A recent question posed on a discussion board made me think about what it means to be a "lady."
It seems that the person in question, a female person, was leaving a theater alone, at night, and as she is unmarried (or "a single female person"), one of the men at the play should have offered her an escort to her car, since that is what a "gentleman" does for a "lady."
While I can understand the need for safety, it occurs to me that if one is a modern, liberated sort of woman who freely goes somewhere alone, that free-wheeling liberal hippie left-wing humanist non-Fox-news-watching liberation doesn't miraculously stop at sunset, transforming this independent woman into a helpless mass of "lady."
In the olden days, a "lady" would have never been allowed to leave after dark without an escort, it is true. In the days when "lady" and "gentleman" really meant something, a "lady" would have never found herself in the situation of requiring an escort, because no "lady" would have gone by herself in the first place, and if there was a car, she certainly wouldn't have been driving it.
Here are some of the other things a "lady" could not do:
1. Show her ankles
2. Admit to a pregnancy; this meant staying home from about the 3 month mark until the chloroform wore off.
3. Go anywhere, at any time, alone
4. Wear clothing that hinted she might have two legs as opposed to one tubular appendage with miniscule, slippered feet attached.
5. Perform "in public" (be paid to perform)
6. Work (for money; most "ladies" did a great deal of work but were not paid)
7. Leave the house without the paper bag covering her head (Okay, I made that one up)
I don't know about you, but that list does not make me nostalgic for the days in which women of a certain social class and/or economic level were "ladies."
So, if we no longer are constrained by the shackles of the past, why do some people still expect the same courtesies? Women are fully capable of opening their own doors, picking up their own handkerchiefs, and walking into a room by themselves. Why do some women expect men to treat them as equals in the workplace, but expect to be catered to socially?
I'm not sure, but I believe the expression is, "To have one's cake on the pot with a horn of a petard."
Speaking personally, I don't really consider myself a "lady." I try to have good manners and treat other people with courtesy, but I definitely don't have the delicate sensibilities that the word "lady" brings to mind. I laugh when people pass gas. There, I said it. I am no lady. However, when a man does something nice for me, like opening a door, or offering to walk me to my car after dark, provided that it is a man I know, it's nice. I never expect it, certainly, but it is nice. I also extend those courtesies to others, regardless of gender.
When Sven offers to go and get the car and drive to the front to pick me up, I don't think, "Exactly as it should be," but "I have a wonderful husband." When a buddy walks me to my car after a church meeting, I'm not thinking, "He's doing his duty," but rather, "What a good friend."
What bothers me is the expectation. The entitlement. The attitude that any man who doesn't rush to the aid of every woman in his presence is somehow "not a gentleman." That may very well be true. But I can assure you, the woman making that accusation is no lady.
Provided she left her hoopskirts at home, of course.
So what do you think? What makes a woman a "lady" in 2010?
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