How To Be A Lady (and other lies)

(Note: This post is coming from kind of an angry place, as a result of the ridiculousness going on in the US right now, the CPC’s attempt to re-open the abortion debate after they promised they wouldn’t, the fact that I just read “Born Wicked” by Jessica Spotswood, and was pushed over the edge by a pin on Pinterest, brought to my attention by C.J. Redwine.)


I had to eat a lot of crow after I started watching ABC’s Pan Am this fall. See, I believed the ad campaign, which presented the show as Mad Men in the sky and on par with the mercifully short-lived Playboy Club. It’s not a hard thing to sell: that “simpler” time, when life was slower, skirts were longer, and women knew their place. The upswing of selective nostalgia is not even all that surprising. There’s always trends like that in a recession, whether it’s modern America or Middle Kingdom Egypt. Thems the breaks.

Except…they’re totally not. They’re only the breaks if you want them to be. If you let them.

The Playboy Club did turn out to be sexist show about the exploitation of women. Pan Am, though, turned out to be AMAZING. It wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t claim to be either. And every time you got close to thinking “Man, wasn’t life easier in the sixties?” there would be some awful reminder that, no, it really wasn’t. (Also, there were SPIES and FEISTY RED HEADS and I AM NOT BIASED AT ALL!)

Anyway, this is all a lead up to what I think is one of most important messages we can get from the media: EVERYONE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR OWN ACTIONS. Unfortunately, this is a message that almost never gets transmitted properly.

One of the reasons I like CRIMINAL MINDS as much as I do is that for all their talk of statistics and predilections and tendencies and perfect storms, they still present the bulk of their “bad guys” as making a choice. This is made very clear in an early episode, when Hotch flat out tells a guy that some victims of abuse grow up to become abusers and some “grow up to catch them”, and is a recurring theme throughout the series. They’re pretty good at not blaming the victim.

More often, though, this is not what we get. We get shows like CSI, where they tell you that being “different” will get you killed. We get shows like Mad Men, where they tell you that life was better back when everyone knew their place.

There was an article on Pintrest a couple days ago that had a picture of a woman in a 50’s dress and a man in a 50’s suit. It said “I often wonder if more girls were willing to be ladies, more guys would feel challenged to be gentlemen.” I cannot even BEGIN to tell you how much RAGE this makes me feel. But you’re in my blog, so I’m going to try.

First of all, what the heck is a “lady” anyway, if not some social construct? I mean, it is VERY UNLIKELY that anyone is going to suddenly find themselves a member of the Peerage, so being a “lady” is a fairly stupid goal, in that it is relatively unattainable. If, on the other hand, we choose to be less literal…there’s still a HUGE lack of clarity.

The poster of the article defined a lady as “someone who smiles when she’s crying inside”, because she knows she’s being monitored. Again, my first reaction was to have ALL THE RAGE because…that’s just dumb! HAVE YOUR FEELS AND SHOW THEM.

The first person I ever remember referring to me as a “lady” was my first basketball coach. I was six, and I didn’t really think about it very much. When I asked him about it as a teenager, he told me that he didn’t want to call us “girls”, and he wanted us to grow up thinking that women playing basketball was as natural as boys who played (for the record, he called the boys he coached “gentlemen”). I said “So, you didn’t call us ladies the way drill sergeants call new recruits ‘ladies’?”, and he said “You’ve met my daughters. What do you think?”

My grandmother’s definition of lady was someone who was nice to her brother and didn’t pick her nose. My mother’s definition of a lady was someone who was polite and cleaned her room. My definition of a lady, though? My definition of a lady is someone who is responsible for her own damn actions.

Because, really, that’s the most important thing. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, how you’re walking, or how you’re dancing. If someone assaults you, it is not your fault. If you weigh more than everyone else and are the victim of bullying, it is not your fault. If you are smarter than everyone else in the room, and no one ever lets you forget it, it is not your fault. Victim blaming accomplishes absolutely nothing, except to exacerbate the problem by excusing the perpetrator.

I know it’s hard. People will tell you “If you just lose a little weight, it will get better”, and they will be your mother. People will tell you “If you just gave simpler answers in class, maybe the other kids would eat lunch with you”, and they will be your favourite teacher. People will tell you “But you were wearing that skirt, so you were kind of asking for it”, and they will be police officers. THEY ARE WRONG.

Change starts with you. Remember that you have as much right to play as anyone else. Refuse to buy into that stupid nostalgia. Fight it everywhere you can. Call your relatives on it when they bring it up at the dinner table. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are over-reacting. Do not let yourself be shamed.

Be whatever kind of lady (or gentleman) you want. Make your own definition. But above all, be responsible for your own actions, and remember that you are NOT responsible for the actions of anyone else.

Edit: C.J. Redwine has now posted her response in her own blog (, if you are interested.


2 responses to “How To Be A Lady (and other lies)

  1. Darn tooting girl! You said it all and well. We will all make mistakes or experience unpleasant realities. It is how we choose to react to them that will define us, not that something happened… or someone said something…. or did something. WE choose. The power to choose is incredible. That said, making a choice of how to react means you have to acknowledge “things”. Take responsibility. Something, I feel, that requires strength of character.

    And I was always told to be more lady like…. lotta good that did.

  2. How proud I am to be your cousin Kater.

    There’s a lot of guys (males) I know that would benefit greatly from reading this.

    And no, it’s not your fault you’re the smartest person in the room more often than not. I wouldn’t have you any other way though.

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