indefinite at all; when you look at what ladylike has entailed through every era, yes. The specific social rules followed are different each time. BUT. The core foundation of respect for fellow human beings, manners, etiquette, and social responsibility have remained the same regardless of era. So a true and genuine Lady isn’t any specific individual behavior… It’s a recognition and understanding of, respect for, and participation in the social contract of your current era / community / group.


  2. juliekmccomas says:

    So, I tried to be lady like. Honestly, I do. But it doesn’t matter how well I’m dressed, or how sophisticated my actions (HA), my mouth always seems to get in the way. I have a few things to work on! Great thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

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