I've been thinking lately about what it means to be a lady thanks to a recent encounter I had at the gym.
Photo credit of Bess Georgette
I was on the stair machine when a woman, maybe in her mid to late 60's with a friendly face, approached me and told me how she had been following my blog and how much she enjoyed reading my posts. I was pleasantly surprised, both at her kindness & at the fact that someone was actually reading my blog regularly, given the fact that my readership at this point was somewhere around, say...5 maybe? (including my mom)
Then I was blindsided.
"Do you ever think, though, that you're sharing too much about your personal life? I mean, in my day it wasn't ladylike to broadcast your personal business like that."
And the passive-aggressive zinger award goes to...
Admittedly, this wasn't the first time I had heard concerns about sharing posts of a personal nature; however, my status as a lady had never been questioned directly to my face. I can't remember exactly what I said, as I was seriously caught off guard. Knowing me I probably tripped on a few stairs & said "umm I gotta pee...bye!" You know, something poised and composed that would have cemented my lady-like reputation.
Her question hovered over me for the better part of the rest of the day (ok, and maybe a few days after, too). My mom had raised me to be a lady--to have class--and the implication that I wasn't (albeit in some random person's eyes) made me feel ashamed. After a few days I grew tired of dwelling on the comment and realized
1) I better put on my big girl panties--if I was going to continue to put my work out there for the world to see, I would need to learn how to handle criticism and
2) it was time to really face what was bothering me about the comment so I could release it & stop allowing it to affect me.
Could it be that the reason it was bothering me was because there was some truth to her evaluation?
I had a feeling I knew what blog post she was referring to with her "sharing too much" comment. No post I've ever written got as much feedback as the one where I candidly shared the frustrations I sometimes feel trying to balance my roles as teacher, wife, & mother. My most personal post became my most read & shared, and I don't think that's an accident--I believe it was the open, honest nature of what I wrote that resonated with people. The feedback I received most was along the lines of "Thank you for saying everything we feel, but just don't have the nerve to say out loud!" To me, this comment implies that these women are also feeling this way but refrain from expressing it for fear of seeming ungrateful for their blessings or "unladylike" by venting about their personal lives.
I have to admit, any concerns I've ever heard from others about sharing my personal experiences out in public have always been from an older generation--that's not a criticism, simply an observation. I've yet to hear those concerns from anyone my age or younger. I think this may have something to do with the way sharing of personal information has changed over the years. My generation and those after are used to a world where we broadcast our personal news publicly. We go on Facebook to share our feelings, where we are, and what we're having for dinner. Now, I'm not saying this is "right"--I admit that I cringe at times over the private details that those my age and younger broadcast for all to see. But the fact is, the boundaries of what is viewed as socially acceptable information to share have loosened.
While I do believe those from my generation can share too much, I think one of the positives of this loosening of boundaries is that we are becoming a generation of truth-tellers who allow ourselves to be vulnerable in the hopes that others will relate and find some comfort. Check out some of the posts going viral today in the mom community and a good majority of them are about busting open the façade of "I have it all together", favoring vibes of community over competition. There's a growing number of female authors from my generation who I would consider educated, accomplished, and sophisticated such as Glennon Doyle Melton, Gabrielle Bernstein, and Brene Brown whose work defies the myth that to be a lady we have to stay quiet, small, and avoid telling the truth at all costs.
That being said, I also believe part of what it means to be a lady is to respect the boundaries of those we love and protect their privacy. I'll never forget the shame I felt from hurting my husband's feelings years ago by sharing a post on Facebook that was well-intended on my part but, to him, was too personal to broadcast online. I learned a valuable lesson: when our truth-telling involves disclosing personal situations involving our loved ones, it's only respectful to work alongside them to find a way to tell our truth while, at the same time, respecting their boundaries. This doesn't mean you necessarily have to filter yourself--you can share the gist of a story or experience while tweaking the details or keeping the characters anonymous. The point is, it's entirely possible to be authentic, yet still carry ourselves with class--there's nothing ladylike about hurting those we love.
Gym Lady got me thinking...with social media, is my generation losing touch with what it means to be a lady or, perhaps, should we change the way in which we define it? Maybe what it means to be a lady is evolving.
In order to consider this idea, one would first have to look at the traditional definition of what it means to be a lady. According to the etiquette blog What Would Mrs. King Do?, there are ten qualities that make a woman a lady. Some of these characteristics include:
I think most would agree that these qualities capture the traditional sense of what it means to be a lady. And, while I don't see anything wrong with possessing these qualities, what strikes me when looking over the list is how many of the descriptions are shallow in nature. They favor the appearance of being a lady over authenticity. In other words, to be a lady, what's important is the appearance that all is well, whether it really is or not. Perhaps this was easier at a time when taking care of the children and home were our primary responsibilities, but in an age when many of us are expected to manage these duties on top of the demands of working full-time, maybe women today are simply exhausted and fed up with trying to keep up appearances.
So this raises the question "what does it mean today to be a lady?" What characteristics would embody a more evolved definition? Here's a few ideas that came to mind for me:
What else would you add? Do you agree that maybe it's time to create a less judgmental view of what it means to be a lady--a definition that favors authenticity over appearance & community over competition? Or are we just lowering our standards to fit our own needs? I'd be interested to hear in the blog or social media comments.
As a side note, I'm not a fan of blanket statements or grouping "like" people together, as I think we're all unique and different, so please know in this post that I do not mean to imply that ALL from a particular generation are judgmental or that ALL from another generation are not...I know that's far from the truth. What I'm hoping to speak to here is the larger evolution of how we, as women, are growing and changing--opening up to each other more and judging each other less :)