All Articles Tagged "being ladylike"
I didn’t watch the Golden Globes over the weekend. But if I knew how entertaining they were going to be… I was just about to lie; I still probably wouldn’t have watched them. But anyway, on Monday when clips of the most memorable moments from the show were being played, I noticed that there was a clip of Girls creator Lena Dunham hobbling up the stairs and across the stage to accept her award. As my coworkers and I watched the painful footage, someone mentioned something about the matronly nature of her dress; but all I could think about was her walk. No bueno.
I shook my head, knowing that the dress and certainly the shoes were just not Lena’s style. And not because I would argue heels aren’t her thing– but because if you’re visibly uncomfortable and uncoordinated in a shoe, then it’s not for you.
Aaah but as I write about Lena Dunham, I also speak to myself. As a woman who’s just over 5 feet, heels can seem like a necessity more than an accessory. When you’re as short as I am you don’t want to go to the club to be bumped and bruised as people, who can’t see you, try to move past you. So what’s the solution? Throw on some heels. Yes my toes will be a little numb by the end of the night but at least that way I can be at least shoulder level with most patrons, even if I’m teetering the whole time.
Wearing heels for long stretcches–and maybe alcohol–is the reason we women have watched in horror or embarrassment as so many of our girlfriends, or we ourselves, have made contact with the sticky club floor or the unforgiving cement on our way home. Heels, unlike boots, are not made for walkin’.
And yet we still love them.
I remember the debate I got into with one of my male friends one night. We were on the subway one evening when we noticed a group of girls in short freak em dresses and high heels. He looked at them and sized them up before leaning over to suggest that women who step out in high heels were somehow desperate for attention, even at the expense of being unstable and therefore unsafe in case anything popped off.
Even though I can recall several instances where I almost busted my face open walking down cement steps in heels, I found myself getting very defensive. Because sure heels aren’t the best in a pinch but just because a woman chooses to wear them on a night out doesn’t mean she’s desperate. It means she wants to feel pretty. It means she doesn’t want to be the short one in her circle of friends. It means that she wants her freshly shaven legs to glisten when the street lights hit them. It means she wants to feel powerful. And yeah, she might even want to be noticed. I was defensive even though I knew and my feet confirmed that heels have never really been our friend. Instead heels are like that girl you call a friend who’s not so secretly jealous of you. You can’t stand her but you keep her around and always defend her because she’s fun and you need someone to hang out with on the weekends.
That’s probably what Lena told herself as she slid her feet into the $945, black, peep-toe Louboutin pump that had her wobbling last night. I want to feel pretty. I want to feel powerful and that’s what women are supposed to wear.
Honestly, for a lot of women, myself included, there’s a sense of unspoken shame about not being able to walk in heels. It’s somehow unladylike. A true lady knows how to not only walk but strut in heels. It’s a skill we’ve tried to master since childhood. Beyoncé brags about having her first pair at the age of 13. Men ask us to keep them on in the bedroom and shoes with no heels are often regarded as casual, dressed down. Comfort be damned.
I remember during my senior year of college, in my African Literature class, we read this book, Praisesong For The Widow. If you’re not familiar, basically it’s a book about Avey Johnson, a woman in her sixties, who has to disconnect from her pristine image and adherence to societal constraints in order to find her roots and discover who she really is. Several times throughout the novel, they make mention of Avey’s high heels and how when she’s wearing them, she’s really not herself, not really seeing and relating to the world as she should. “”Freed of the high-heels her body always felt restored to its proper axis.”
If you’re one of those women who is as comfortable in heels as you are barefoot, then by all means continue to do you boo. But for the rest of us, let’s not always give in to the pressure to wear heels just because we’re expected to. There’s nothing wrong with staying grounded every once in a while.
Maggie Kuhn, founder of the Gray Panthers, said once, Speak your mind-even if your voice shakes.
As a black woman in America, who according to one study is often shrouded in the cloak of invisibility, I always found this to be a powerful sentiment. Speaking your mind even if your voice shakes is more than about being opinionate. It’s about speaking up for your truth even in the face of others, who wish you passivity and deference. Socially, black women find themselves in an interesting place; when society speaks for women, they usually mean white women. And when they speak about blacks, the person envisioned is usually black men. And the only time that they speak of us is when there are questions about our hair and our love lives.
That’s why I feel that it is important that women, particularly black women, reject the notions of being a lady and construct our own version of womanhood. By definition, taken from Webster, a lady is defined as: A well-mannered and considerate woman with high standards of proper behavior; 2. a. A woman regarded as proper and virtuous. b. A well-behaved young girl. The key words are “proper” and “behaved.” And what exactly is expected of proper and well-behaved ladies? According to the advice I have heard throughout the years: Ladies don’t talk too loudly or brag about their accomplishments. Ladies are reserved, demure, regulated and ornamental. Ladies are never in bad moods or if they are, they keep it to themselves out of respect for others. Ladies are not supposed to ask too many questions. Instead ladies seek to be civil, good mannered and maintain their integrity and classiness at all time. And they certainly do not curse or use foul language because that is the ultimate breach in ladylike etiquettes.
Well to that I say fawk being a lady. I cannot tell you how many times unwillingness to accept a subordinate position in an effort to maintain ladylike qualities has been misconstrued as being “bitchy” and/or “aggressive.” But for every story I have about being called out of my name, I can tell you a story about how my “bitchiness” and “aggressiveness” managed to advance me in some regards – even if it was just down the street.
