Remember when it was a compliment to be called a lady? The term has fallen out of favor in many societies, and the loss is bigger than mere semantics.
Our friend, Nicole Curiel, a student from Guadalajara, Mexico, writes:
It seems to me that the meaning of being lady in society has been downgraded and held as something with no value. I remember as a young girl of 8-16 wanting so desperately not to seem “delicate.” I wanted to be known for my strength and for being capable of doing things all on my own; that’s what I considered good and acceptable.
It is funny to hear women complain about there being no “real men” in the world. I believe it is the loss of lady-like qualities in women that has “castrated” men, so that chivalry has disappeared. The ladies are mostly gone, and so are the gentlemen.
A male friend has been teaching me simple things such as letting him open the door, or asking him for help when I need it. I am coming to understand that being the delicate and weaker sex is not something to be ashamed of, but when I embrace it I bring to life something that was dead. Something as simple as giving a small gift to someone when they are sick, cleaning the house for someone who is too busy to do it themselves. In things like this I can bring relief, joy and life into the lives of those around me. It’s been a daily experience of growth, but one in which I feel freer as a woman.
Lydia Sigourney was an early maternal feminist who wrote Letters to Young Ladies. I am intrigued with her treatment of the word “lady.” There was a time when this word was used to represent women of righteous character.
Indeed the very etymology of the word, lady, which has been resolved into a Saxon term, composed of loaf, and to serve, signifies that dealing food to the hungry was deemed so essential a feature in her character, that the giver of the loaf, and the lady, became synonymous. In the days of primitive Christianity, ladies of the highest rank were often found at the bedside of the humblest sufferer, meekly ministering to their necessities.
“Lady” is an old English word dating back to c. 1200 carrying the meaning of a woman who was respected for her polite, kind nature. The old English meaning is the “mistress of a household” or “one who kneads bread.” She was known for making a house a home; meeting with diligence and contentment the physical needs of her family. She establishes an atmosphere of love, nurturing those placed within her care. Noah Webster, in his 1828 dictionary, adds to this definition by speaking of a lady as one whose nature is compliant. In the 1900’s, “lady” was replaced with “woman.” The word “lady” is now considered obsolete.
When Letters to Young Ladies was written, there was not only the old English honor attached to this word but also a Biblical understanding that gave it great and godly substance. Throughout Lydia Sigourney’s writing, we find her calling young ladies to the righteous standard for which we have been created.
In the Bible we find the woman held in highest regard with astonishing impact on her household. Graciousness (Pr. 11:16) and virtue (Ruth 3:11, Pr. 31:10) are womanly ideals. A noble woman is one that has attained and walks in wisdom within the realm of family life.. (Pr. 12:4; 14:1). A true lady is not one who has attained a high rank in society, large financial achievements, nor prestige due to beauty, but rather one whose character has been cultivated by the Spirit of God working within.
In the New Testament two characteristics are explicitly directed to women for beautifying the heart. With the heart adorned with such beauty, the home becomes a refuge place of peace, joy and love. These two characteristics for women are meekness and quietness. Nowhere else in Scripture do we find these two words coupled. They are of great price in the sight of God and are given to women.
Meekness denotes a soothing spirit, a gentle, mild disposition. “It is the inwrought work of grace in the soul and the exercise of it is first and chiefly toward God. It is the temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore, without resisting or disputing.” (Vines Dictionary)
Quietness is tranquility and peace arising from within, causing no disturbance to others. A perfect peace from within which will not create an agitation, disturbance or aggravation in the other.
As I read Letters to Young Ladies, I see the author guiding young women into these characteristics which turn a house into a home and educate children in the right way, impacting society at all levels.
More women like this—ladies—rocking the cradles of their children, would have a great influence upon those ruling the world.
– Darrow Miller
This post is seventh in a series on maternal feminism.