Sunday, March 8, 2015

I am a Gentlewoman: In celebration of International Women's Day

I would like  propose a new term  for powerful and elegant women: “gentlewomen.” To me, it means a woman who knows how to play nice and nasty as the situation requires. It means being a woman is powerful, but for society’s sake, she is going to keep her claws sheathed. But she never forgets she has claws and fangs. She will use them, but when unchallenged, she can be noble and calm and generous.This is the essence of being a Gentlewoman: knowing how to balance power and politeness.

As a girl, I was brow-beaten with the statement “you are not being ladylike.” Every time I tried to play with the boys, every time I moved too fast, fell down, got dirty or did not act like a living doll, that term was hurled at me. "Ladylike" meant being satisfied to sit with my hands folded and clothes clean while the boys had all the fun.  They played with cars and other toys while I had to play at being a statue with a plastic baby in my hands. I was being trained as a second-class citizen satisfied with sitting at home. The adjective“ladylike” seemed created to beat all the dreams out of me of being an astronaut, a scientist, a writer, a sculptor. It was summoned to kill the beast with in, to drown passion, snuff out energy and excitement and vivacity. It cut a girl in half. Life was for men, it said, the home is your only goal. More than this, it also said, you could only be lady-like, never really a lady. A lady was a title you could aspire to but it really wasn’t yours. You were simply an imitation of it. A pale shadow, a half dead ghost of a real woman.

Sure, I loved my doll and dresses and make-up (I still do), and there is nothing wrong with staying home and raising kids, but most women do much more and are capable of much more than that. They have to. They have to be superwomen, and "ladylike" isn't good enough a descriptor. We deserve more. We are not imitating anything. We are real women. We must acknowledge that we have power, strength, intelligence and wildness. If we believe we are less, then when we lash out--and we do lash out at our partners, husbands, children--we risk ignoring the harm we cause, both physically and emotionally. We can destroy our families and society. A gentlewoman knows her power, knows that her words can hurt. She controls herself. She uses her gifts for good.  

The Hindu Goddess Durga
When I was a kid, I wanted adventures like the boys. I wanted to drive away, feel the air in my hair. I wanted to jump off the bed and land hard on my cousin, pin him to the floor and crow as I held him down helpless. I wanted to power play too. Luckily for me, my cousin was a gentleman, so all I would have received was a few mumbled curses and maybe an “are you crazy?” Not a fist for my troubles.

Yes, I was a wild child. I am a wild woman. My clothes say “look but don’t touch,” with a bit of “Goddess walking” thrown in. I like awe and respect with my adoration. I have been known to laugh and make men shrivel. I have been known to smile and do the same. All the “be ladylike” could not stop the beast inside me. She’s in my eyes, and I listen to her with my heart just like men listen to their beasts. We all have a wild side, and we all need to tame it a bit. That is what gentlemen do. Men are bigger than women. They have upper body strength. They were the hunters. That a man can overpower a woman is no surprise--any male beast can do this--but when he does not and uses his words and mind,  this makes him a Gentleman and a worthy human being.  

Pygmalion and Galatea: Myth of Man creating a
 perfect Woman
But I am not a man, nor do I wish to be. I like my curves. I like my hips and breasts and all the things that make me not a man. I like being a woman. I like my struggles against sexism, my battles to define my type of feminism that does not hate men but sees them as much struggling to redefine themselves in our developing world as women. It is hard for men to give up power or to share it. People are selfish. Men have been ruling for so long, telling women what to do and how to think. It must be a big burden. I want to make their lives easier by taking the weight off their shoulders. J

A Gentlewoman acknowledges her sexuality. She does not deny or shame it. She knows attractiveness is a force that can be used to help or harm. She does not devalue it or ignore it. She knows that if she does not take control of her sexuality others will and may cause her harm. She is not a child and men are not her toys. She would not play with them like she would not play with a loaded gun. She is better than that and admires faithfulness, goodness and calm in the opposite sex (Gentlemen) over silly passions and shallow appetites. 

Women must find their own ways. We must find our own power and pride. We don’t need more power hungry megalomaniacs just with skirts. That does not make it better for the world. We need to be powerful, but not just a shadow of a man’s power. We should not be trying on daddy’s wrinkled, old, baggy clothes. I throw those to my brother; let him have his daddy issues. I want skirts, and hips and cleavage. I want to revel in my sex.

I want to find out what has scared men so badly about women for thousands of years that they felt they could not educate or let us out of house. I want that power back, the power mortal goddesses owned in their bodies, clothes and voices. I don’t want to be some weak-willed lady that plays by the rules men and older women have set for us to live by. I want to be a Gentlewoman who defines herself, knows her power and uses it for the good of the world and herself.
Happy International Women's Day!