‘That’s Not Very Ladylike’- A Personal Essay by Clementine Mills

By Isabella Cornell

There’s something slightly dehumanising about finding yourself squatting beside the overflowing bins behind work as you shove a greasy burger into your face in a snatched ten minute break from hospitality hell. As the animal fat cascades down your spotty chin and you spread your legs wide to alleviate the chafing of your too-tight jeggings, the door swings open and you recoil like a feral, bespectacled dog whose dinner bowl is being threatened. It’s the impossibly attractive new waitress. She’s asking if Table 4 paid for their chicken wings. She’s trying very hard, for the sake of courtesy – and probably pity – to mask her feelings of revulsion. As your beastly image is reflected back to you through her perfect grey-blue eyes you go full introspective and ask yourself the big questions: What have I become? When did I stop being vegetarian? What happened to my dreams man, my ambitions? When the fuck did I start wearing jeggings?

It’s these moments that force you to consider what it is to be ladylike.

Back through the grimey metal doors, the chef asks me to make him a coffee, “a long black, extra long, extra black” followed by a suggestive wink and the eruptive laughter of our male colleagues. Partly because it’s ingrained in my sex to smile at all times and partly because I don’t have the energy to do anything else at the end of a double shift, I smile coyly to indicate that my ladybrain has decoded his cryptic riddle and deduced that he was in fact referring to his penis. In order to be manly and to assert his immense manliness he had to remind me – just in case I had forgotten – that he, as a man, had a big important man willy that I needed to know about.

My reaction was a textbook ladylike reaction. Smile, remain passive, make the thing that the man has asked for. But what if assertion of femininity followed the same formula as assertion of masculinity? What if I was as oestrogen fuelled as biologically possible and made obtuse references to my immense womanhood? Instead of smiling coyly, I’d slap him on the back and shout “Well I have a cunt and it’s really fantastic! you can touch it and put things in it and drive people crazy with it; statistically my orgasms are ten times more intense than yours are and overall it’s one of my favourite things!” Imagine the deafening silence that would’ve fallen across the restaurant. That would have made the men uncomfortable, possibly some of the women too, not to mention the customers. It would have thrown propriety and hierarchy into upheaval. The birds would have fallen from the skies!

“That’s not very ladylike!” oh well, you know what’s ladylike?

1) Yeast infections

2) Learning really young you need to walk fucking fast at night, clench the keys, stay alert.

3) Laughing demurely when an 83 year old man man has gone in for a seemingly innocuous kiss on the hand but proceeds to lick it from the fingertip to the wrist whilst maintaining eye contact the whole. damn. time

4) Having to rock a Monty Python walk after realising you didn’t shove your tampon in far enough

5) Realising you’re not impervious to chin hair

6) Struggling from the grip of a 6 foot ex-boxer who has just thrust himself over the bar, grabbed your face and stuck his tongue down your throat after deciding he wanted a little extra with his Guinness.

7) Walking home at 4am from your pub shift to be stopped by a man in his car asking for directions while another car pulls up with 5 massive blokes shouting at you to get in. You step in closer to the first dude, he’s a safer bet right, maybe he can help you – then the streetlight illuminates his erect little dick; he’s masturbating to your broken voice and shallow breathing. Realising you’re surrounded. Realising aged 24 as you tell your girlfriend, shaking, that it’s not actually normal for that many men to have tried to get you in their car in your lifetime. Realising it’s because you’re 5 foot 2 and on a dark night with no make up you look fifteen and assailable. Realising that there’s some real cunts in this world and they feel completely entitled to yours. Even if they think you’re a child.

Because the real kind of ladylike is rarely pretty. Sugar and spice and all things nice is a more accurate description of the potent gin based cocktail we feel like necking every day to wash down the bullshit.

I guess the crux of it is that being ladylike is insidiously linked with being liked. And this societal pressure to please in order to succeed / survive isn’t only reserved for women – it’s something the LGBTQ+ community has been defying for centuries; Cross your legs, shave your legs, don’t wear make up, grow your hair, cut your hair, wear a bra, cover yourself up.

Unfortunately even in 2017, these toxic expectations still pervade social politics despite the progress being made by the community across the globe. And at some indiscernible point the need to be likeable is transcended by the need to be heard and understood. Gradually the desire for justice transcends the desire to maintain a social harmony built on outdated, crumbling framework. So our job now is to be brave, to look out for each other on a broader scale – broader than ourselves, broader than our group of mates – and call bullshit when we see it so that we can continue to build a stronger, more expansive framework worthy of this stage in evolution.

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