This is What a Lady Looks Like

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I’ve got an article that just went up over at NRO, “This is What a Lady Looks Like.” It’s a piece that has been clanging around in my head — every time I’ve gotten an email from the Feminist Majority touting these feminists tshirts, I’ve thought: We need an alternative. We need to reclaim the idea of being a lady.

So I finally wrote those thoughts down and big thanks to Kathryn for publishing it.

Here’s how the piece begins:

The Feminist Majority Foundation has some gift suggestions for “holiday” shopping. The raspberry pink t-shirt particularly caught my eye: “This is What a Feminist Looks Like.”

It comes in teen sizes, too, just right for a mom like me to give to her daughter. (There’s even a nifty “unisex” black version of the t-shirt for boys. But wait, isn’t that color-coding a little, well, sexist? Never mind.)

The t-shirt could be a companion gift to the Girls’ Book of Success from the “feminist books for young readers” section. With one-click, I could get my shopping done for my children.

If, of course, I wanted them to look like . . .a feminist.

What does a feminist look like? A picture of a party dress is making the rounds this Christmas season: a classy frock made entirely of colored condoms. It’s a wardrobe choice that helps a feminist express her “sex positivity” when she wants something a tad more dressy than her raspberry tee-shirt.

What does a feminist look like? The Oscar-winning actress, Geena Davis, provides a widely hailed vision of success for girls in her portrayal of the first female president in the ABC television series, Commander in Chief. The show is a thinly cloaked precursor to the Hillary ’08 campaign.

In an early episode, the president hears a rumor that her teenaged daughter has slept with her boyfriend. The mother confronts the daughter, but quickly reassures her: “It’s okay, honey, I wasn’t a virgin when I got married. . . ”

Message: Strong, successful girls/women reject traditional mores and conventions on the way to storming the gates of power and success.

It’s a sad irony that a movement that was supposed to elevate the position of women in society so frequently devolves into vulgarity and an obsession with indiscriminate sexual access and experimentation. Being a feminist in this century has required signing on to the project of defining-down feminine virtue.

But there is an alternative vision: Women used to pride themselves in being ladies. The concept involved a whole lot more than just avoiding white shoes after Labor Day and sitting with your knees together.

What does a lady look like?

For my answer, head on over to NRO — there are some other great Christmas articles: Carrie Lukas on Code Pink’s war on toys for boys. . . and Amy Welborn with a powerful reminder that the real Christmas story isn’t all holly, jolly and ho, ho, ho.

Then, if you have a minute, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the question: What does a lady look like?

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12 Responses

  1. Carol says:

    A true feminist is a woman who thinks for herself and doesn’t blindly follow any set agenda (Democratic or Republican, right to life or right to choose or any other agenda). I think Mary is a perfect example of a true feminist. She followed through with her convictions, regardless of societal pressures. So perhaps we should design a t-shirt with a drawing of Mary and the word “This is what a TRUE feminist looks like.” Instead of a hot pink, have it a true blue. (And not blue as in Democratic states, but light blue as in the color most often depicted as the color of Mary’s robes).

  2. A lady looks like whatever she pleases. However, she takes context and company into account when deciding such things. She accepts others’ right to disagree with her choices, and she insists on following her own initiative and conscience.

    You could put pop strumpet Madonna in a nineteenth-century Victorian gown and elbow-length gloves, and she still wouldn’t look like a lady. Inversely, Sabine Herold, the young French libertarian firebrand, would look entirely ladylike in a Brazilian crocheted bikini; she’d just reserve the privilege of seeing her garbed that way to a very small number, possibly zero.

    Attitude and carriage might not be everything, but between them they determine quite a lot.

  3. Al says:

    As a male, I am glad to see someone interested questioning the difference between a feminist and a lady.

    My perception of a feminist is a burn-your-bra, in-your-face, woman who is not interested in having a civil conversation or debates. Instead, she wants to yell her position, protest, and march at every opportunity. Its her way or else. She never wants help with anything.

    But a lady gets her point across more effectively through her mental toughness and savy. Ladies are respected, and their opinions valued. No need to scream, because that would lower the lady to the level of the opponent. Ladies are polite.

    I have had several ladies in my life…mother, grandmothers, aunts, and wife. I would do anything they ask of me. Not out of fear, but out of respect and love.

