Be A Lady They Said
I love sharing my birthday with International Women’s Day. It’s an opportunity to praise the success of women across the globe, to acknowledge women’s fought-for rights and to celebrate the joys of femininity. It’s euphoric and empowering. It’s that drunken pep talk between two strangers in the girls bathroom somewhere on Call Lane on a Friday night.
Today, we recognise the outstanding social, cultural and political achievements that women have made throughout history. We also take time to celebrate just being a woman. A female. A lady. But what is it about the term ‘lady’ that is so contentious? Or being told to ‘be a lady’ for that matter?
What does ‘being a lady’ mean anyway?
Pretty much every woman has been told to ‘be a lady’ or act more ‘ladylike’ at least once in their lives. And in passing, it seems like a harmless phrase. But why does it grind our gears so much? Why is the term ‘lady’ so offensive in a 21st century content?
For me personally, the word is loaded with connotations of manners and decorum. My earliest memory of being told to ‘be a lady’ goes way back to when I was about seven or eight. I was sitting at the dinner table, knife and fork in hand and the world at my feet, eagerly sharing a story about something at school (I don’t know, maybe a new scoobie pattern?) whilst simultaneously shovelling food into my mouth. But before I could finish my enchanting tale, my Grandma interrupted to tell me to stop talking with my mouth full – it’s not ladylike, she said. And there it was, clear as day. The first of many.
I’ve had other experiences of being told to sit ‘like a lady’ too – ‘don’t slouch,’ ‘cross your legs’, ‘give us a smile love.’ But it wasn’t just restricted to table manners. Ladylike rules are imposed at every stage of life. Without even knowing it, you’re all grown up and you’ve consumed hundreds of contradictory rules and social norms strictly for women (only) to abide by. And you find yourself performing a record-breaking juggling act to keep these many and varied behaviours in the air; each one a chance to adhere to the so-called ‘norms’ of society.
Enough is enough
For centuries, the ‘L’ word has been seen as a mark of respect, deserved or otherwise. To be a Lady was to have achieved a certain status. Yet here we are in 2020, and the term has evolved quite drastically. Being told to ‘be a lady’ now, as a 24-year-old, doesn’t sit as well with me as it did back when I was that open-mouth-chewing-anecdote-telling seven-year-old. In fact, I’m fed up with it. And so is Cynthia Nixon.
The post quickly went viral, and for good reason:
Now boasting over three million views, the video has been shared far and wide by women, and men for that matter, highlighting the impossible social standards that are forced upon females on a daily basis.
Even just a small snippet of the two minutes and fifty second video cuts deep:
‘Don’t be too fat. Don’t be too thin. Don’t be too large. Don’t be too small. Eat up. Slim down. Stop eating so much. Don’t eat too fast. Order a salad. Don’t eat carbs. Skip dessert. You need to lose weight. Fit into that dress. Go on a diet. Watch what you eat. Eat celery. Chew gum. Drink lots of water. You have to fit into those jeans. God, you look like a skeleton. Why don’t you just eat? You look emaciated. You look sick. Eat a burger. Men like women with some meat on their bones.’
The realities that the video depicts are spine-chillingly accurate for millions of women across the world. But it’s not all doom and gloom. The praise off the back of the campaign has been outstanding. And it’s part of a bigger movement. Slowly but surely, we’re seeing a real change in the way that women are presented in society, rejecting their ‘lady-like’ expectations and setting new norms for generations of girls to come.
To any women reading this, you are a lady. Regardless of your posture or eating habits. However you choose to dress. Whatever your pastimes are or what you do for a living. Let us laugh in the face of these unachievable standards. You just gotta do you, and encourage your fellow ladies to do the same.