"That's not very ladylike."

I spin around to see my mother's friend not three feet behind me with a look of amused derision on her face as my heart sinks and my brain cramps. I don't know what to say, so I stammer something out like "welp, sorry!" Even though with the strength of every cell in my body I want to erase the last minute and a half from existence. 

This suffocating social function of fake smiles and disingenuous inquiries into each others' personal lives is exhausting. My parents are joining the fray of false-faced socialites in their masquerade, and I am left to attempt the same. I am left to be a pillar of propriety and femininity, supporting a picture of complete innocence and maturity, with an unmistakable hue of loyalty to tradition. I am expected to look, sound, act, speak, dress, and plan like the others; a dainty, girly, studious individual no more discernible from the rest than the next girl after me. 

There is no one more supportive of these virtues than I. Propriety, femininity, innocence, maturity, loyalty - they are, in their purest and original form - admirable and preferred qualities. What makes my skin crawl in this moment is the forcibly applied perception of these virtues. The perception that propriety equals a soft-spoken compliment. That femininity equals frills. The deception that innocence is ignorance, and that maturity is conformity. This pretense eliminates all possibility of diversity within a certain group, and projects a fabricated standard onto individual personality so that what's left is a reserved and sweetly spoken entity, wrapped in the same fashion and finished with a forced grin. 

To be ladylike, I realize, is not to be draped in flora and paraded as a porcelain spectacle up for sale. It is to be true to those things which inherently make me a woman worth while. Those things which make up my identity as a lady. To execute those virtues as comes natural to me, and not to admonish others for executing theirs in their own manner. To display propriety by knowing when to voice my well deserved and calculated opinion, femininity by refining my interests and bettering myself through them. To maintain that innocence is a means to knowledge, and that maturity is not a degree of gravity. To remain loyal to those that do not deserve my loyalty - realizing that I, in turn, do not deserve loyalty. To pursue grace and dignity in a way that does not diminish or suppress my creativity or expression. To view grace and dignity as a tool to affect responsible communication. 

This woman, I perceive, is under the same scrutiny that I am. And I am moved to compassion. And I am also moved to resolution. To never apologize for being who I am. To realign the perception of virtue with its definition, to the best of my unique abilities.

Published by Christina Rowland