Thursday, 6 November 2014

Why I Believe That Being A Lady Is Actually Utterly Ridiculous

Hallo everyone!

Today I want to talk to you about bodies, movement and social hierarchies.

Say wha? Well, specifically I want to talk about how the presentation and movement of our bodies signify who we are in an individual sense, but also how our bodies signify something that is bigger than us. We are the product of our environment and our culture, and this will always be written on to our bodies in some way. Through the way we talk, the way we act, the way we walk, even the way we eat, we are constantly communicating messages about ourselves and our social roles- even if these behaviours seem unconscious! We are constantly adhering to a very rigid set of rules, that become so internalized that we don't even realize that we are doing so.
But our bodies are doing more than we think they are. They are the medium for meaning that if we were able to distance ourselves from, even briefly, has the potential to seem absolutely absurd and arbitrary. Why are we acting in these ways? Why do we attribute value to some bodily behaviours and stigmatize others?

And WHAT is so good about acting like a lady???

Let's consider some stereotypes here. This is by no means a kind of value judgement, I just want to give a very clear example of how bodies become different things in different social spaces- and also how perhaps these bodies could be responsible for creating or compromising various social spaces. So, that being said, let's think about what we consider to be the 'correct' way of using our bodies.

Speaking generally, we attribute value to a specific set of behaviours which present themselves in both unconscious and very obvious physical ways. And there is a very obvious class divide here. Consider two different restaurants: one in a 'fancy' neighbourhood, a 'classy' restaurant with a certain reputation, and one in a different area, perhaps with a lower socio-economic demographic- say a diner, or an all-you-can-eat, or the local pub.

Would you say that you are expected to use your body in different ways in different venues? How would you expect people would be acting in the fancy restaurant, compared to the diner? What body movements are different- eating, walking, talking, standing- all of the above?

What about the notion of acting "like a lady"? There is a lot of value placed on the idea of being and acting "lady-like", and it is generally regarded as being the "proper" way to exist as a woman. What effect does this have on how you are able to move your body? Can you move freely? How much space can you take up? Do you sit with your legs together? Do you stretch? Do you put your elbows on the table?

The institution of "lady-like-ness" has a wholle lotta baggage that it brings with it. If you have recognised that to act like a lady changes your body behaviour, lets extend that further and clarify what these bodily expressions mean. What are the expections of being a lady? Words that spring to mind are: refinement, eloquence, 'properness', education, restraint, control. 

You have to wonder: are we we doing everything we possibly can with our bodies?  Think back to my post Throwing Like a Girl. Are women actually inhabiting the extent to which their bodies can extend? 

Do you think our world would change if we all decided to change the way our bodies act? What would happen? 

Being a lady is about more than being a woman, it has a very clear class-based meaning. Aspiring to be a lady (generally considered the "correct" way to be) is aspiring to imitate the behaviours of a social elite. What does this do? Do "ladies" receive more oppurtunity? Are we more likely to get that job or get into that party? WHY? Isn't this stuff just... completely arbitrary? Who made the rules here?

Now I'm gonna name-drop another theorist on you, so I hope you have your socks on. Todays feat. guest= Pierre Bordieu.

Bordieu means to make it clear that the seemingly arbitrary structuring of society manifests itself in distinctive ways on the body. He talks of us “playing the game”, meaning that we are participating in an established social structure while believing illusions of subjectivity and individual autonomy within this game. Meanwhile, we do things that align with a clear social hegenomy; things that appear to us to be “reasonable”.

 We believe that we individual agents on this field, choosing to move our bodies and act in these “common-sense” ways, while our places in the game are actually the manifestation of practical social forces (like rules, expectations, class) existing externally, and governing our next play on the field. It's like a manuscript, or a blueprint that we follow, while thinking that these movements our determined by our individual thoughts and decisions.

It is a simple enough process to detach ourselves from "the game", if we choose to “suspend our commitment” at least momentarily, and render its entire existence as arbitrary and little more than absurd- but this is rarely the experience of the players of the game, and they and we will continue to create meaning through practical action and social repetition, and this meaning will be written onto the bodies of all involved. The body remembers these social processes and acts in ways (performing tasks, rituals, 'symbolic' physical actions) that will affirm these processes and continuously reproduce them.

Basically- we keep doing the same things over and over, and we think it's because we choose to, because there is a "right" and a "wrong" way to do things. But if you jump back for a second, doesn't it all seem a little silly? Who actually made this shit up? What is so "right" about being a lady? 

