Being a lady and a Feminist

Since I grew up in the South, my mother and grandmother ingrained in me from birth that you should always act ladylike. I was taught to properly set a dinner table, to never wear white after Labor Day and that you wear hose in the winter and seersucker in the summer. Like so many other girls I was also raised by strong, educated and open-minded women who to this day inspire me and push me to constantly be better than I was each day before.

As I grew up, I became more feminine of my own accord. I played dress up, made dresses out of blankets, tried to curl my hair by braiding it over- night and, like so many girls, I got into my mother’s make-up.

When the current wave of feminism swept through the South, I was caught between two extremes. I love fashion, dresses, make-up and pearls. Yet, at the same time, I love nothing more than to spend my day fishing or cheering on the Braves.

Because of the strong women who raised me, I always knew that I could do whatever I wanted, whether I wanted to be the President of the U.S. or a ballerina.

Yet, to me, when I thought of the word feminism, I saw women with unshaved underarms walking around burning their bras and hating men. For me that was not something I was interested in at all. I’m strongly attracted to guys, like wearing bras and, let’s be real, underarm hair is just not my thing. So, if I wasn’t a feminist, was I an anti-feminist?

To me, that also held a stereotype. By not labeling myself as a feminist, was I supporting the idea of women being the perpetual damsel in distress, always depending on a guy to come save her? Did that mean I believed that a man deserved more than me just because God gave him

a penis? I knew I didn’t agree with that either. So, in a world that is obsessed with labels, what was I?

After taking a long look in the mirror trying to figure out what I identified as, Igaveup. WhydidIhavetobeoneor the other? Why couldn’t a woman be feminine and a feminist? So, like many of my fellow millennials, I decided to be both. I loved the values and manners I was taught as a child, but instead of focusing on the superficial rules, I decided to take a deeper look into them.

While women and men are different, women have been given a great gift. Growing up in the South, we are raised to be graceful, elegant, classy and polite. We are taught not to trip or drop things, to cross our legs, send thank you notes and to always say “yes ma’am” and “no sir.”

While these things are extremely important and are part of what makes southern ladies who we are, I think those characteristics run a little deeper. Grace is more than how you walk. It’s how you take problems in stride, how you remain calm, take charge and find a solution to the problems at hand.

Class does not mean how you dress. Dress however you want, but act in a way that shows respect not just to others but also to yourself. Elegance is more than a Lilly Pulitzer dress; it is being able to keep a calm head when calm is the last thing you want to be. Being polite doesn’t just mean saying “yes ma’am” but treating each person you meet with equal respect despite different opinions or backgrounds.

These are the things that can set women apart. Instead of picking each other apart, if we all acted a little more ladylike, we could go so much farther.