What makes one a ‘Lady’ in 2016?

A recent issue of a British magazine (Country Living) purported to list the 39 things that make a woman a “Lady.” It provoked some controversy.  Some were too silly or too British for most 2016 American women, for example: “Cooks perfect, crispy roast potatoes” and “Can paunch a rabbit or pluck a pheasant, respectively.”

But the headline caught my eye because oddly enough it’s a subject I’ve thought about quite a bit.

Being a “Lady” used to be something to which all young women aspired. In a society that praises academic and athletic and career accomplishment, is there still value placed on being a “Lady?”  

Did feminism make ladylike behavior anachronistic, or disdainful?

Odd then, the enormous popularity of “Downton Abbey,” a highly mannered look at women who possessed the title of Lady – or intended to eventually.  What of “Mad Men,” a dark tale of the early days of career women, for whom femininity and ladylike dressing were integral to their existence? The show spawned a retro fascination with cocktails and tailoring, the vestiges of a more reserved, but somehow still sexier time.

One of the things that got me thinking about all this, was the passing of my mother. At her funeral, everyone said the same thing, “Your Mom, was such a Lady.” And it’s true, she was.

“Straight from the pages of Mademoiselle, came this campus leader we know so well” read the editor’s description of her in the yearbook.

One year she was crowned Christmas Queen. The Brown University paper explained the four women of “the Court” would be judged not on grades (they were all smart anyway) but on poise and beauty.

Poise is a word that seems to have slipped out of the lexicon. There’s no emoji for it. No college in their right mind would suggest these criteria today, certainly not Brown. Protests would undoubtedly ensue. But would the world be a gentler place, if poise still counted?

So now this British list has engendered buzz on the Internet.  Some are angry that such a list exists, others offer their own criteria.  

Still, the conversation suggests there’s intrigue, a hankering for a new definition and perhaps a desire to be a “lady” in 2016.

So here goes – my list of 21.  I invite you to add to the conversation and send me yours.

A lady….

1. always sends a thank you note. Handwritten is best, but in a pinch a thoughtful email.

2. never squabbles over the bill.

3. knows that leggings are not pants.

4. swears only when absolutely necessary and to great effect.

5. reads actual books and newspapers and limits the use of  Oprah or Ellen as sources.

6. knows that it’s easy to be a friend in good times, but is there when “it” hits the fan. (see #4)

7.  is not a “hook up” girl. * (Minor transgressions permitted, everyone needs at least 1 good story, even Lady Mary.)

8. is a team player, not a diva.  

9.  discreetly touches her teeth, to signal when there is a poppy seed stuck in yours.

10.  is conversant in art and politics. (This is when your liberal arts education kicks in, ladies)

11.  does her homework in school, before a meeting or a dinner party.

12. knows that giving is better than receiving. (With a few exceptions, see Hermes, or substitute your weakness here)

13. need not be wealthy, or well educated  (there are plenty of women who are both, who are not)

14. has faith and respects the faith of others.

15)   makes a home for her family. No matter how modest, it’s warm and inviting.

16. makes her husband/boyfriend feel like a Hero, and knows it does not diminish her in any way.

17. puts her Smartphone away and her hand over her heart during the National Anthem at football games.

18. does not check her phone during dinner… ever.  (I can’t do this one, but I’m working on it)

19. has some actual skills, horseback riding, skateboarding, archery, calligraphy…anything.

20. knows the words to some Rodgers and Hammerstein and some Eminem. (see #4)

21.  owns a cocktail dress, heels and something to go underneath.

Oh and… accepts criticism and praise with equal grace.  (No guarantee, but I’ll try.)

Martha MacCallum currently serves as the co-anchor of “America’s Newsroom” alongside Bill Hemmer (Weekdays 9-11AM/ET). She joined FOX News Channel (FNC) in January 2004. Click here for more information on Martha MacCallum

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