Ever since I can remember, I’ve been constantly reminded to be less loud, to slump less, to be more courteous, to smile more. I’ve been told to cuss less and present myself better–to do this and do that, in order to create an image for myself that the world sees and deems appropriate. Since I was a little girl, I’ve always been told to act like a lady.
I could come up with an entire list of things I’ve been told to do, the standards I’ve been held up to–but I’m not going to. Actually, I began this blog post a couple of weeks ago, in the form of a list of the things I’ve been told to do, and why they’re not standards we should be holding young women to. I’ve changed my mind.
Instead, today, I would rather talk about why we hold women to these standards, why we shouldn’t, and then whey we shouldn’t shame women for not being “ladylike.”
Why do we hold women to these standards?
A long time ago–back in the time of Scarlett O’Hara–both women and men were held at particular standards: they were meant to either be “gentlemen” or “ladies.” This is pretty common knowledge. There was the chivalrous gentleman or the courteous lady, and each had their place. This was a time of stressed gender roles, societal standings, and major sexism. For the most part, though, both sexes had these high standards to meet: the man was to provide, the woman was to birth the babies; the man was to protect, the woman was to faint; the man was to drink with the lads, the woman was to craft with the ladies; both were expected to be courteous and kind and polite. So, what’s the difference between then and now?
Why shouldn’t we be holding women (and men) to these standards today?
Everyone knows to be polite, and most people know how to behave in certain situations. There’s a difference in teaching people to be kind and polite, and holding them up to standards based on their gender. For a quick lesson here, let’s look at the difference between what’s polite and what’s gender-enforced.
General politeness is…
Holding a door for someone
Chewing with your mouth closed
Saying “please” and “thank you”
Gender-enforced societal rules are…
Telling a boy that “real men don’t cry”
Being “less of a lady” when being too loud
So, there’s definitely a difference between what are general rules of societal politeness and the rules that are enforced by gender.
There are two main reasons we shouldn’t be holding people to these standards today.
(1) It devalues a person to tell them they’re “less of a lady/man” for doing something. If they’re doing something that you don’t approve of or don’t think is right, don’t scold them by lessening their masculinity or femininity. Really, a person should be able to do what they want, when they want–as long as they’re not hurting someone else–without being told they’re less of something.
(2) In today’s world, with today’s scientifically and socially recognized sexual and gender spectrums, it really just doesn’t make sense to have these separate ideals of courtesy for different genders. The sexual spectrum is not longer as black-and-white as it used to be, and since this is so, we shouldn’t be holding people to black-and-white standards. Instead, we should have general rules of courtesy for everyone to follow in certain situations (AKA general politeness).
As you can see, it isn’t right–nor does it make much sense–to tell people to be more of a “gentleman” or more of a “lady” in today’s society.
Why shouldn’t we shame women for being “unladylike?”
As I was typing out this header, all I could think was: “the f*ck kinda question is that?” Why are we shaming women at all? Why are we shaming men at all? Why are we shaming people for not following these outdated and obsolete societal gender rules? Like, why are we even shaming people at all? Sadly, I have to explain why we shouldn’t be shaming people.
I said it before, and I’ll say it again: telling a person they’re less of a man, woman–whatever they identify as–is not okay. Telling a lesbian they’re less of a lesbian because they like to wear makeup and heels is not okay. Telling a gay guy he’s less gay because he’s unfashionable is not okay. Telling a man he’s less of a man because he’s emotional is not okay. And telling a woman she’s less of a woman because she doesn’t like to sit cross-legged is not okay.
Shaming women for being “unladylike” is wrong. Devaluing a person based on their actions that affect nobody is wrong.
I’m not ladylike because I don’t let society tell me how to live my life based off of my gender. I’m a woman–not a lady. I’m a woman who gets shit done without being told how to act.
Photo Courtesy of: MGM