Being an Unlady

I am many things.

I am a straight identified, white, middle-class woman in her late twenties. I am a sister, daughter, aunt, friend, lover, writer, feminist, bad dancer, shower singer, great sauce maker. I drink, smoke, and swear. I wear make-up, my hair long, eyebrows plucked, legs shaven, and nails painted.

But I am not ladylike.

Woman, hell yeah. Feminine, sure sometimes. But ladylike… I’m not so sure.

I used to think it was a compliment, something to strive for. However, my understanding of the term and the ways in which it’s been applied in my life has never done me any favours. More or less, it’s been a way that seems to attempt to prescribe, dictate, and modify the way I speak, move, and act in the world—ways that just aren’t like me.

However, being a writer, I decided to consult the Merriam Webster Dictionary to see if I am—literally—ladylike.

 

la·dy·like
adjective

: polite and quiet in a way that has traditionally been considered suited to a woman

 

Polite. I am all about being polite. I try to be a nice person. A well-mannered person. I always try to make those around me as comfortable as possible. I say my pleases and thank-yous. I open doors for people. I try to be punctual. But none of these things have to do with the fact that I was born with a vagina.

Quiet. I’m quiet sometimes. Like say, when I’m asleep?

Definitely at the library.

Or when I’m on the streetcar listening to Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball on my iPod for the sixth time in a row, my internal monologue running, Is the way she’s sexualized harmful objectification or is this truly how wants to express herself? She’s so clearly an example of the virgin/whore tropes that pervasively influence the way women are percei– ALL YOU EVER DID WAS WR-E-CK ME. YEAH, YOU WR-E-ECK-ME!

I can even be quiet AND polite at the same time when I offer my seat to someone who obviously needs it more than I, all the while Miley making me feel the feels.

 

Goddamn it, Miley.

 

The term “traditionally” seems to cover all matter of sins in this case. What kind of tradition are we talking about here? The kind where women should be seen and not heard? Where they can’t vote, drive, or seen out in public without a chaperone?

Nope, no thank-you.

I think of examples like the recent emergence of #YesAllWomen where stories of misogyny and violence against women are shared. What is it about how we’ve “traditionally” told women they haven’t been able to speak up about this? I can think of times in my life where I’ve had a group of men catcall me from a moving vehicle, or I’ve been addressed as “sweetie” or “honey” by a male superior. In those moments, my voice is taken from me, the position of power is shifted, and this definition of “ladylike” confirms how society socializes women to quietly and politely ignore this.

So no, I won’t just be quiet and polite because someone might think I’m some LOUD broad.

1:  becoming or suitable to a lady

I feel like this gives me nothing.

For example, “becoming of suitable to a lady” could mean something completely different to Mary Crawley from Downton Abbey or rapper/actor/entrepreneur Ludacris when he states that his ideal woman be “a lady on the street and a freak in the bed.”

How about when “lady” is turned against women when professionals are described as a “lady doctor”, “lady cop” or “lady writer” as though the fact they are female undermines their abilities and skills? Ugh.

 

 

2:  resembling a lady in appearance or manners :  well-bred

The term “well-bred” always makes me think of cattle. Maybe because I grew up in a small town.  I guess traditionally speaking, it means that someone is from a long line of gentrified and high class people. But it also essentially means the people who fucked to make you dictate whether or not you’re the equivalent of a blue ribbon heifer or just another sultry Holstein.

I’m from good stock, you know.

Side note: Dear parents, did not mean to compare you to cows. Just trying to make a point.

 

3 a :  feeling or showing too much concern about elegance or propriety <ladylike embarrassment at not being the wife of a real doctor — Lewis Vogler>

I feel like whomever wrote this entry was like, “Silly women and their elegance, Geez.”

I can’t for the life of me figure out why this woman is so embarrassed. Not a REAL doctor?! What kind of fake doctor is she keeping company with? Like, Dr. Dre? Dr. Scholls? Dr. Dolittle? Or is it just some man with his PhD in Marine Biology? The horror.

Dr. Dre doesn't want to be with you either lady.

Dr. Dre doesn’t want to be with you either lady.

I’m more concerned about what flavour of Ms. Vickies I’m going to purchase than whether or not it’s “proper” for me to buy them at 2 a.m, or if my crop top is “elegant” enough for this 7-11.

 

b :  lacking in strength, force, or virility

OH SHIT. NO YOU DIDN’T WEBSTER.

I pride myself on being physically strong. Ask anyone I’ve helped move. Seriously, I may look like Olive Oil, but I’ll move those boxes like Popeye.

What about women who give birth to children? People came out of them. PEOPLE. My mother gave birth to four children WITHOUT drugs, I was ten fucking pounds, and she’s the most graceful, feminine, polite person I know.

I’ve had a strength and force to move to a new city, get out of bad relationships, pay my own bills, help friends through struggles, overcome deaths and illnesses in the family, get an education… and all these things seems pale in comparison to women in the world that are like, REALLY strong, take Hamida Gulistani an advocate for women’s rights in Afghanistan.

 

Can’t be virile and be ladylike?

I am virile. Ask my vibrator. I enjoy sex. Like, a lot.  Have you listened to Beyonce?! What about the song Blow? It’s essentially my anthem.

Seriously, if she’s not ladylike, then I’m totally fucked.

This is the final nail in the coffin of ever considering myself, “ladylike.”

It’s a definition that hurts us all, placing us all in a gender binary where women are considered “soft” and “weak” and men have to be “strong” and “unemotional.”

And so, as a polite but not quiet, strong, virile, woman with bigger concerns than wringing her hands over propriety and elegance, I am:

 

 

un·la·dy·like
adjective

< “Sharon gave an unladylike snort”> AT GENDER INEQUALITY AMIRITE?

having qualities or traits that are traditionally considered inappropriate for a girl or woman

If you’d be so kind to join me (and some other great women) here at Unladylike blog, let’s try to see what that might really means.

 

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