Ladylike? That’s a fool’s bargain

Foul-mouthed females: Why are so many women so comfortable being coarse? | Detroit Free Press |

I enjoyed a big helping of eyeroll with my morning coffee, while reading this piece. The shopping writer for the Free Press used up a page of newshole wringing her hands over the coarseness and bluntness of women these days.

Yes, my stars, shopping writer (clutching pearls and fanning myself)! We’re expressing our opinions and not particualrly caring about being nice about it! And sometimes we use adult language, because we’re, um, adults!

But this isn’t about the questionable ways the Free Press chooses to use its ever-dwindling features section. It is about the conflation of “womanhood” with a sweet, gentle, purity that would never allow a coarse word or an unsugared criticism to cross a lady’s (perfectly lipsticked) lips.

People (a distressing number of them women) have been trying to feed this line to smart, funny women for years, and happily, many of us have come to understand that “being a lady” is a fool’s game. It’s code for “sit down, cross your legs at the ankles daintly, and shut up when the mens are talking.” I know plenty of women who are not people to be trifled with, who dress and behave as girly as girly can be and glory in it, so this isn’t about clothes or makeup or hair. It’s completely about speaking up for ourselves, in the words we choose… and how often we’re told that’s not OK.

But it is, it’s so OK. I mean, God forbid that women can be funny talking about things that are funny, not some Phyllis Diller-esque self-deprecation, or gosh those men, they’re pretty terrible, amirite? Guess what? Penis jokes are funny! A well-placed swear word can emphasize the emotion behind a statement in a way few other words can!

And my goodness, we’re not supposed to be loud? When was the last time anyone said anything of the kind about men? If you’re listening to us, we don’t need to shout (a fact I have attempted to impress upon my children more than once).

Bemoaning the lack of “ladylike” behavior in public traffics in the kind of harmful stereotypes about women many of us were smart enough to ditch years ago. One of the moments I realized I was an adult was when I realized I didn’t care who thought I was nice. I am nice, but I will also tell you if you’re behaving obnoxiously and I will not allow you to abuse me or anyone else. I just don’t understand how being direct about what you want is somehow seen as unwomanly, although I certainly know many victims of that poison that some people still try to feed little girls.

The piece talks about a study done that shows young girls who watch a lot of reality TV (where the worst of womanhood is on display) have considerably more negative social attitudes than girls who do not. Could it be possible, maybe, that girls who are allowed a steady diet of reality TV are naturally going to suffer the same effects on their emotional health that a diet of Twinkies and fried chicken would have on their physical health? If the adults in their lives are exhibiting no gatekeeper function over what they watch, chances are pretty good they also aren’t having productive conversations with their daughters about friendships, bullying, etc.

As someone who is raising one girl child and one boy child, the one thing I consistently try to avoid is feeding them sterotypes of what male and female behavior is. I want my daughter to grow up active, strong, intelligent, and fearless. I want her to be the kind of person who knows how to ask for what she wants, who commands respect, and who understands that you can be direct without being obnoxious, that no one respects women who allow themselves to be steamrollered because they’re just so dainty. If I teach her no other skill, I want her to learn how to stand up for herself and for others.

In other words, I am raising a future woman. And not, remotely, a lady.

(on a side note, anyone who knows me knows I can and do swear creatively and with impunity….and I didn’t here, at all. I wanted to prove the point that even those of us who chuckle at coarse language used the right way can and do turn it off and are capable of expressing ourselves without it).