Thursday, June 30, 2011

Vintage Lady-ness

A Facebook friend of mine posted the following line from Andre 3000's "Behold, A Lady" to her status the other day:

Sad, but one day our kids will have to visit museums to see what a lady looks like.

I think this is the opposite of sad. I think this would be a genius moment in human development. Not because I dislike femininity, or because I have a problem with women who wear high heels or whatever. But because the culturally-constructed version of "lady" that Andre 3000 is praising here as the height of desirability is something a great many women would find oppressive, both of your faithful bloggers included. For instance:

You don't say too much, but when you do it's profound.

Reeeeeeally? That's not going to work for me. What is "too much," and why does Andre get to decide what that is? Why is he the arbiter of "good girl"?

I realize that this is an old song now, but these are sentiments I still hear ALL the time. We would be better off if we got rid of this idea that there is a way a "lady" behaves, and that this is preferable to... the way an unladylike woman behaves? I don't think I behave in a lady-like fashion with any kind of regularity, and I feel great about that. Because too often "lady-like" is equated with submissive, quiet, accommodating, undemanding, etc.

Furthermore, I'm assuming that the only people Andre thinks should be ladies are cis women. Men should be gentlemen, of course. A man who behaves like a lady is twisting up the gender spectrum too much, rendering it unintelligible to someone so concerned that women behave in a way he finds pleasing that he wrote a whole song about it.

And what about queer women? What is the point in a lesbian, for instance, behaving like a lady if there is no gentleman counterpart? Do lesbians not exist in his world, or does he see them as not-women, or does he just not care because he can't sleep with them anyway? And trans women - do they have a hope of being lady-like?

Prescriptive gendered behaviors are a big problem for me, because they define anyone who is not adhering to an unobtainable standard as deficient. Not particularly interested in wearing heels and walking in a way a man might find appreciably sexy? Then your very womanhood is in question.

So, I hope that we have to go to museums to see what we used to think of as the ideal of lady-likeness looks like, because that would mean that we've stopped policing gendered behaviors. Women who still choose to present themselves in a way that aligns with Andre's version of femininity would be free to do so without having to do so for a man. And a man who presents himself in a way that aligns with Andre's version of femininity would be doing so freely as well.


  1. Even as a kid, I used to get so annoyed when people would tell me to be more "lady-like"--and I've often taken when someone says to me, "You're not very lady-like" to be a compliment. :)

    Prescriptive gender behaviors are so limiting (to say the least). As you mentioned, Jess, they clearly make little to no room for anyone who falls outside the general scope of "traditional" identifications of gender and sexuality. As a cisgendered, heterosexual woman, I've constantly been frustrated by the assertions people make that unlady-like behavior will prevent a woman from getting a man (a la Steve Harvey on Oprah sharing his, um, wisdom? about love and relationships:

    And speaking of prescriptive gender crap, when do we get to talk about Wilchins? :)

  2. Yes! Wilchins! I think that Kyrie and I are going to get to work on that on Saturday. I'm really looking forward to it!