    Other ladies I encounter, I treat nicely because they are ladies. And true ladies deserve to be treated with respect.

    Ladies are strong of mind and wise. A true lady is a joy to be around!

    Al

  4. Liza Kittle says:

    As a former radical feminist for my early adult life I can attest to the fact that it represents a life that leads to nowhere. A feminist is only concerned with self–self-fulfillment, sel-reliance, self-ish behavior, self-enlightenment…a life lived from within that is not motivated by or concerned with the people around them.

    When I came to know Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I hope I became a lady. A person who tries to put others before self and is motivated fully by the guiding presence of the Holy Spirit. From radical selfishness to radical obedience, I pray my life is a living sacrifice filled with purpose and meaning. A lady isn’t threatened by her place in God’s majestic plan–the last will be first, the least will reap the most. Oh, that more women would aspire to be ladies of the Lord instead of feminists of the fools. I pray it will be so.

  5. claudia says:

    Charmaine,

    I loved your NRO piece on what a lady looks like. I agree that we need to redefine what feminism is and should be for the younger women still learning from women studies programs and living with their failed agendas.Young women dont buy the crap, and thats a good thing. But woman old or young still need direction on balancing freedom with responsibilities that make for a life of meaning and fullfillment.

    Certainly, as you point out, both Maggie Thatcher and Mary herself are top examples of women working out their chosen destinies. Maggie transformed a nation in economic and cultural decline, and faced with choices, embraced the truth and it set Britain on a new more principled and prosperous path.

    As for Mary, she too faced with choices, embraced her fate, believing that what she knew to be true was going to transform society forever. Scripture says she hid things in her heart while she worked boldly and resolutely toward the outcome of that life formed within her.The Enemy both spiritual and political knew it had to kill what she would deliver. After her Son appeared in a confrontation with spiritual leaders at 12, did he disappear until 30 to manifest his ministry. And, after confronting political forces by entering Jerusalem as a new Authority and King did those forces work to see him dead in a week.

    We women need to continue to work for freedom, justice, seek the facts not emotion in science and the law, and learn to love more on top of it.

    As for me–this week i was in an DC elevator wearing a big fur hat, a long leather coat, a rabbit ball neck scarve, and fur mittens when Smeal, NARAL’s head, and Kim Gandy (NOW) entered. Smeal remarked, “how many dead animals are you wearing?” I replied, “well they are all dead, and i saw to it they died to make me warmer than you.”

    I laughed, they cringed, and i wished them Merry Christmas…as they all filed out to the DC streets in the cold.

    Merry Christmas Eleanor, Kim and the rest. You are so over.

  6. Susie says:

    I enjoyed your column. It brought tears to my eyes! I too am inspired by Mary’s example. I’ve been reading the scriptures to my children during Advent and found her response to the angel’s message deeply convicting. “I am the Lord’s handmaiden.”

    God grant that I grow to be such a lady.

  7. Feminist says:

    This may sound like the tried and true, but the point of feminism wasn’t bra-burning or man-hating. (does bra-burning even happen anywhere anymore?) The point was to provide women with choices, meaning, not only stop discrimination in the job market, but to create an environment in which no matter what choice a woman makes about her life, professional or personal, she will not be scorned for that choice. What I mean is that feminism wasn’t about forcing every woman in the world to have multiple sex parters, etc. It was about choice: if you want to stay chaste until you are married, good for you, but if you want to lose your virginity earlier, we’re not going to call you “damaged good” or “fallen” or cast you out of society.

    The author doesn’t talk about “masculine virture”, because traditional morals do not hold men to any sexual standard, while women are held to the strictest – chastity until marriage. I think that the whole concept of feminine virture evolved to give women at least some sort of leverage and power with the men they interacted with. If the woman was her husband’s property (which she was until about 100 years ago, the crime of rape was considered very severe because it was the ultimate invasion of a man’s property) and she could not earn money for herself, she had no bargaining power in any decisions he made for her. The only thing she had any power over was her own morals and virtue, and she maneuvered that into lever of power by claiming to be more moral than the man.

    The point is, feminine virtue isn’t necessary if you have a job and own your own money, etc. If you have other bargaining power, you don’t need to maneuver your “virtue” to get stuff to go the way you want to.

