“Well, she’s all you’d ever want
She’s the kind I like to flaunt and take to dinner
But she always knows her place
She’s got style, she’s got grace, she’s a winner
She’s a lady.”
She’s A Lady, Tom Jones.
Have you ever noticed that the words “female”, “woman” and “lady” are interchangeable? Even though they, of course, all mean different things.
Female refers to sex. Sex is biological, determined by your chromosomes, genitals and physical attributes, which in turn determine your sex, whether you’re male or female.
And then there’s woman, which is a little bit different. Woman refers to gender. Gender, a social construct, is designed to divide and categorise people. It makes it easier to understand the world, as each gender has a certain role to play so that the world may keep turning on its gender-defined axis. Historically, gender is dependent on your sex. If you are female; you are a woman. But being a woman is more than, and sometimes not equivalent to, having a vagina. It is this term, that defines a female’s life. It is being a woman that defines you, and how you, your life and life choices will be deemed and viewed.
Within women, there’s a few more sub-categories to further categorise and objectify women. A lady, the aspiration, is the highest form of woman. A lady, much like a woman, is something society conjured up to keep us ‘aul females in line. It was a means to keep women working in the home, to detain their sexuality, to ensure they did not stray far from motherhood, their true role in life.
Let’s be clear here, ladies do not exist. The idea of it may still be floating around, unfortunately, but ladies do not exist. What do exist however, are women, and people who feel they have the right and the need to judge women by what they wear, their relationship status, what they look like and generally, how they live. This whole notion of a lady was designed with oppression in mind. It was a simple way to oppress women socially and sexually, while making them think that they were winning, for what man would want a woman who is not a lady? By projecting the idea the only way for women to reach their full potential vis-à-vis marriage was to act a certain way and be “ladylike”, it ensured a hierarchy of women, and those that achieved the status of “lady” were better than those who did not.
Being a lady means being classy, elegant, graceful, poised, demure, pure. All these arbitrary adjectives that are still used in society as a means to compare women against each other. A lady doesn’t swear. A lady doesn’t wear low-cut tops. A lady doesn’t have sex, a lady is quite possibly the least sexual thing out there. A lady is still the ideal today.
So, if being a lady means being the embodiment of all that is good and expected of women, then what is the opposite? If I swear, wear low-cut tops and have sex, what does that make me?
A slut. A whore. A slag. Rough. Tacky. Used. Disgusting. Judged. Immoral. Wrong.
I would happily take all of those terms above, if it meant I wasn’t a lady. Because I’m not. Why would I want to subscribe to a term that wants to put me in a fluffy, pink box, with no options for me? Why should I want to conform to these old-fashioned and sexist ideals, when they have absolutely nothing to do with who I am as a person?
I was at a service in the graveyard where my grandparents are buried last year. Some of the women in the other families were wearing dresses, skirts, high heels and fake tan. Later at our family dinner, a member of my family said how odd it was that these women dressed like that, yet can be so family orientated at the same time? Odd, isn’t it, that people’s choice of clothes may actually have zero influence on who they are as a person! It’s quite strange really, that when someone may not look like what you think they should, they can actually still be a good person, with values, beyond what they put on their body.
I’m not a lady, and I don’t want you to think I am.
If my sitting with my legs open on the train makes you roll your eyes and long for the days when our bodies were constricted by tight corsets and even tighter social expectations, then that’s fine by me.
If my swearing causes you to tut in disgust, then off you go. Just don’t spit on me as you do it.
If you tell me not to drink out of a pint glass because it’s “not ladylike”, I’ll happily drink to that.
If anything I do, anything I say, anything I wear causes you to say something that insinuates I am not a lady, that I am less than that, that I have no class, then so be it. It’s no skin off my nose.
Just because you have a string of pearls around your neck does not make you any better than me. What would make you, me and everyone a better person, is if we stop believing that women have to look and act a certain way. If we took the value we put on women’s relationship status, their weight, their clothes and their careers into things that should be valued like honesty, friendship, love and kindness, then maybe the world would be a little better, and a little less pink.
(Sidenote, when looking for the featured image for this post, I Googled “the ultimate lady”, and the first page of results were boats. Lol. Says it all really).