I have a hard time conceptualizing myself as a woman. Generally speaking, I feel decidedly female and vaguely adult, but more of a girl-woman hybrid than a fully-fledged woman.
And there’s no doubt about it: I am NOT a lady.
Because in my mind, ladies are both aware of and concerned with social norms. They value manners, comportment, and appropriateness. They always send thank-you notes, know exactly when to transition from appetizers to dinner at parties, and have undergarments appropriate to every possible fashion situation. Ladies have been doing perfect winged eyeliner since age 10, carry small purses, and exude quiet elegance.
Again: Me? Not a lady. Not in the least. I enjoy belching. I have belching contests with my dad and husband. I have to restrain myself from belching loudly in public, and sometimes do it unconsciously before I realize that I’M NOT AT HOME. My handbag is relatively tidy, but it’s large enough that I could crawl inside it to take a nap. Feeling obligated to write thank you notes irritates me, though I couldn’t tell you why since I value gratitude above nearly everything else in life. I don’t own a strapless bra, instead choosing to wear my regular, soft-cup bra with the straps tucked into the cups. Seriously.
And I’ve realized that I do all these things because ladylike behavior makes me feel claustrophobic. None of the individual actions or traits that I think of as ladylike is even remotely negative, but taken as a whole they reflect the philosophy that women should be subdued, prim, regulated, and ornamental. Women should enforce and personally follow all manner of social norms, regardless of how bizarre or impractical they may become. Women should be contained.
And while I seldom beat my chest and scream at the top of my lungs while standing naked on a crowded boulevard, I rebel against the notion of containment. I won’t be kept quiet, I won’t refrain from doing things I enjoy just because they’re “unladylike,” and I won’t follow antiquated rules about behavior. I’m polite, but I won’t be proper. I’m respectful, but I won’t be timid. I’m stylish, but I won’t be held to anyone else’s standards of beauty, fashion, or personal grooming.
And yet, I have used “lady” as a term of genuine endearment for my girlfriends for ages. And despite shunning the associated behaviors, I am drawn to the physical trappings of the lady archetype. I love heels and pencil skirts, pearls and shawls, 50s silhouettes, brooches, and scarves. The aesthetic appeals to me independent of its implications, but I also enjoy the juxtaposition that dressing in ladylike outfits creates. I dress like a lady and act like me, laughing silently, even though I’m quite sure the observing world fails to see the irony.
I imagine that my personal definition of “ladylike” may be quite different from yours. So I’m curious: What is a lady to YOU? Do you wrestle with, rebel against, or embrace the idea of being a lady? Do you consider yourself to be a lady?
Image courtesy ytfelmi.