The other day, when I arrived to pick up my daughter from summer camp, the Camp Director called me over with hushed tones.
Her: I need to talk with you about K. She had trouble keeping her hands to herself today.
Me: What happened?
Her: She touched a boy in his private area.
Me: Hmmm, that doesn’t sound like her. Let me ask her about it. What did you say when it happened?
Her: I didn’t see it, but we had her sit out for the rest of the activity. She isn’t friends with other girls, you have probably noticed, only boys. That’s not normal.
Me: *blank stare* Well, we don’t really do traditional gender roles in our house. That’s not an expectation I have. (in my head: so fucking what?)
Her: We also caught her lifting up her skirt and asked her to sit out.
Me: She’s wearing skorts today. (in my head: What the fuck?)
Her: Don’t you want her to act like a lady?
Me: No. What does that even mean?
Her: *her turn for a blank stare*
Of course I wanted to get down to the bottom of “she touched a boy in his private area,” so I asked K what happened.
K: My friends were playing a game where they punched each other in the penis. I didn’t want to be left out.
Me: Did anyone else get in trouble?
K: No, just me. They told me I had to sit out.
I had a conversation with her about not using violence, even as part of a game and not touching other people’s penises or vulvas. The whole time, though, I felt really bad for her. She was joining in and playing the same game as her friends who happened to be boys, and she got punished for it, while none of the boys got punished.
What the hell is a lady? What is with our culture’s obsession with gender roles and ideals? What makes a lady? Certainly not assigned gender or gender identity. Not genitals. Is it a set of behaviors or an attitude? Can I be a lady even though I enjoy “non-ladylike” things like sex, beer, Feminism, and saying the word fuck? I do bake pies and wear lipstick. Does that count?
I consulted a dictionary.
Pretty much the only one of these that represents me is number 2, because damn straight I am the motherfucking head of the household. I do remember fondly putting the words – “Our Lady of the” in front of random things to create funny Catholic Church names when I was a teenager – “Our Lady of the Pants,” “Our Lady of the MTV,” “Our Lady of the Knights who say Ni.” And, I get that lady is a title in many monarchies, but, otherwise, what does the word really mean? It’s seems pretty relative. And why should this be something a six year-old is required to think about? or aspire to?
I turned to WikiHow, the site which claims to be able to tell you how to do anything. Their list seems focused on looking, speaking, behaving and smelling a certain way. Some of it is just silly. Who gives a fuck if my nail polish chips?
Stick to your principles. You should have a code of conduct that you adhere to at all times. Don’t stay out too late, don’t go crazy, and always be polite.
Hmmmm. I am not sure what being a lady has to do with not going crazy. I am sure they meant acting in an outlandish way. Most of their actually pretty good advice about seeking an education, being polite and being healthy seemed at first like good advice for anyone of any gender, but ended up teeming with misogyny.
A proper young lady needs to be well read. Jane Austen, George Orwell, Shakespeare, Bronte, Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf are all good examples of people you should read. Some of the classics can be a trying read, but you must get through them. There are websites with abundant notes on all of these books, so, even if you do not understand them, in time you will.
Also, apparently ladies are not supposed to drink spirits or mixed drinks. I did like a few of their tips (especially the one about not listening to misogynistic boys), but I can’t really support the idea that “proper” behavior for women and girls should be any different than proper behavior for men and boys. Also, many of these seem so relative or different depending on you, your family and your community.
I found this Thought Catalog article from last year: 24 Rules for Being a Lady in 2014. I thought it was cute, but pretty heteronormative and stereotypical. I hate shopping. I don’t talk with my girlfriends about those things. I don’t care about clothes and shoes. And who needs cut flowers? Bottom line, most of the good advice about being a good friend, a kind person, being prepared and having a stocked bar (same thing?) are relevant to all people, not just women.
I then found this gem: 7 Secret Ways a Christian Lady Can Attract a Godly Man for Marriage. It includes helpful hints like,
- the way you dress is the way you’re addressed;
- learn to wear smiles on your face; and
- if you love god, people will quickly discern that you would not find it difficult to respect and submit to your husband.
No, thank you (see, I can be polite).
How is one supposed to learn to be a lady? How do I guide my daughter towards an appropriate future of alcohol, girls’ nights, shopping, and shoes…or is it, virginity, smiling more, submission, and wearing long skirts? For me, the main way to “be a lady” is to identify as a lady. It’s that simple. It’s probably more important to try to be a good person.
I returned to camp the next day with a few things on my mind. I approached the Director respectfully (one might even say – ladylike) and said:
Me: I’m not sure how to bring this up, but I asked K about what happened yesterday. She told me that her friends were playing a game where they punched each other in the penis. I explained to her how that’s not okay. The bottom line is that she was the only person punished for playing this game, because she’s a girl. That’s not okay. I know you receive Federal funds and as an educational program, you are required by Title IX to not discriminate based on gender. You need to treat all kids the same with your expectations of behavior and the way you discipline them for undesired behaviors. If you treat my daughter differently because she is a girl, that’s discrimination.
Her: *blank stare* Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I will be sure to ask more questions next time.
And that, dear readers, is handling gender discrimination like a parent.
Fuck – “being a lady.”
Featured Image: Steph, all rights reserved.