The Lady Issue
MISDEMEANOUR sugar & spice & all things nice
appropriate for or typical of a well-bred, decorous woman or girl.â€œHer antics were considered very undignified by her ladylike peersâ€? synonyms: genteel, polite, refined, well bred, cultivated, polished, decorous, proper, correct, respectable, seemly, well mannered, cultured, sophisticated, courteous, civil, elegant
to make the boys wink
A compliment, or a gross attack on individual femininity and a nod to our patriarchal past? ///////////////////////////// BY CHLOE SHARPLESS
LADYLIKE has long been used to limit women’s behaviour. Historically, we associate the word ‘ladylike’ with submissive upper-middle class women delicately sipping tea, wearing mobility restricting corsets, being seen and not heard. Perhaps in the past, being considered ‘ladylike’ may have been considered a compliment; you were anexemplary member of society, often with a wealthy husband and didn’t dare question your defined role. Because of these archaic connections, many women have begun to reject ‘ladylike’ as an adjective of their behaviour and dress. As we further explore gender fluidity and continue to disregard gender stereotypes,‘ladylike’ has become a derogatory, criticism of an individual’s femininity.
The Oxford English dictionary defines being ‘ladylike’ as ‘appropriate for or typical of a well-bred, decorous woman or girl’. ‘Well-bred’ and ‘decorous’ are adjectives that are almost extinct in the English language, so why is ‘ladylike’ still frequently being used to describe and often condemn us? “That’s not very ladylike of you” is a phrase that all females are dismally familiar with. From childhood, it is instilled in us that to be a woman involves certain social expectations involving our conduct, our attitudes and the way we dress. As we reach adolescence and adulthood, the list of frowned upon behaviours for females grows exponentially. From swearing, drinking in excess and discussing sex, to playing sports and working in traditional ‘male industries’; these are just a number of issues for which women face denouncing attacks on their femininity. Jenessa Williams, journalist, blogger and Events Manager of The Vintage Kilo Sale finds the word ‘ladylike’ to be “problematic, as it suggests that there is one specific way of being a ‘lady’”, which she doesn’t believe to be true at all. From her personal perspective, the issue of ‘ladylike’ is not only concerned with gender stereotypes, but also social class and race. “I think it has very classist undertones - women of a working class are often accused in the media of not being ladylike and therefore a bad role model when they wear a skimpy outfit, say something controversial or behave in a ‘laddish’ manner, whereassomebody like Kate Middleton is lauded as a beacon of femininity because she carries herselfquietly and wears expensive, prim clothing”. As a mixed Caribbean and white female, she was often told to “scrape her unruly afro hair back” to appear smarter. This opens up a whole new issue of elitism attached to the word ‘ladylike’. Today, Jenessa feels that she does conform to certain ‘ladylike’ ideals; she wears a lot of kitsch type clothing, is interested in fashion and enjoys sewing. However, she does not limit herself because of society’s expectation of her. From her blog, Jenessa Explains It All, it is evident she possesses a whole range of articulate and passionate thoughts and opinions on issues such as misogyny in music, to the projection of menstruation in the media. She is unafraid and unapologetic.
[“THAT’S NOT VERY LADYLIKE OF YOU”]
In the future, Jenessa looks forward to the division of women and men’s clothing becoming less important, obsolete even, and people wearing what they feel comfortable in, without the use of irrelevant labels of conformity”. She explains that at The Vintage Kilo Sale, “it is a constant delight to lay out stock all as one big mix, and see young people descend on them and simply buy what they like the look of rather than what they are ‘supposed’ to wear. It’s an inclusive environment that I think a lot of high street stores could learn something from – ditch the ‘menswear’ and ‘womenswear’ labels and simply allow people to wear things they feel good in”.
[“The media of course, plays a hugely significant role in outlining acceptable behaviourand dress”] The media, of course, plays a hugely significant role in outlining acceptable behaviour and dress for women. For example, countless SS17 collections have amusingly been described as ‘ladylike’. Emilia Wickstead’s SS17 line, took inspiration from Japanese ‘love hotels’; rooms that are rented by the hour, for the sole purpose of couple or group sexual liaisons. However, because the line featured various shades of pink, florals and polka dots, it was repeatedly described as ‘ladylike’ ‘pretty’ and ‘demure’ by publications such as the Telegraph and Vogue. The Telegraph has an average reader age of 61 and is generally right wing. Perhaps they made a conscious decision to leave out the part about the erotic influence, as upper-middle class poster girl, The Duchess of Cambridge, is a frequent advocate for the brand. With her squeaky clean reputation; she absolutely could not be associated with something so smutty and ‘unladylike’.
Country Life magazine, which previously had features including Your child’s first pony: A survival guide and Schools fit for a future King, published a 39 step guide on how to be a lady. The article is fascinating. It stinks of Downton Abbey-esque times. It states that ladies “might not understand the rules of cricket or rugby, but enjoy the game anyway”, “own a little black dress” and “never wears shoes she can’t walk in”. Country Life are therefore suggesting that 21st century women do not possess the intellect to understand issues that are so overwhelmingly complicated such as sport and are unable to dress themselves without guidance and regulation. Millennials are arguably the most open-minded, inclusive sector of society. We challenge out-dated thoughts and opinions. We are far removed from the “girls are made from sugar, spice and all things nice” theory. We young females are champions of individuality, independence and diversity. We do not need antiquated principles and values to dictate the way we live, and we certainly do not need anyone to uphold them to us. We are free to dress in a way in which we feel comfortable and unrestricted, we are free to express ourselves without being silenced and we are free to live in a way which we see apt. So what does ‘ladylike’ mean in 2017? And is it relevant in our society? 80% of 18-25 year olds I surveyed answered no. Worse, 88% of participants associate the word with social class. Whether you conform to society’s ideals or not, we should all seek to eliminate gender suppressive words such as ‘ladylike’ and embrace our personal interpretations of femininity.
[“We do not need antiquated principles and values to dictate the way we live”]
ACT LIKE A LADY?
The Lady Issue