Are you over the age of four? Has someone hurled the word “ladylike” at you? If so, then you probably were not being complimented. More than likely, you are being shamed.
When does ladylike describe a grown up in a positive way? We would sound ridiculous if we congratulated an adult for being ladylike. We would sound as though we were treating her like a child. However, it is perfectly acceptable to say “That isn’t very ladylike.” or “She isn’t a lady.” to denigrate an adult.
We tell little girls to be ladylike. We smile and congratulate them for carrying themselves with decorum, for speaking softly, and for not burping in public. We reward them with attention and affection for sitting quietly in their Sunday best and for not making waves with arguments or opinions. We say “You are so ladylike. What a good girl.”
Then, as they age, we use the word “ladylike” as a bludgeon for the rest of their damn lives.
Please understand, I am not suggesting that anyone not comport themselves in a manner they deem “ladylike”. We should be free to be ourselves.
We need to stop beating up our sisters for not being a “lady”.
I am not ladylike.
I am a woman.
I sit with my knees splayed because that feels natural and comfortable to me. I curse. I make crude jokes. I laugh loudly. I express anger and frustration.
If I have a wedgie, I pull it out. I care a lot more about getting a wad of material dislodged from my butt crack than I do about how I appear when I am removing the wad of material from my butt crack. I also have no problem talking about my butt crack which is never going to make anyone’s list of “things that are ladylike”.
When I exercise, I sweat and get stinky. My body grows hair and I sometimes don’t worry about it being there. You know who doesn’t have to look at my hairy legs? People.
It took until I was in my fifties to examine the word ladylike and consider how a word woven into our social fabric keeps women “in their place”. The word ladylike exists to make us feel bad about ourselves. I had always accepted the word ladylike as a normal, neither here nor there word. But the word is not free of malice. Ladylike gets used to make us feel bad. Ladylike serves as an example of language constructed to put a thumb on women. Ladylike is a compliment for little girls. For women? It is a word that tells us that we should be different. Ladylike tries to shine a light on ways we fail at being feminine. More importantly, ladylike tries to control us and keep us in our patriarchal place.
- Don’t laugh too loud.
- Keep your knees together.
- Don’t curse.
- Don’t expel gas.
- Don’t express opinions.
- Dress in a demure manner.
- Stay out of the way.
- Sit quietly.
- Don’t rock the boat.
- Don’t take up space.
That last one feels like the root of ladylike. Don’t take up space. Stay out of the way. Learn your place. If you loudly stand up for yourself, then you are no longer a lady. Ladies value appearances over justice. Ladies honor each other by staying in their place. And looking pretty.
I am a woman.
I take up the space I need. I speak when I have something to say. I am not quiet. I rock the boat. I do not need anyone’s permission or approval to be exactly the woman I want to be.
We can be who we want, you know. We do not have to conform to other people’s idea of how we should be. We can just be.
As women, we should examine our language and how we are held to standards we may or may not identify with. We can reject those standards without apology. We can raise our voices without shame. We can shed the ladylike shroud if being ladylike is not something we value. This shroud was fabricated without our input, we do not have to continue to grant it validity.
We don’t have to be ladylike.
We are women.
Being ladylike does not make us more or less women.
Using language to suggest we are less of a woman because our actions or appearances don’t conform to someone else’s standards. Bullshit. Allowing language to control the volume of our voice or the number of buttons on our blouse. Bullshit. Staying quiet and swallowing our opinions. Bullshit.
I am of the opinion that anyone who looks down their nose and denigrates me or one of my sisters for not being ladylike can shove ladylike right up their ass.