Ta-Nehisi gives a history lesson:
[I]n the Old South, all white men were expected to aspire to be gentlemen, and all white women were expected to aspire to be ladies. Black people were expected to aspire to give all their labor to their masters, and to stay right with God. (The two were very often linked.) A gentleman was expected to lord over an estate, supervise his slaves and superintend their Christian enlightenment, and--from the battlefield to the horse track--bring honor to his family name. A lady, as the historian Steven Stowe writes, was expected to be "ornamental," to be "mild, loving and beautiful."
This was the society as God had ordered it, and as sure as the natural kingdom is ordered, so too was the kingdom of people. Science is embryonic in this era--everything from personal beauty, to the shape of one's head is believed to indicate intelligence. The term "good breeding" was used as interchangeable for "good manners." What I'm driving at is the notion of individuality, that you could be both a woman and an individual person, with equal and individual ambitions, hadn't really been absorbed. Your birth marked your estate, and your lot in life was to till that estate to the best of your abilities.