In my spare time over Christmas break, I went through some of Clare's old posts in the "Beauty and Femininity" category. As I've reflected over my last year, specifically my time in college (oh, I know that seems to be all that I write about now, but I can't help it -- it is basically my life now), I realize how very different it is. I was home schooled in my little bubble for 5 years. And in that time was my greatest Faith formation and development of my conscience, morals, and ideals. I feel very blessed that on God's nudging, I went and sought out resources that would help me deepen my Faith and form my feminine ideals. I read multiple perspectives, lives of Saints, began journalling (although that didn't last as long as I'd hoped), and compared to how I could have turned out, feel very grateful indeed for the time I had at home.
And I feel my new challenge is figuring out how to apply these picture-book pieces of advice to a very real world at my school. There's still a "college bubble," but it is very different and I am pretty much thrust into the "real world." Being a lady is a very radical idea--maybe not so radical as at other liberal schools, but still the traditional worldview is not something most girls share. I'm at a school with very empowered women, and the fact that I'm not a feminist is unusual. So, my challenge is how to be an empowered woman, and still be a lady too, amidst many women who are far from exemplifying that ideal of a lady.
I wanted to share some ideas that I've learned from personal experience, in a "confessions" format, about applying some of these ideals to a worldly setting.
Don't put yourself above others: I've been bullied before, because other girls have thought I put on airs, thought that I believed myself better than others. Even if I never thought such a thing, pride is such an easy vice to set in, and we can never be prideful. Rule #1 of being a lady. So, around other women who act far from how you would, we shouldn't gossip about them or look down on them. This may be one of the hardest applications of "love thy neighbor," but it needs to be done. We can see those girls and know we'll never be like them, but that doesn't mean we need to make it known that we hate them for what they're wearing. I think if we ignore all else, if we just try to work on humility, it will be a great start, and the other "qualities of a lady" will follow.
Treating guys with respect: I think this is a big issue in the way of being a lady. Guy-girl friendships are delicate. We've written before about emotional chastity and physical purity. I think a good guide is just to keep this philosophy in mind--you and he will probably be married to different people in the future, so how much would you feel comfortable telling your future husband, and how would you feel if your future husband had done certain things? Specifically, if you wouldn't want to hear about how your future husband cuddled on the couch with a lot of his female friends, then you shouldn't lead guys to do that. With grace, you can help both him and yourself, and these friendships or even dating relationships (regardless of how they turn out) can be a source of growth for the lady.
Traditional femininity: I think there is a type of feminist who can also be feminine. I believe in equality in dignity for women and men, and I also believe if a woman is going to work, she should be treated equally as a man. However, that doesn't mean I think men and women are equal in every way. We're different, physically and emotionally. This idea of femininity needs to be defended. Stand up for yourself, and as has been written here before, let guys help you. Don't feel the need to be able to protect yourself all the time, but be smart and not helpless. Just because I'm able to protect myself doesn't mean I'm going to take the reigns from men. Not everyone is going to hold doors for you, but when someone does, you should certainly encourage it with grace and thanks. I think there is such a thing as being an independent lady, and I think that example is the only thing that will really impart these ideals of femininity to others in the world. If we're just pathetic creatures, then it won't seem ideal or attracting, will it?
Virtues and Morals: Almost every piece of advice on "how to be a lady" that I have read talks about how a lady is always high in virtue and morals, full of grace, and elegant example. Man, these things are really hard to apply in a daily setting. Between rushing to class, trying to find time to eat, rehearsals, clubs, homework...I'm lucky if I've managed any makeup, let alone jewelry or a nice put-together outfit. But I think it's the little efforts that make the biggest difference. We can't start being virtuous in a bunch of different ways all at once, but maybe if we remember one thing each day, it will slowly build. I find there are definitely more things to worry about in my daily schedule than these ideas of grace, and posture, and ease, and virtue. But we have to keep trying. One of the biggest things I've learned is that I need to have expectations and goals for myself, but they can't be too outrageous. From the little resolves will come bigger ones.
Gentility: Last confession. I am probably one of the most awkward people. I always joke and say that I don't know how to handle awkward situations--I just make them more awkward! And I've read how a lady is supposed to be able to put everyone at ease, include everyone in the conversation, and radiate an aura of grace and self-confidence. Gee, that's a lot easier in one's family or close circle of friends. But in the real world, even the college world? This is probably one of the areas in which I fall the shortest, because I'm honestly still working on not making situations awkward. But I do think one of the things I can do is remember kindness. If we remember that, then we won't be tempted to gossip. In an awkward situation, if we remember kindness, we'll try our best not to make others feel uncomfortable because we know how much it can hurt. And in the end, we're all trying our best. We'll feel awkward, so we can't always keep others from feeling the same.
I don't think a lady has to be perfect. I don't want to drop these ideals, but I have learned that sometimes it's really hard to apply them in real situations. We see pretty pictures like that above, and these are inspiring, even if they are a bit impractical for the "modern world." I want to write to other young women trying to be ladies--we have time to keep learning. We have the ideals. We're probably far from how we'd like to see ourselves, but if we thought ourselves perfect, then that would be pride now, wouldn't it? And we'd have nowhere to strive. I don't really want to worry about perfect posture, and grace, and mannerisms because I'm not perfect. I can only afford to put in a little extra effort toward this "lady training," but I think sometimes, that's all we really need.
Would any of our worldly readers care to share their advice and experiences about radiating these ideals of femininity and ladyship in a very secular mainstream world?