Civil Rights

Gender Roles – On Being Lady Like

Recently, Mac McClelland, blogger for Mother Jones magazine, blogged about a self defense course for women, Impact, that she has begun taking in her article “Tips for Dick-Kicking.” The course, she writes, is not your typical self-defense course that uses light contact. Instead, women are forced out of their physical and mental comfort zones with heavily padded men who will taunt the women, invade their physical space, and surprise attack them. With adrenaline levels running high (as they would in the event of a real attack) women overcome the inclination to freeze-up and instead can tap into the instinct to fight back.

The fact that so many women freeze up in the event of an attack is terrifying, even more terrifying because I can’t honestly say what I would do if someone attacked me. Of course, we all like to envision ourselves as fearless, delivering that straight punch to the nose and a swift kick to the groin to knock our assailant down. What Mac almost offhandedly mentions, however, is that as women, we have been raised to be compliant, and this can be hard to break. As Mac notes,

“If your emotional or personal space is being violated, saying “I’m not interested” or “No” is actually a really good one, if you can make it come out of your mouth without a polite smile or adding a “thank you” or even “sorry”—which, if you’ve been raised as a girl, you probably can’t, without practice.”

And even though I consider myself to be a pretty strong (my friends would say stubborn to a fault) and outspoken (I tend to have quite a potty mouth) woman, I have many times had difficulty in telling people that make me uncomfortable to get lost. Until recently, I have chalked this inability to confront any one as just being polite, that I don’t want to hurt any one’s feelings. This may be true, but on some level, it is also a result of the fact that I have been conditioned to act this way, especially toward men. I’m not saying that the men in my life were repressive, or abusive, in fact, all of the men in my life have been very respectful to women in general. The conditioning I’m referring to, though, comes from a more subtle place, from television, and movies, and advertising, that have slowly molded me not to submit to men, but at least to always be respectful, even when it is not merited.

It is the obsession with being “ladylike,” where you can be strong, outspoken, and self-sufficient, but never too much so, and if a man makes a sexual comment about your body, you are to politely laugh it off or, at most, kindly tell him that it is inappropriate. To get defensive, to speak in a way that does not include a “Sorry” or a “Thank you” or a polite smile, as Mac noted, makes you less of a lady, makes you too serious, makes you “no fun.”

It is this mentality, the mentality that women have on the one hand, full equality with men, and, on the other, must live up to this ideal of the perfect Victorian lady. The idea that we can have our full-time jobs, be mothers, look beautiful, be strong, be athletic, be smart, and be outspoken, but never defend ourselves or our self-respect when a man begins to intrude on our personal boundaries.

So, for all of the women like me, who can say things like fuck, dick, bitch, cunt, shit, and who are outspoken and self-assured, and confident, and independent, yet who lack the ability to truly stand up for ourselves; for all of those women, let’s finally shed that cultural corset that has been suffocating our voice and begin speaking up when are boundaries are being pushed. I’m not advocating that we all go around looking for fights, or being rude, or kicking every male on the street in the balls, only that we stop allowing this mentality to continue and stand up for ourselves, and for each other.

—-Check out Mac’s post, if you’re interested. It is a great read, as all of her articles are: http://motherjones.com/rights-stuff/2011/02/full-force-self-defense.

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2 thoughts on “Gender Roles – On Being Lady Like

  1. Hmm, this is really interesting. I love your line "let's finally shed that cultural corset." Totally right. Something I struggle with, too. Sometimes it's difficult to know what to speak up. Now that I'm living in the city, there are constantly guys who will say things like "hey, beautiful" or "oh sexy lady!" or "damn girl" & sometimes it's just silly, other times I grit my teeth. I think it's especially hard when we've been conditioned to make ourselves pretty, yet we haven't been taught when it's appropriate for someone to acknowledge our attraction; we haven't been taught when it's derogatory & how to deal with that. If you've got any ideas for a "put a man in his place" comeback for the unwanted remark on the street, I'm all ears. 🙂

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