Like most construction projects in the city, the crew basically tore up portions of the street, put a bunch of orange cones and barriers up and then went home for 2 months. Anyway, I managed to turn the corner and maneuver my tiny economy car around this big gaping hole at the intersection and right turn onto a small side street when an oncoming car sped up all the way up to my front bumper and blew the horn. “Move back,” said the older white man in an SUV. Um, where am I supposed to move? “Don’t you see this construction behind me? Didn’t you see me driving around the construction? Don’t you see these other two vehicles behind me, impeding my ability to go in reverse? “Stop being a jerk and just move back!” The man grew more agitated and insistent, “Look lady, I’m not moving my car for you, you entitled little Beyotch. So you better figure out how you’re going to get through me or else move your car!”
Oh Sophia! “Well then you better get comfortable because I ain’t moving ish,” and then I leaned over to the passenger side, pulled out a bag of Frito Lay corn chips I had just gotten at the Wawa, split the bag opened and took one of the most defiant bites I have ever taken in my life. True Story. The image of me casually tearing up a bag of corn chips, like it is Sunday in the park, must have been too much for his sensibilities because he hopped out of his SUV and stormed over to my window. To which I responded by rolling up my windows. I’m not a dummy. He leaned in close to the window and yelled through the glass, “Your mother is an ignorant Beyotch, you know that?” The implication of course, is that my mother failed to teach me about respect and the proper manners to know that when a white man walks/drives into your path, you are suppose to step out of his way, curtsey and bid him a good day. Well you’re right, my mom didn’t teach me that. And because she didn’t, your behind is going to sit here. With no other recourse, at least legal one, the man got back into his vehicle and moved his vehicle back so that I could get through. As I passed he glared at me. I smiled and started humming the chorus to “We Shall Overcome…”
In his groundbreaking research paper, “Ladies or Loudies? Perceptions and Experiences of Black Girls in Classrooms,” Edward Morris argued that while black girls in a predominately minority school performed well academically and were less likely to create disruptions in classrooms; they were more likely to have their manners and behavior questioned by educators and perceived as negative. The reason, he asserts, is based upon a desire to have young black women assimilate to “prototypical White middle-class views of femininity,” which rejects assertiveness and rewards a certain level of docility and complacency. “Some tried to mold many of these girls into “ladies,” which entailed curbing behavior perceived as “loud “and assertive. Such an attitude and style within classrooms is not surprising when considering the historical experiences of most African American women, who have long struggled against race and gender oppression in ways that differ starkly from white women.”
But while Morris says that this compartmentalizing of black girl’s behaviors and manners has also meant that they are less restrained by the dominant, white middle-class view of femininity. As such, “Black girls’ constructions of femininity also led, in many cases, to a positive view of education, serious attention to schoolwork, and pride in academic achievement.” Through his research, Morris draws correlations between black girls’ high rate graduation and placement in AP classes and their ability to speak up and demand attention in class.
It is that virtue that we must hold on to – even in the face of not being considered well behaved and proper. It’s the only defense we have in a world which likes to interpret being black and being a woman as the essence of subordination. Our aggressiveness and ill-manners are how we level the playing field, to push for better pay, to stand up to and for the brothers, who can’t or won’t do it themselves. Yeah I can be polite but I won’t be proper. I like stylish things but prim for the sake of the standard of beauty is something I will not abide by. And yeah, at times I am subdued but you should never confuse that with being timid. So yeah, fawk being lady like. Well behaved women rarely make history.
This past summer my family and I were in California for my cousin’s wedding. We were all riding in my uncle’s mini van when my youngest cousin, who was about 6 at the time, let one rip. And it wasn’t odorless. It was foul. I asked her, “Christy…” (We’ll call her Christy to protect the innocent.) “…did you pass gas?” She said yes, with a slight giggle. She chuckled but she wasn’t embarrassed. I told her, “Christy, you have to hold that.” That’s when my aunt, her mother, turned around and said, “I teach her to let it out because gas can be really painful.”
Well, isn’t that something? While I appreciated that my aunt came to her baby girl’s defense, because gas can truly be unbearable, I didn’t appreciate having to ride along, surrounded by her foulness. I thought that was inconsiderate.
I’m one of those people who farts in public. Quite often honestly. Farting in public is a birthright in my family. My grandmother, who farted in public all the time, had a little rhyme she used to tell us when we were kids. “Let it be free wherever you be, for that was the death of poor Mary Lee.” I asked my grandmother what happened to Mary Lee and she told me Mary Lee exploded because she didn’t release her gas. (I still chuckle thinking about that story.) I internalized that message and applied it to my own life. Farting in public has become a delightful challenge for me.
So why was I tripping about my little cousin passing gas? It was because she had done so, so carelessly. There was no art behind it. She was not yet a master like myself because she neglected to follow the rules of public farting. What are the rules, you ask? Take a gander:
- No farting in closed spaces (i.e. elevators) when other people are around.
- No farting when I know I really have to go to the bathroom.
- No farting when I’ve had something that would produce a foul smell (i.e. broccoli).
- No lying about farting, when someone has caught me red handed.
These rules have served me well for the past two decades and some, I can’t remember a time someone caught me farting in public. I thought I was alone in my mastery of discreet gas passing. That was until my co-worker, a man, let us know that sometimes when he’s engrossed in his work, he doesn’t have the time to get up and leave the room, he just has to let it go. Well, I was surprised. I sit pretty close to this guy, his back is toward mine, and I had never smelled anything from him. Was he a master as well? Then it occurred to me, maybe no one really “holds it” anymore. Maybe everyone is a master, like myself.
Here’s the part where you join in on the conversation. What do you do with your farts? Do you hold them until you’re by yourself or do you let them out into the world, hoping that no one will be bothered by their presence? Let us know your strategy and your farting rules in the comments section.
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