Recently I was addressing students at Georgia Tech University – speaking on the topic of Confidence. In the Q & A session afterwards, one diligent student who was taking copious notes asked if I could define “Lady” and differentiate from a “Woman”. It dawned on me then, that this generation is quite oblivious to the difference. Their blissful “ignorance” possibly stems from the fact that the word “lady” isn’t used much in our society today and I wondered why.
I am British by nationality but grew up in the Middle East and also in India. However, I have spent my adult life in the US. That being said, I will attest that I cringe inwardly when people refer to me as a “woman” as opposed to a “lady”. Mind you, I know they mean no harm – it’s just that I was raised to realize that there is a definite difference and that training still resonates. I understand that the use of the term “woman” is not negative in any way – or is it? The online Oxford dictionary actually says this about the word “lady”:
Chiefly North American used as an informal, often brusque, form of address to a woman: I’m sorry; lady, but you have the wrong number.
It would seem then that “lady” might actually have a pejorative connotation in our culture!? I decided to delve a bit deeper into the debate – “Woman Vs Lady” because I believe that young lady at GT and others like her would be receptive to the idea of being defined as a “lady” as opposed to a “woman”, if a compelling argument were presented. The internet is rife with arguments, pro and con. The following are some definitions of the word “lady”:
- A well-mannered and considerate woman with high standards of proper behavior.
- A woman regarded as proper and virtuous.
- A woman who is the head of a household.
- A woman, especially when spoken of or to in a polite way.
- A woman of refinement and gentle manners
- A woman regarded as having the characteristics of a good family and high social position; female counterpart of gentleman
I think we can sum up the words “woman” and “man” to be definitions of the sex we are as humans whereas “ladies” and “gentlemen” are what we can aspire to and evolve into.
The movie “My Fair Lady” depicts the transformation of a “prisoner of the gutter” to a “lady” by teaching her how, when and why to think, speak and act. Catholics refer to Mary the mother of Jesus Christ, as “Our Lady” – epitomizing all that is good and graceful. However, she is also known to be a tower of strength and endurance in her suffering. By the same token, I don’t believe anyone would define Brittany Spears as a “lady” nor would anyone would refrain from referring to the late Princess Diana as a “lady”.
It wasn’t so long ago that the word “Lady” was well used. However, the feminist movement ushered in a whole slew of alternatives like “chick”, “babe”, “broad” (and ruder ones!) with the notion that being a “lady” presumes a weakness or handicap of sorts. The movement came about as a call for equal rights between the genders. However, I don’t believe it was meant to create a new definition of a “female” that made her more “male”. Unfortunately, it ended up a movement that threw out the baby with the bath water, so to speak.
In my perspective, a “lady” or “gentleman” is actually a position of power. No – not from a “class” point of view – but a behavioral stand point. Being a lady or a gentleman can only come about when one has self respect and a respect for others which would make for a respectful community – something we can all stand to have more of – don’t you think? Being a lady means acting with manners and reserve which takes strength because it goes against the natural instinct of indulging all our base thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Without this, we lose our mystery and everyone has a look at our bare soul. Our base becomes our standard. We have the option to act despicably without remorse or shame because we are all in the same boat and nothing is inappropriate anymore.
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