“Be a lady.”
It’s the line my mother threw at me when I would play too rough with my brothers. It’s the reminder I get when I confront someone who is rude or accidentally burp after tossing back a beer. And it’s the scolding I receive from readers, fans, and even family members when I choose to write about blow jobs, joke about sex, or talk about “forbidden” topics a little too loudly.
Sit up! Have good posture. Suck in your tummy when you walk! Watch your mouth. Don’t talk too much. Give him his space. Keep things in the bedroom. Do this, do that, tread lightly, don’t make us look bad. Be respectful. Hold your tongue. Just ignore them. Smile!
It’s been engrained in my head since before I understood what being a “lady” meant. Back then, it was so easy. Before the fight for equality and before we were trying to play with the boys and get the raises, it made sense. Be something beautiful to look at. Be something safe. Be a “thing.” Cook dinner for your husband. Wear the dresses and curl your hair and smile no matter what anyone says to you. Smile when they tell you to. Smile when you’re sad. Smile, smile, smile. Never stop smiling because a lady always smiles.
And for awhile, I did just that. I accentuated my “child-bearing hips” and I made sure my hair was always long and blonde (“boys like long hair” my mother’s words echoed in my mind). I wore sundresses, heels, and a face full of makeup. For all intents and purposes, I looked the part. I would smile at everyone, and smile even wider when people were rude to me. I would apologize if the crude jokes I made offended someone and I would sit out of activities because they weren’t “ladylike,” and I was afraid to look foolish.
I’d lay in bed and regret things I said, things I wrote, things I believed. I spoke out of turn? Shit, I need to stop doing that. I questioned someone’s opinion? That was dumb. I wonder if they’re mad at me? I should apologize. I rudely shut an annoying guy down? Now he’s going to think I’m a bitch.
But then “being a lady” was questioned. Being a woman in our society was questioned.
Stop being a sex object! You don’t need long hair! Blow jobs are degrading. Don’t put another woman down! Everyone be on the same team. Get a job! Get the best job! Don’t just give him what he wants.
You’d think it would be better, now that we’re fighting for the same cause, but is it? Is it better? Or now do we just have a longer list of things to judge people for?
As I sat there staring at an angry email from a reader, I started thinking. Really, truly, thinking. I read her angry words as doubt slipped into my mind.
STOP MAKING SOCIETY THINK THEY ARE RIGHT ABOUT US. If we want people to take us seriously then we have to demand to be viewed as an equal. (A.K.A. We ARE NOT going to be used as sacks of meat in bikinis on your Budweiser poster.) When we support articles like “I Tried Anal” or “I Had a Threesome,” we are making society think that we are weak, slutty, airhead bimbos that never do anything worthwhile.
Was she right? Was that what I was supposed to be doing? Being what she calls a “lady?”
Instead of making things clear or giving us freedom, it’s made me more confused. Am I supposed to grow out my armpit hair? Am I still supposed to be completely hairless? Do I need long hair? Short hair? Does posing in a swimsuit make me a sex object? Is it okay if I like the attention? What will make us equal? Do we even want to be equal? Does joking about sex make me look bad? Does liking sex make me look bad?
There are so many questions, so many opinions, and so many directions we get pulled in. “Let’s bash the guys to help us rise” one group of angry women expresses. “Let’s stop acting like sluts so we can get some respect” another one shouts. Do this, do that. Don’t talk about this. What are you doing? Why are you ruining it for the rest of us? Why are you tearing women down?
And as I sat there, fingers poised on the keyboard, heart in my throat, I realized something. This bitch doesn’t know me. She doesn’t know that I struggled with weight my entire life. She doesn’t know that I always send thank you notes to relatives and am polite to elders. She doesn’t know that I laugh about crude jokes with my parents and she doesn’t know that I always tip 20 percent. She doesn’t know who I’ve been with, how I act, what I stand for, or what I hope to achieve.
She doesn’t get to define what being a lady is. I get to do that.
As I sent her message to the trash, I realized something. No matter what people say, no matter how many times I cuss, or drink beer, or eat with my hands, or don’t feel like smiling or give a goddamn blow job: I am a fucking lady. And nobody can take that away from me.
And no one can take that away from you either. They’re going to try. They’re going to push you down and spit on your dreams. They’re going to tell you you’re an embarrassment and say that you’re wrong. They’ll make you think that you need to do this and look like that, and if not, you’ve failed. But all you have to do is look deep in the place in your heart. That place that holds your most terrifying desires and absurd wishes, and realize: you’re exactly who you’re supposed to be. And you should never apologize for that. Because no matter what they say, you’re a fucking lady, exactly the way you are..