Being a Lady or Gentleman in Today’s World

Recently, I was included in a conference call and the subject of what constitutes one being a ‘lady’ and a ‘professional gentleman’ came up in the discussion. The discussion focused on what apparel one wore that gives the outward appearance of being a ‘lady’ or ‘gentleman’. In my opinion, dressing oneself in a dress or a shirt and tie do not the lady or gentleman make; thus I started my research into what makes someone a lady or a gentleman.

In today’s politically correct society, the term ‘lady’ has fallen out of favor among some. Even the grammar checker I am using will highlight the word and suggest woman or person instead of using lady. Is this because the concept is dead?

When one thinks of a ‘lady’, one thinks of a woman in a flowing dress, a large hat and white gloves; those of us from my generation at least. We grew up with women role models like Grace Kelly, June Cleaver (who always wore a dress, heels and pearls around the house) and other glamorous personalities. Little girls were told to sit still with their ankles together and their hands in their laps so they would be little ladies. A ‘lady’ was someone who dressed well, was at least demure if not submissive and would never dream of using a cuss word for any reason.

There were other role models of ladies though in my youth. Katherine Hepburn, an actress who came from a socially prominent family was a strong independent outspoken woman to her death and was depicted both in movies and in candid photos with her hair in a mess and wearing trousers. Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt, president of the USA was also from a socially prominent family, yet she was strong, independent and politically active and often wore less than ladylike clothing both at home and in her tours of factories and military camps during WWII. Neither of these women was considered less than ladies no matter their dress.

When one thinks of what is a gentleman, one thinks of a man dressed in a tuxedo and perfectly groomed; James Bond with his suave demeanor with women, impeccable manners comes to mind. Is this the right concept though?

In A Definition of a Gentleman by John Henry Newman (A leader in the Oxford Movement and a cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church 1801-1890) Cardinal Newman states:
“…it is almost a definition of a gentleman to say he is one who never inflicts pain. This description is both refined and, as far as it goes, accurate. He is mainly occupied in merely removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him; and he concurs with their movements rather than takes the initiative himself… He may be right or wrong in his opinion, but he is too clear-headed to be unjust; he is as simple as he is forcible, and as brief as he is decisive. Nowhere shall we find greater candour, consideration, indulgence: he throws himself into the minds of his opponents, he accounts for their mistakes. He knows the weakness of human reason as well as its strength, its province and its limits…”

As Cardinal Newman points out, being a gentleman is more of a mindset rather than outward appearance and from research done, it seems though that outward appearance is more what we humans use to define both a lady and a gentleman. We have been trained that outward appearance is what is important even though there may be a wolf hiding under those clothes. Also, in my research, the parallels between what truly constitutes a lady or a gentleman are very close.

To put it plainly, being a lady or a gentleman comes down to respecting yourself and respecting others. Does outward appearance enter into that simple concept, yes, of course it does. If one has not bathed in a month, then that is not respecting others in that body odor will make someone else ill. If one dresses in exceptionally revealing clothing, then that denotes lack of self respect along with respect for others in that it puts a lady or gentleman in the position of having to look away or a lady with her child having to shield the child from view of you. A gentleman or a lady would never do anything to purposely shock anyone else’s sensibilities.

However, if a man or woman is working in a dirty job, such as trucking, one cannot expect them to dress in a tux or a flowing dress; it is not only not sensible it is not safe. One also has to make some exceptions for the changes in usage of words in today’s world. It has become more acceptable for a lady or a gentleman to use some of the lesser cuss words in common discourse, though the nastier words are still not acceptable…but, one has to judge whom one is speaking to in one’s choice of words, to not do so denotes lack of respect.

Civility, common decency, courtesy and respect for both self and others are all hallmarks of being a lady or gentleman. While the terms might have fallen out of usage, the perceptions of being a lady or gentleman live on in our minds and in our workplaces. If we all work on being one or the other as our genders dictate, then the world would be a better place.

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