When I was in grade school, there was Home Ec (economics) for girls and Shop for guys. We girls learned how to sew, how to make jam, how to put a dinner together for our families, and how to run a household. The guys learned how to use tools properly and make things such as wooden foot stools, tables and so on.
Beyond the Home Ec for us girls, there was also a class offered on “how to be a lady.” Generally our mothers, grandmothers and aunts taught us these things, so we had some idea of how to be a proper female. In the “lady classes” we learned how to walk properly without swinging our hips too much (Heaven forbid that we attracted the wrong men by doing so). We made sure that when we dressed that our petticoats didn’t hang below our skirts and dresses; that was called being “slovenly”, and so on.
We also learned that it wasn’t “lady-like” to slump in a chair; we learned (painfully) how to sit up straight, knees together and ankles crossed. Then we learned the following things that we should never do, such as:
- No slumping when sitting ever.
- Should you have your purse with you, it wasn’t lady-like to “root” in your purse; that is, you didn’t go digging around in it in front of people.
- A lady should always carry a clean white handkerchief with her. Should you need to make a lady-like sneeze, you were to turn away from everyone, blow your nose as quitely as possible and put the used handkerchief discretely back into your purse.
- NO gum chewing EVER.
- NO yawning EVER; it was considered “class-less” to show all your teeth.
- Absolutely no burping or farting; you had to hold it in until you were away from people.
Of course there were loads more do’s and don’ts as well. These days these sort of “ladyisms” may sound silly, but at the time things like that mattered. To this very day I still sit up straight in a chair with my ankles crossed. Funny how that training way back when stuck with me. Back then, the worst thing a woman could be called was “common.” That meant that you were a nose-picker, a butt scratcher, a farter and burper out loud and basically a social loser.
As one of my aunties used to say, “oh, my stars and garters!” How things have changed!