I was riding the bus home from work last week, frustrated to have to stand, as usual. Bus surfing is not a sport I like participating in. Eventually, I was lucky enough to grab a seat with still a few stops to go, but once again, the bus filled up to capacity just as a woman with a small bundled-up baby in her arms boarded. I had expected any one of the seven or so women she had to pass would have given up their seat. Maybe wrongfully, I assumed at least a few of them were mothers and would be sympathetic to her situation. These women were neither old nor extremely young. They all seemed to be at least late 20s through mid- or late- thirties. I never thought she’d make it as far as my seat, in the middle of the bus. A little appalled at the (lack of) action of my represented gender, I immediately stood up and told her to take my seat. What happened? Aren’t we supposed to be the more compassionate gender?
There were no men sitting in the area of the bus ahead of me, but I started to wonder if there had been, if he would have offered his seat. I’m ashamed to think that it’s more likely he would have. But why? Chivalry? If men are chivalrous, what are women?
My regular Facebook feed includes a hearty abundance of articles about feminism, mostly from UPworthy, Huffington Post, or TED conferences. Is it at all possible that we’re building a culture of women who feel too entitled? Insisting on repeating the justification that they “deserve” or should feel “empowered” to treat others in a way that is disrespectful or negligent? I realize these women probably had no malice intended against the mommy on the bus, but I DO think that this situation, played out 10, 15, 20- years ago would have looked quite different.
I think the component I’m dancing around (semi-intentionally), is class. We teach girls to be confident, independent, and compassionate, but we don’t have a good way– a word– to measure how we expect they should behave with other people. There are a lot of mixed-messages for young girls and there’s little progress on how to fix that.
Yes, yes, a lot of ‘body-image’ articles are circulating, and my intention is not to minimize the importance of THAT, but that’s for another day. I want my daughter to have class.
I think that class, in regards to one’s personality (not wealth), is what separates women. “Is she classy” is a yes or no question. It’s not a matter of JUST how you behave to other people, nor is it JUST a matter of how mentally healthy a person is. Class is a composite of all of those things, but it’s not something that we strive for anymore. Why?
A classy woman respects herself and holds herself to high standards without denigrating those around her (intentionally or not— we’re also talking about a certain amount of awareness here). She holds those around her and close to her to high expectations as well, but knows how to ‘build up’ instead of casting guilt or pressure.
A classy woman is strong, but doesn’t restrain compassion… meaning, she doesn’t feel embarrassed, or self-conscious when she’s helping those who are less fortunate, and she also doesn’t feel a need for reward. She understands the difference between pity and sympathy, yet pity is an emotion she doesn’t feed into.
She can ask for, instead of expect, help from those around her without feeling inadequate. No one can make a classy woman feel anything she doesn’t want to. She’s self-aware and goal-oriented. She’s approachable, but enviable.
I’d love to end this by saying that these are all of the things I am, but that would be a lie. I’m not my own definition of classy. I’m overly emotional at times about trivial, short-term stress, and I can be extremely defensive about certain matters of my private life. But if I can say that I have one thing to strive for, it’s to emulate the classy woman I want to be. To use that word often enough with my daughter that she comes to understand it and the values that comprise it.
This is all just a matter of seeing the bigger picture. It’s like writing an essay. Your goal isn’t to just amass a certain quantity of unrelated words… they have to make sense. They have to build into something cohesive.