Thursday, 4 April 2013

How To Be A Lady: An Elegant Response

As I mentioned in my last post I recently acted the part of a lady in a play though despite the prejudgement some people may make of me I most certainly am not a lady. Sometimes I think that because of the vintage style in which I dress that people make the assumption that I have very old fashioned values and also that I'm a bit posh. I am neither of these things and I do enjoy shocking people when they find out the amount in which I swear. Although I love the aesthetic of the 1940s and 1950s I certainly do not feel that I would like to live in those eras. I am very forward thinking, especially in regards to feminism and women's rights, and I am passionate about equality.

Last week I saw a programme on BBC4 called "How To Be A Lady: An Elegant History". Now I don't particularly aspire to be a lady so I wasn't looking for an hour of televised finishing school but I was at home with not a lot to do so  thought I'd give it a try and if it was just that I would turn over and watch something else, like Don't Tell The Bride. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the programme and felt that it generated a lot of comments of my own which I was compelled to write about since it is linked, in some way, to vintage. I felt like some comments chimed well with my own feelings of being a woman but most importantly I did not feel patronised. I did not feel that someone was talking down to me and questioning my femininity purely because I do not behave in a certain way or know how to create the perfect posy.

You don't have to live in a country pile to be a lady
The show was hosted by Rachel Johnson who previously edited The Lady magazine but admitted herself that she was not a "lady" which instantly made me feel as though I was "in the same boat" as her. She also pulled the handle off a door while being taught the correct etiquette on how to leave a room which made me warm to her even more! She looked into how a lady was originally defined and how perception of what it means to be a lady has evolved over the decades. I won't recount the whole show to you but touch on the two main points which struck me most of all.

First of all Rachel visited an establishment called The English Manner which  provides "international training and consultancy in contemporary etiquette, protocol, the arts, social skills, household and event planning." and it was there that she pulled off the door handle. She spoke to some young women who were at the Manner being taught etiquette and she also met Diana Mather who was one of the teachers. I am paraphrasing here but basically Diana was saying that there is a return to all things lady-like in recent years which she feels is due to our security as women in our equality with men. She acknowledged that men and women are different and believes that women feel able to go back to being more lady-like and treated as such without having to behave like men in order to be taken seriously.

"Playing the Lady" - dealing cards backstage during Carry on Jeeves
I feel that there is not total equality between men and women and there is still a great way to go before this takes place which is evident through the media, equal pay, and most of all people's own attitudes towards the other sex. The most common form of sexism I face is that of everyday comments from people all around whether that be a male colleague trolling me to my face with sexist comments just to get a rise out of me or a male shop keeper being patronising. I do however agree with Diana when she talks about celebrating the differences between men and women. We are different, no lesser than the other, but different none the less. I don't want to feel that I have to behave or dress or act like a man just to get a head or be taken seriously. Equality to me isn't about being the same as everyone else, in fact it's exactly the opposite, it's about being different and acknowledging that but treated with just as much respect.

Later on in the show Rachel spoke to Bidisha who is a feminist writer and you can read her blog here. By this part the show was drawing to it's conclusion and looking at what place, if any, being a lady has in the future. Bidisha was saying that the model of womanhood that's being represented to us through the media is not what some women feel they want to respond to. Through fashion and media women are objectified and it's all very cheapening. She was saying that in fashion there's often more flesh than cloth on show and there's a reaction to this to cover up instead and to be the opposite. There's a trend which is bringing back the formality and elegance to a culture which these days is just quite vulgar. Bidisha said that she feels that being a lady is now so divorced from it original meaning, and the class system it was entrenched within, that we can now take the power back. We can reinvent what a lady is and what it means into being a "brilliant, strong, and sisterly woman."

Do I look like a lady to you?
Well now! That was just such a revelation that I got straight on the phone to my boyfriend to tell him of this enlightening experience I had just had. I have always wrestled with the juxtaposition of being vintage and yet also being a feminist. I've tried but never really found a way to articulate my feelings and there Bidisha said it and I knew it was how I felt about the way that I dress. Now I know she wasn't particularly driving at fashion and clothing but around a whole culture within our society but still her statements drew lines directly to my own feelings of my personal style. YES! I felt like shouting. Now I know that vintage and feminism can go hand in hand. The way I dress is not to harken back to an age where if you fell pregnant you lost your job or equal pay was as common as fairy dust. To me the way I dress is in defiance of the video vixens, the boobs, bums and glossy hair that women are defined by in today's media. So I spend time on my appearance; I like it when I've done my hair in a nice do, and yes I have an unhealthy (for my bank balance) addiction to buying dresses. I am a woman, I am different from men, I enjoy those differences. And no, one shall not be getting one's assets out for the lads.

So there you have it folks. I'm sorry it's been a long and wordy post but there's just so much I wanted to express. I also would like my blog to have more substance than here's a hat I wore or here's a place I went. Hopefully you've enjoyed this post and I would really, really, love to hear any comments or feedback you may have.

How To Be A Lady: An Elegant History is still available on  BBC I Player here. 


Kate said...

Very interesting and well written post. I will definitely have to see if I can get a hold of that program to watch. I totally agree that vintage and feminism can go hand in hand :)

(Whoops, my bad. I posted the comment on the wrong post. I really need to start paying more attention haha)

Nicole said...

Hello there,

I can't seem to get hold of any of the videos online. Do you happen to know of any link that is working?

Thank you.