    What i find particularly contradictory here is that part of the traditional definition of “feminine virtue” is that a lady is demure and polite, and doesn’t really have her own opinions on anything. yet, the author thinks that it’s totally appropriate to extoll her views and put down others’ on her blog, which everyone can read and comment on. The fact that society views her opinions as worthwhile and valid and more than just girly chatter is not thanks to feminine virtue, it’s thanks to feminism.

  8. charmaine says:

    The author doesn’t talk about “masculine virture”, because traditional morals do not hold men to any sexual standard, while women are held to the strictest – chastity until marriage.

    I didn’t talk about “masculine virtue” in this piece because you can only cover so many topics in one piece. You are quite wrong about traditional understandings of virtue — chastity is a virtue that applies to both men and women. Sure there are some cultural traditions that hold to a double standard. But not all.

    The point is, feminine virtue isn’t necessary if you have a job and own your own money, etc. If you have other bargaining power, you don’t need to maneuver your “virtue” to get stuff to go the way you want to.

    Wow. Virtue isn’t “necessary?” Virtue isn’t about “getting stuff”; it’s about who you are, as a person.

  9. Jane says:

    Excellent article, Charmaine. You hit the nail right on the head. I want to be a lady, as Carol put it a ‘true’ feminist, like Mary. I have not watched the Geena Davis show but the conversation you refer to between her and her daughter is appalling. No wonder young girls do not value their virginity. I so enjoy your blog and learn a great deal. Keep up the good work and have a wonderful Christmas.

  10. LeCastor says:

    I didn’t talk about “masculine virtue” in this piece because you can only cover so many topics in one piece. You are quite wrong about traditional understandings of virtue — chastity is a virtue that applies to both men and women. Sure there are some cultural traditions that hold to a double standard. But not all.

    i think that in our society, the US, we have a lively dialogue at the moment about this very same double standard — about how society views promiscious women negatively, and promiscious men either neutrally (he’s just sowing his oats) or positively (that’s what GUYS do!). Also, i think you’re hiding behind your terms. Does “traditional understandings of virtue” apply to a strictly chirstian tradition or just general “olden days of yore”?

    Wow. Virtue isn’t “necessary?” Virtue isn’t about “getting stuff”; it’s about who you are, as a person.

    Perhaps i didn’t exlain what i mean. In your aticle, you attack feminism in general and tell us that it’s bad to be feminist because it brings women down instead of holding them up. You tell us why it’s bad to be a feminist (the disadvantages).

    However, when you talk about being a virtuous woman, you only describe some virtuous women, and you don’t address at all why being a “virtuous lady” has been so appealling for women throughout history. Your choice of the Iron Lady is especially puzzling — just because she didn’t wear midriff bearing shirts and curse in public does not make her a virtuous lady. She was pretty vicicous, backstabbing and opportunisitic as any Machiavellian man.

    Anyway, what i was trying to explain was to uncover the reasons why women wanted in the “olden days” to be virtuous. If being virtuous is just about who you are, and not about power, then why didn’t men, in the olden days, feel the very same pressure from themselves and others to be virtuous? this is a strictly female preoccupation, and i tried to describe why.

    On a more general point, i think that societies that hold women on dainty pedestals and hold them to very strict codes of virtue are usually the most repressive for women. Case in point, everyone’s favorite, Saudi Arabia, where one reason for wearing the burka is purportedly because the woman is so holy and wonderful that we don’t want any men getting ideas.

    Another good era was the Victorian era in england, where upper class women were stuffed into their townhouses and denied any credibility because women are such the paragons of morality and virtue and are so frail and delicate that they shouldn’t even go outside to see the filthy world, and therefore, their opinions don’t matter. The fainting couch was popular back then, and as i’m sure you’re aware, for men, the brothel and veneral disesase were the most coolest items. Ironic, no? Why weren’t the men in a virtuous frenzy?

    This is a fantastic book on many topics, and it does address the history of “women’s virtue” and how that usually works out (not well for women):

    Sex in History (Paperback)

    by Reay Tannahill

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0812885406/qid=1135699987/sr=8-1/ref=pd_bbs_1/102-4980142-5417739?n=507846&s=books&v=glance

  11. Donna says:

    A real feminist doesn’t have to advertise…

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