Etiquette Lesson: Sitting Like a Lady

Yes, I said it. I said the l-word, and I meant it.


At best, it’s a joke, as in “I’ve got a lady boner for Willie Geist.” (Would a real lady use the term “lady boner,” even when citing an example? All I can say is that yes, she would, and that being a lady is complicated).

In some circles, it’s a bad word, because it implies antiquated notions of gender roles and patriarchal expectations of what a woman should be like. I’ve heard women express outrage at the suggestion that their daughters should do anything “like a lady.” Well, guess what. Like a lot of good manners and polite practices, those antiquated notions exist for a reason. In this case, the very practical reason to sit like a lady is so that you don’t flash everyone.

What is sitting like a lady? It’s simple. Knees together, legs crossed at the ankles.

“But what if you’re wearing pants?” you’re thinking.

My answer is this: what if you’re not? If sitting like a lady becomes natural through years of practice, what you’re wearing won’t matter.

I thought that Kate Middleton and I were the only people who still cared about sitting like a lady, until my eldest daughter went to cotillion. There, sitting like a lady comprised a week’s curriculum, and there was even a month-long practicum, in which parents were expected to sign off when they saw their daughters sitting like ladies. To some, this may seem like a waste of time and energy, but it’s actually a practical life lesson.

Sitting like a lady looks nice, but as I said before, there are also practical reasons for enforcing the practice with my children. If sitting like a lady is second nature to them, they won’t have to think about it when, as adults, they go on a job interview or to dinner with a client. If the basic rules of polite decorum are drilled into them every day, they’ll know when those rules are important, and when it’s ok to relax them. (Case in point: “lady boner”).

Anyone who has ever visited a place where women are sitting knows that sitting like a lady is a lost art.

I think some do-gooder with a social conscience should bring cotillion curriculum (emphasis: sitting like a lady) to the public schools. I know this idea would be laughed right out of an Educational Justice meeting, or a JCPS board meeting, because the same people who advocate for public schools probably aren’t huge etiquette proponents, although there’s no reason why the two should be mutually exclusive.

It’s ironic to me that the sort of activists who want to bring about social change are the very ones who would jettison good manners in the name of progressive ideology, when exposing disadvantaged children to good manners might bring about real social change. Perhaps manners wouldn’t matter in the liberal utopia some are hoping to build, but here in the real world, we’re judged by them.

So consider this a public service announcement, and remember: knees together, ankles crossed.

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