In an article posted on FoxNews.com on February 12, 2016, news anchor Martha MacCallum wrote a reaction to a list originally published in British magazine Country Life, (which MacCallum mistakenly referred to as “Country Living”) which detailed the many things that should be expected of a woman in this day and age. Even MacCallum admits some aspects of the list are outdated (#15: Can paunch a rabbit, pluck a pheasant and gut a fish, but allows men the privilege) but offers up a list and explanation of her own. However, as sexist as Country Life’s list is, MacCallum’s takes it one step further.
To quote MacCallum, “Being a ‘Lady’ used to be something to which all young women aspired. In a society that praises academic and athletic and career accomplishment, is there still value placed on being a ‘Lady?’” Since when are success outside of being a demure fixture that who exists only for a man’s pleasure and being a ‘Lady’ mutually exclusive? On top of that, the term ‘lady’ is extremely racist, sexist, and classist in and of itself. ‘Lady’ has historically been used to denote higher-class white women and ‘ladylike’ to mean those that adopt the behavior of a higher-class white woman. This means maintaining the household, watching the children, and looking attractive for your husband—all while probably not talking too much. Because, according to Country Life, a lady “can silence a man with a stare and make a dog lie down with a hand signal—and vice versa.”
‘Lady’ is not synonymous with the more gender neutral, ‘polite’—it’s an extremely gendered term for a set of behaviors. “Did feminism make ladylike behavior anachronistic, or disdainful?” MacCallum asks. No, it didn’t. It just began the process of deconstructing such sexist vocabulary. Many elements of “ladylike behavior” should be practiced by all genders and fall under the umbrella term ‘polite.’ It goes without saying one should say ‘thank you’ when it’s necessary and hold the door for the person behind you if you’re able, but striving to be ‘ladylike’ also means adhering to certain oppressive gender norms.
MacCallum’s own list does include many items that I would simply consider polite without having to assign them to a gendered label. Other items, however, are not only sexist, but are nearly impossible to maintain and remain sane. The list has 21 points, but I will only respond to a choice few:
#2: Never squabbles over the bill.
I take this to mean that MacCallum thinks that if a man offers to pay, you shouldn’t argue. However, I adamantly disagree. If a woman, or anyone, feels uncomfortable having someone else pay for them, absolutely argue. When one person pays, it easily creates a power dynamic by which you can feel manipulated into or obligated to behave in a certain way in order to “pay them back.” If you feel unsafe, argue. Your safety is more important than being a “lady.” Actually, literally everything is more important than being a “lady.”
#5: Reads actual books and newspapers and limits the use of Oprah or Ellen as sources.
I really love how she chose two extremely gendered media sources to call out women for reading. Obviously women are fully capable of reading things other than Oprah. And lighthearted news sources aren’t exclusive to women, nor are they something to be ashamed of for reading. Go read OK! Magazine if it makes you happy. By the statement MacCallum has presented, it’s like she’s idealizing men as these hyper-intelligent beings that think Time Magazine is plebeian. Give me a break—let’s stop shaming women for the very things society has told them they should enjoy.
#7: Is not a “hook up” girl. * (Minor transgressions permitted, everyone needs at least 1 good story, even Lady Mary.)
It should go without saying that slut shaming is extremely harmful. Can we stop policing women’s bodies? The fact that MacCallum uses the term “‘hook up’ girl,” indicates that this is a belief upheld only for women. “‘Hook up’ boy” has probably never entered her (or anyone’s) vocabulary because we as a society refuse to infantilize grown men in the same way we do women.
#16: Makes her husband/boyfriend feel like a Hero, and knows it does not diminish her in any way.
Besides being ridiculously heteronormative, the semantics of this point are so strange. As a woman, it’s not really your job to go out of your way to make your partner feel more masculine. Actually, that’s not anyone’s job in any relationship, but that’s beside the point. This could be reworded so easily: “A considerate person helps build their partner’s confidence.”
#21: Owns a cocktail dress, heels and something to go underneath.
Not owning a dress doesn’t make you less of a woman just like owning a dress if you identify as a man doesn’t make you less of a man. Her statement is transphobic and classist. Not being able to afford fancy clothes doesn’t preclude you from being able to call yourself a “lady” (if you so choose that term). And not all women feel safe wearing dresses, or even compelled to wear them—again, that doesn’t make you less of a woman.
I just don’t see the point in having a list specific to the behaviors of women. In fact, it’s extremely harmful. If we define gender by behavior, we create a system that excludes the majority of people. MacCallum’s article is filled to the brim with statements that somehow both perpetuate female stereotypes while also shaming women for those same behaviors. Why don’t we, as humans, just work on being better, more considerate people? MacCallum may call me less of a lady for “squabbling” but I don’t really give a damn. (See #4, swears only when absolutely necessary and to great effect.)