There are some words that make my blood start to sizzle. Sometimes it's just ugly words (like 'gusset' or 'doily' or 'moist'), sometimes it's the associations and prejudices built into the word that get my blood pressure pumping.

I loathe the term 'ladies'.

Perhaps that's not strictly true. 'Ladies' is perfectly suited to those situations when you wish to be polite to female members of my mother's generation. 'Lady' is just fine for a small child answering the door and yelling "Mumm-eeeee, there are two ladies to see you!"
And I suppose it's fair enough for the sign on the women's bathroom.

But call me a lady and I will growl at you.

I hate it in so many ways.

See, when I hear the word 'lady', I start hearing phrases like "a lady would never behave like that" or, "that's not a job for a lady".

(Or I imagine signs like "free entrance for ladies before midnight" hanging above really tacky nightclubs.)

Ladies are polite, and demure. A lady would rather behave 'appropriately' than daringly, or follow her wishes and whims. Ladies will actually waste time thinking about whether some job or adventure is 'suitable' for them, as females. A lady would never swear in public, though she might hiss a discreet 'bloody hell' under her breath when she drops a cup of tea. A lady would rather avoid confrontation than fight her corner. Ladies value manners over effectiveness.

Ladies are not supposed to hitch up their skirts and jump in puddles.
Ladies refrain from rocking the boat, and challenging established ideas.
Ladies are not supposed to pounce on people, or demand attention.
Ladies are supposed to be quiet, and not make a big deal about their opinions.
Ladies would be horribly embarrassed about laughing till they fell off their seats, or drinking till they made no sense. Or they'd just not do that in the first place.
Ladies never fight for the last chocolate brownie on the plate.
Ladies would curl up and die if their tampons spilled out of their bag.
Ladies would never interrupt and tell someone they were full of bullshit.
Ladies might worry about leaving the house if their shoes and handbags do not match.
Ladies would never wear diamonds before sunset, wear combat boots with a ballgown, or eat dessert for all three courses in a fancy restaurant.
Ladies would not think it was right to dance in the night-rain in the middle of the street, just because there was a good moon.
Ladies never kiss (or smoke) in the street.
Ladies would never go out of their way to create trouble.
Ladies are certainly not supposed to be inordinately fond of sex.
Ladies would never dream of masturbating (or if they did, they'd never admit it).
Ladies would rather die than raise hell.

See all those negatives? That's why I have no desire to be a lady.

I'm not a lady. I'm a woman. (or a chick, if you must.) And I'm extremely proud of that.

Being a "lady" is about restriction, about conforming, about apologising for your existence.

It's not about social class: ladies are prevalent through every strata of society. And it's not about age: I have met wonderful bold old women in their eighties who would happily throw their tea cups on the ground, swear juicily at the queen mother, and go skinny dipping before dinner. And I have met tightly coiled sixteen year olds who would be shocked out of their hair-clips if you told them they didn't have to defer to their brothers.

So when my mother tells me I'm no lady, I can only breathe a sigh of relief.


ideath, it's a damn shame that dame has such different connotations in britain. it's closer to dowager and doddery old dear who's a pillar of society than 'broad'. you can call me a dame if ever i'm in the US. yeah. that would work.

I was a Peer Counselor at school, which meant that i had frequent contact with the Residential Life department (the 'hey-students-do-things-other-then-study, let's-meddle-with-that, too!' department). In general, they were always well-intentioned. We were trained to mediate disputes, recognise self-destructive behavior, we organized activities, and so on.. we were a pretty diverse group, and well-meaning ourselves.

At several of the meetings, they addressed right speech. Because words are not neutral, we were given guidelines on what we (as role models) were and were not supposed to say. Mainly, we were not supposed to call the dorms dorms, but residence halls (because you don't just sleep there), and we weren't supposed to call any of the people in the dorms boys, girls, or kids. They were men, women, or residents. A few of us rolled our eyes. I, for one (you may have noticed!) tend to call everyone "kids". Then Rosa stood up.

Rosa was raised in Amsterdam and New York City, and had lots of class in addition to an unusual fashion sense and a dry but earthy sense of humor. She was like a sophisticated wine in earth-colored leggings and high-heeled boots. At any rate, she said, I don't agree. I am offended at being called woman. I've worked all my life to be a lady or a dame. I would like that respected.

Well, she broke the tension in the room, and she won me right over to her fan club. I tended more toward dame, though, as in classy dame. But call her a woman, and she might growl at you.

When I hear the word "Lady" (always capitalised!) I see elderly, beturbaned, pipe smoking harridans, reclining in sumptuous surroundings, sipping straight scotch from cristal tumblers and terrorising everyone around them with the sheer power of personality or, if the occasion demands it, their preternatural guile.

When I hear the word Lady I think of someone who is graceful and gracious, with the internal beauty of a fine Japanese sword - sleek, elegant, capable and deadly power, not gelatinous conformity.

Ladies are the apex of society - the kind that would move mountains without getting their hat askew. Why is the hat important? It's not. But the show of control, the serene inconquerability, the steel backbone are.

A Lady can have no scruples in causing an almighty stink if things aren't going her way - Florence Nightingale is the archetypal Lady in that way. Remember the suffragettes, chaining themselves to carriage wheels and being ignominiously carried off to gaol? Ladies, one and all. Eleanor Roosevelt was a Lady. Marylin Monroe was a dame.

Log in or registerto write something here or to contact authors.