Updated: Oct 16, 2018
Let me just cut to the chase with this one – the word LADYLIKE grinds my gears like nothing else. From family members; to friends; to people who straight up don’t really know me at all – “oh Charlotte that’s not very ladylike” is a phrase I’ve heard uttered countless amounts of times. Now I don’t know about you but the idea of certain behaviours being more suitable for one gender than they are for another boils my blood. What’s even more annoying is that, even at the age of 20, I still get called out for certain behaviour that people around me deem inappropriate simply for the fact that I’m a girl. So what does it really mean to be ladylike? And why do older generations treat fulfilling this stereotype like it’s the pinnacle of female life?
Some behaviours that I’ve noticed people call ‘unladylike’ include; swearing, burping, sitting in certain ways, drinking a lot, dancing provocatively; the list goes on. So when a range of dictionaries came to the general consensus that to be ladylike, one must be refined, attentive, elegant, graceful, polite - I was not surprised. What did surprise me though were the negative denotations outlined alongside. “It wasn’t ladylike to be too interested in men” – Oxford. “Lacking in strength, force, or virility” – Merriam-Webster. “Derogatory (of a man) – effeminate” – Collins. Not only is this one word so limiting for women, it can also be very damaging to them and men alike.
Words hold power and the power of this particular word lies in the fact that it tells women exactly how they should be acting and tells men exactly how they shouldn’t be. What’s more is, the people who chose to use this word, then harbour its power and use it to embarrass people. They embarrass the women whose behaviour they deem unworthy for their gender and they embarrass the men who they’re making fun of for behaving in a way apparently unsuitable for theirs. This is harmful. It degrades the women who don’t fit the stereotype and implies that the women who do, earn a certain level of superiority. While reinforcing to men that ‘feminine’ traits are something to be ashamed of.
It’s worrying that this word is used so frequently with such disregard. What shocks me even more is that, in my case anyway, it tends to come from the people closer to you. I constantly notice a difference in word choice when people comment on somebody’s behaviour depending on the gender of the person-in-question. If I swear around family I’m told it’s “not very ladylike” but if my brother does he’s told it’s “not very polite”. Why the difference? Why is my gender a catalyst in whether I should swear or not? God forbid the word shit comes out of a girl’s mouth.
In my opinion, the idea that women shouldn't swear or be strong or feel sexually empowered is MEDIEVAL. Just like the idea that men should be ‘lads’ and being anything but, is a sign of weakness. Now I’m a massive believer of free speech and would expect no one to alter their vocabulary for my benefit. However, if you insist on calling out other people’s behaviour that you dislike, maybe think twice about the words you use and what ideology you’re advocating in doing so. Or better yet, stop commenting on people's behaviour all together and focus on your own.
Ask yourself this: do you really want your daughter growing up thinking she can’t do the same things as your son? Do you really want your brother to believe that he can’t exercise emotions in the same way your sister can? Live and let live, that’s what I say.
Oh and lastly please know that since I’m respecting your right to tell me to be more ladylike, then I expect you to respect my right to tell you to fuck off.