Sunday, August 30, 2009

Why can't a woman be more like a lady?

'Feminine values' are making a comeback but do they have any place in today's world?Rachel Shields from the Independent on Sunday write's today. I think it's a very good question to discuss on Stroppyblog.

Rachel states: The eternal question of what makes a woman a lady has reared its well-coiffed head once again this summer thanks to a raft of new experts queuing up – politely, of course – to tell British women to polish their shoes, mind their p's and q's, and generally be a little more ladylike.

While for many the very idea of ladylike behaviour is outdated, or even risible – as illustrated by the memorable Little Britain sketches in which David Walliams cries: "I am a Laydee" – a controversial book poised to hit UK bookshops next month is seeking to rescue the term from ridicule, advocating a "return to feminine values". This may not be entirely fanciful.

At the same time, sales of the conservative magazine The Lady are soaring, and Miss Debrett, the etiquette authority's new online agony aunt, is offering women a helping hand on everything from weddings to email etiquette.

In her book How to Be a Hepburn in a Hilton World, Jordan Christy laments the rise of the "stupid girls", represented in the public eye by such celebrities as Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan, declaring our "current female landscape as "embarrassing, flippant and shallow".

I don't think it's totally fair to split women into two camps - the Paris Hilton vs the Ladees camp realy is it? I think Paris Hilton is stupid, flippant and shallow but no dafter than walking about with books on your head or knowing how to set a table which includes a fish knife.

According to Ms Christy, a Christian from Nashville, Tennessee, who advises on everything from style to careers and relationships, women should be "tactful, well-spoken, cute but modest; the most intelligent version of ourselves". No pressure there, then, girls.

Oh dear ladies of Stroppyblog - we're fecked then - how many of us are tactful? Well spoken? Cute or even modest? Not many of us - I think we are though the most intelligent version of ourselves though - most of the time, well atleast when we are sober.

While the book is aimed squarely at teenagers and twenty-somethings, it is not just youngsters who are trying to work out what it means to be a lady – a word that for many remains unambiguously a compliment – in 2009. Sales of The Lady, the average age of whose readers is an impressive 78, were up 9.1 per cent in the first half of this year on the second half of 2008. The growing popularity of one of Britain's oldest weekly titles follows attempts to shake off its fusty image, a move likely to be hurried by the appointment of the author and columnist Rachel Johnson as its new editor.

This revival of interest in ladylike behaviour is also being played out on TV, with 2.6 million viewers tuning in to the final episode of the most recent series of Ladette to Lady, the show that sees wild young women sent to finishing school.

Has anyone seen that show? Ladette to Lady? It's awful and really sexist. OK, some of the ladettes are foul mouthed show offs and not always that bright but why do they have to wear American tan tights and polo necks and why do they have to go to Young Farmers Balls? I would cut off my right breast rather than do any of those things! In fact I think we should take up arms against such nonsense!

While the manners, social graces and appropriate clothing espoused by these arbiters of "style and grace" can be empowering, enabling women to move between different situations with ease, some believe the advice they offer is restrictive and sexist.

"I find the very term 'lady' offensive," said Ellie Levenson, author of The Noughtie Girl's Guide to Feminism. "It suggests that women have to conform to an outdated gender stereotyping in order to be treated with respect."

I quite like the term Lady and use it all the time but it's more to do with taking the piss rather than embracing cowl neck jumpers and getting in and out of sports cars without flashing your knickers - the SSP has an annual Ladie's Camping trip - where we wear frocks, some people take it too far and this year our lesbian National Secretary wore a pink 80s disco frock which was probably slightly too short (or so the reports go from the other Lady Campers).

While How to be a Hepburn in a Hilton World stresses that it is important for women to have self-respect, some of its advice jars with feminists. Tips such as wearing a knee-length skirt and not drinking too much sit alongside a chapter entitled "Let Him Come Callin'", which reads like an updated version of The Rules, the 1995 book that advised women to play elaborate games to encourage men to propose marriage.

Now The Rules was just awful and hopefully no one took any notice of them, how to trap a man or something nonsensical like that - now wimmin of a certain age probably best to wear skirts that are not half way up their thighs but surely that is their choice and not drinking too much! How much is "too much"?

"Being a 'lady' seems to involve not being too opinionated, not having too much personality, and not being sexually forward," said Ms Levenson. "It is not what I want, and it is not what the men I know want either. Not that it would matter if it was."

Ms Christy disagrees, arguing it is the wild behaviour displayed by some celebrities and the young women who look up to them – such as drinking heavily and going out without underwear – that is anti-feminist.

"Females have made great advances in the world, but sometimes I feel like we are trampling on all the hard work of the women who came before us with our stiletto heels," she said.

O dear - again a juxtaposition of wild outrageous "celebrity" behaviour vs sitting nicely! Pish really. Etiquette for "ladies" is about controlling them and their sexuality, wild outrageous behaviour is being out of control and probably not a good look most of the time but giveus a break - some of it of course is based on the raunch culture which can be seen as anti-feminist, but mostly it's just bad behaviour. Sitting about in a knee length tweed skirt is anti-feminist grooming yourself for a accountant or banker, unless of course that is your look.

While the arguments rage, the demand for enlightenment on etiquette remains strong, according Jo Bryant of Debrett's. "When we launched, we wanted a new, modern way to talk about etiquette. Manners are about how you interact with people, so of course they matter. Etiquette changes so much with technology; a couple of years ago we were talking about mobile phones, and now we are on to dealing with Facebook and Twitter.

"We have a mixed audience. We'd never tell people not to go out and get drunk. It's all about balance. There are people who can be too mannered, and it doesn't put people at ease. Until we published Etiquette for Girls in 2006, other guides didn't reflect a world in which women went to work."

SO until 2006 they were out of touch with the majority of women. Perhaps we should have a Stroppy Finishing School? That might be fun! Maybe even dangerous!