Netflix recently released a new, and very interesting movie that has quite an intriguing main character: Enola Holmes, Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister.
The film is set in 1884. A time where social etiquette and expectations of women were, in some ways, very different from today.
Enola, being a member of the Holmes family is, of course, far from ‘normal’, and is not exactly what society at that time would call a perfect lady…in fact, she would barely make the title of being ladylike…
She does not know how to embroider, does not wear her hat and gloves out in public, and generally appears to break every etiquette rule imaginable – including becoming embroiled in full on fistfights – simply outrageous!
Yet…before we judge her too harshly…Enola is, of course, a strong character; she is smart, courageous and witty. All of which are traits that were expected of women in the 1800s, and still are cherished today in many cultures.
Here’s an excerpt from “The Ladies’ Book Of Etiquette, And Manual Of Politeness.” Written by Florence Hartley in 1860:
“In the present age, when education is within the reach of all, both rich and poor, every lady will endeavour to become, not only well educated, but accomplished. It is not, as some will assert, a waste of time or money. Not only the fingers, voice, and figure are improved, but the heart and intellect will become refined, and the happiness greatly increased.”
It just so happens that Enola’s accomplishments, as they were known back then, aren’t in home keeping or embroidery. As she states in the movie, she was taught to ‘watch and to listen and to fight’. All of this combined, for that period of time, make her a bit of a ‘wild child’ as her brother calls her. So, of course, he does the most caring thing he can, which is to enrol dear Enola into a finishing school in the hopes of helping her to fit into society and, hopefully, learn some basic table manners along the way…
Now, whilst this all makes for great entertainment, interestingly, these same issues do exist today.
Many of us still send our ‘young ladies’ to etiquette or finishing school so that they can learn appropriate mannerisms and etiquette rules, and rightly so. Feminist or not, having manners and understanding social expectations is important for both genders.
Knowing how to behave and what is expected in different social situations will greatly increase our opportunities and reputation, both in the world of work and life in general.
Many of us, children and adults alike, often find ourselves in a situation that requires certain etiquette rules for interacting and for the way that we conduct ourselves.
This ranges from job interviews to formal dinners, visiting old friends and being introduced to new acquaintances. All of these situations require slightly different codes of dress, manners and formalities. Which, if we are unaware of, can often lead to embarrassment and, more importantly, missed opportunities.
After all, the whole point of good manners and the ability to participate and contribute to a conversation, is to show that we are a civilised, educated human being. We want to show that we are capable of connecting with, and understanding, our fellow human beings. Good manners and conduct demonstrate that we have the ability to contribute positively to society.
Many things have changed since the 1800s, but first impressions and politeness are still deal breakers in many situations, and a good first impression comes with good etiquette.
But what exactly are today’s standards? What makes a lady ladylike? Is that even an appropriate term now, particularly with the rise of feminism? Is it sexist to expect women to dress in a certain way and to possess specific knowledge or accomplishments? Or have we simply lowered our standards?
Well, it really depends, doesn’t it? Today’s society is much more culturally diverse than the 1800s and the gap between different classes, the poor and the wealthy also appears to be widening. Technology enables a large platform for the minority, and all of these things combined means that social etiquette and rules vary much more within a city or country than it did previously.
Because of this, there are many different viewpoints on certain aspects of etiquette, and in particular, our expectations of women. The rise of feminism has challenged many basic rules of etiquette, particularly in terms of interactions between men and women. But we also need to remember that not all women are feminists, and in many groups within society, good old-fashioned chivalry is still highly appreciated and also expected.
So whilst many of these questions could well be the titles of some very interesting debates, the best approach to take, to successfully socially navigate in today’s society, is to be prepared and educated about etiquette rules and different viewpoints.
We need to train and educate our young ladies, teenagers and adults to handle any situation that they find themselves in.
Here at Polished Manners, we take the approach that there is still most definitely a baseline of social expectations and etiquette rules, that apply universally. Things like table manners, holding doors open, knowing when to speak, when to listen, how to introduce yourself and so on.
There is also a set of etiquette rules that should be followed depending on the type of company that you are in.
For example, you may, as part of an interview or job role, be invited to a formal dinner party. In which case, there will be certain expectations on how you present yourself and interact with the host and other guests. You will be expected to engage in conversations with people whom you may or may not share the same opinions with, but nonetheless, you must be seen as polite and courteous.
At times like this, it is always better to be prepared and have a good understanding of the etiquette rules that you are expected to follow.
Our focus here at polished manners is to help to educate you on standard rules of etiquette as well as those that may now only be specific to certain groups and situations.
Our classes focus on striking a balance between teaching the importance of knowing how to behave in certain situations, how to converse and what to do in certain situations. Whilst maintaining a sense of fun and not taking oneself too seriously.
At the same time, we also feel that every individuals’ personality is something to be celebrated.
So although you will be learning ‘rules’ and ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ with us, all of our content is delivered in a fun and practical way. We will show you how to blend in, in different social situations, whilst maintaining your sense of self and identity. Allowing your personality to shine through, whilst being socially accepted into any situation.
Being socially aware is important and knowing how to respond in different situations is crucial for your success.
As interesting and fun as Enola’s life may be, realistically speaking we can’t all get into a fistfight with those we disagree with…as tempting as it may be…it just wouldn’t be ladylike now, would it? 😉