When I was growing up, and I admit this was decades ago, adult females in my sheltered world were referred to as ladies. I knew with a certainty that if I ate my greens, spoke politely, didn’t behave in an unseemly manner, kept away from hard drink (in quantity) and kept up moral and ethic standards, I would grow up to be a lady.
Sometimes, before we were grown, middle-aged men (well my father’s age! And elderly gentlemen of the family’s acquaintance) would. as a small joke, tip their hats, if they passed us in the street, and greet us with a ‘Good morning ladies’, which would throw us into a state of acute embarrassment and giggles. To be a lady was our lot and I, for one, rather looked forward to it.
Then in the 60s Women’s Lib came along and destroyed my elegant dreams! Over night, it seemed, lady became a ‘class’ thing – an anachronism – something to be despised as a barrier to equality for all. An insult to sisterhood. I was now a ‘woman’ – well of course I knew that! but the word police had stolen my ‘lady’ and, to add insult to injury, I was supposed to lug my own suitcases around because I was as good as any man! Not in the luggage department I wasn’t.
Why do these word police feel the need to steal so much of our language? Why do they so easily take offence? Why do they not see the wider picture? Lady and Gentlemen as terms, by then, was more a standard of behaviour than a class thing. It was an indication of a lifestyle. Now many declared that they were ladies and gentlemen who weren’t, but mostly it was an indication that the person referred to as such would be honest, trustworthy, upright and decent. The terms have become debased over the years because of the scorn poured upon these values.
Now my editing software tells me that the use of the word ‘lady’ in my writing, (despite the fact that I have carefully placed the word for its meaning, and in its context cannot mean anything else) may be insulting to some (to whom is it insulting I wonder?) and I must use ‘woman’.
Well I wont, so there!