I was 13, I was sitting in the second row of Sunday school with a mix of 12-17yr olds, when I felt it again for the fifth time in as many weeks - his fingers running through my long silky hair. I had asked him to stop before, I had spoken to the teacher, but to no avail. It was dismissed as child’s play, something to be tolerated and laughed at. This time though, it was one too many. Casting all decorum aside, I stood up in the middle of the lesson, turned abruptly around, and slapped him right across his grinning face. There was stunned silence across the room. Then, the lesson awkwardly proceeded.
I had not been “lady like”, and I was proud of it.
Many of you, like me, were probably raised hearing the phrases from our mothers, or atleast grandmothers, such as “Sit down, be quiet, cross your ankles, act like a lady.” The dictionary defines ‘lady-like’ as “[behavior] appropriate for or typical of a well-bred, decorous woman or girl.” From a young age these ideals of what a polished and desirable woman looks like are often preached as gospel. These ideas subtly teach that certain standards of civility, social engagement, and personal grooming are attached to one’s identity as a ‘lady’, and heaven forbid a girl become anything other than a ‘lady’. If a lady is someone to be respected and valued by society, why don’t I want to use this word with my daughters?
Because I want their perception of self worth to be internally and divinely focused rather than socially focused. Because I want them to be intrinsically motivated to be righteous, moral, and loving human beings rather than extrinsically motivated to be accepted, respected, and desired. But what does this actually look like? (At least in my current hypothetical idealized view of the parenting… check back in 15 yrs when I actually have teenagers)
First of all it means teaching my children, REGARDLESS of GENDER, to be civilized human beings because there are basic standards required to maintain a respectful sanitary society. Things such as... You should not pick your nose in public because that is a great way to spread germs to other people. You should not sit in a way your underwear shows, regardless of what parts are under the underwear, because modesty is respecting our bodies and others. You should not speak out of turn because we should respect and listen to what other people have to say, but you should most absolutely make sure your voice is heard when you or others are being disrespected. This is not about being a lady or a man, it has nothing to do with our gender, but it has everything to do with being social human beings.
Second of all it means teaching my daughters that their identity and worth as a female is not about being a ‘lady’, because society and other humans define what is ‘lady like’, it is about being a Woman of God. It is about being a woman who is simultaneously full of grace, strength, mercy, courage, and love; a woman who fearlessly pursues truth and justice but fervently seeks humility. It is about courageously challenging social norms to stand up for justice like Queen Esther. It is about humbly and quietly serving our families like Ruth and Rachel. It is about being educated, entrepreneurial, and business minded like the Proverbs 31 woman. It is about clinging to faith and speaking the truth like Abish. It is about being willing to sacrifice everything for the Lord like Mary, Hannah, and Sariah. It is repenting of a life of sin and going on to being a invaluable tool in the Lord’s hands like Rahab. It is knowing when to take the lead like Deborah. It is knowing when to ask the hard questions like Eve.
As Sister Linda K. Burton noted in her General Conference address “Certain Women”, “I have read and passed over the seemingly unremarkable expression “certain women” numerous times before [in the New Testament], but recently as I pondered more carefully, those words seemed to jump off the page. Consider these synonyms of one meaning of the word certain as connected to faithful, certain women:“convinced,” “positive,” “confident,” “firm,” “definite,” “assured,” and “dependable.” "
Being a Godly woman is not about earning the respect and desire of a man or of society. It is about living up to the desires God has for us. It means recognizing our bodies for the life giving vessels they are and not only protecting them but rejoicing in their God given power and beauty. It is about respecting men and unequivocally expecting that respect in return. It is knowing that purity is not something a man can take from us by force. It is something that, no matter what happens to us, we can only lose if we choose to give it up. It is knowing that the right man will make you say, as did Marjorie Hinckley, “You have always given me wings to fly, and I have loved you for it.”
Most importantly though you have to understand that being a Godly woman doesn’t look the same for everyone so you have to search out what it means for you and NEVER break down another woman because her path is different than yours. Being a woman of God may sometimes mean being quiet and meek, but it is never weakness, it is never superficial, it is never about comparison, it is never about self degradation, and it is NEVER silent in the face of injustice or disrespect.
That is what I will teach my daughters.