Dress- Vintage/ Second Hand
Bag- Thrifted
Socks- Thrifted
Shoes- Naot
Earrings- Handmade from a market

If we recognise that the things we do are actually really very silly, I think that this opens us up to being able to play with our appearance, behaviours and body movements. To have fun with it. Do something unexpected. Wear a dress and burp in someone's face. Go to a classy party in overalls and gumboots. You may as well! 

What are some things that you do that you consider "normal" that on further inspection seem totally made up? For me, the biggest realisation was that I didn't need to shave. Note that I said that I didn't need to shave. Now that I know that, I can if I want. I don't, because I don't want to, because I like having hair on my body, and because ultimately I like to just stand in the shower and sing and not have to focus on practising the yoga-esque positions required to shave the back of your legs (seriously though, props to people who do this all the time, it is seriously hard work). But if I decided I wanted baby-smooth legs, I could go right ahead and shave/wax/burn off all my hairs, safe in the knowledge that I'm not doing it because I think that it is a necessary part of my hygiene, but that I'm just having fun and experimenting with my body.

Hope you are all having a great week! Feel free to comment below; I read every one and try to reply as often as I can.

All my love,

Katie xxx

ps. click here to read a wiki about Bordieu and "the field"!


  1. This post is brilliant Katie! I love the question 'are you inhabiting your body to its full extent?' I really believe that many women (myself included, very, very included!) don't really have the confidence or knowledge to do this. Girls tend to be pretty discouraged from considering their bodies 'normal' - everything that happens to women its seen as 'embarrassing' or at least something to be 'dealt' with i.e. your shaving metaphor. It's so ridiculous.

    Funnily enough I see things like being a broke & analytic uni student as a kind of freedom because when you're spending your last $2.00 on Mi Goreng to eat for the rest of the week you realise how unecessary a $7.00 packet of razors can be. I mean, like you said more power to you if one shaves everyday, but there are other things in the world to think about and our bodies can be used for SO much more than being reduced to an arbitrary concept that so rarely helps us define and realise the goals we have for ourselves!

    Again, great post!


    Ellen Bourne

    1. Hey Ellen!

      Hahahaha oh my gosh, I can relate to the broke student thing. It's a fairly good way to sort your priorities and figure out what your true values are. For instance, I will go without moisturiser, razors and often conditioner in favour of Fair Trade coffee. It's the little things!

      I cant imagine being able to justify spending money on razors at this point, and honestly my legs hairs are so long that if I wanted to "deal" with them I could probably just trim them like head hairs.

      Thanks for reading, hope you're having a great week!



  2. Loved this post :) I remember reading an article a while back that's really stuck with me, on how women are constantly taught that the negative space around their body is the most beautiful thing about them - thigh gaps, sucked in stomachs, etc. The most freeing thing for me was probably the realization that nobody gave a damn if my stomach wasn't flat. Nobody was staring, or pointing and laughing, or talking about how fat I was. Once I realised that, I almost felt silly for how long I'd worried about it and thought it would be the absolute worst thing.

    And god, shaving. I think I sort of missed the memo on shaving, a long time ago :') even as a disgustingly self-conscious teen, I was still lucky if I remembered to shave like once a fortnight or so. not to say that I don't ~ever~ (special occasions and such) but it's never really been a thing - so many other better things to worry about!

    Thanks for this :) really cheered me up on a dreary Friday morning in the UK :) xx

    1. Hey Natalie!

      I *love* the negative space idea. It's kind of like, women are defined the what they are not, and by the space they do not take up. Have you seen this fantastic poem "Shrinking Women" by Lily Myers? She talks about how men are encouraged to expand, while womena re encouraged to shrink, to grow smaller and smaller inside their own bodies. It's really powerful. Give it a watch if you haven't already!

      Hahaha that's great about shaving! I unfortunately was teased for my long, thick red leg hairs, and I wasn't allowed to shave my legs until I was 14. I remember stealing my mums razor and hiding my legs from her for weeks before I confessed! So ridiculous-- I remember being on the bus when I was 12, and sitting next to another red-headed boy in my class. We were both wearing shorts, but he turned to me and said "ew, get your gross hairy ginger legs away from me", and it just cut me, and I didn't understand why on me it was disgusting while on him it was normal.

      Hope things aren't too dreary in the UK! At least Christmas is coming up :-) It's been bloody hot in Australia; I'd almost swap you for some mist and rain!



  3. Ahhh Katie this is so absolutely brilliant. I've been running and lifting heavy weights for a while now and you would be astonished (or probably sadly wouldn't) by the number of people who tell me not to, that it's not ladylike, that girls shouldn't push their bodies or sweat or look not put together, that lifting heavy things is a man's job. Or people who tell me to stop running because it's making my calves bigger, or not lift weights "in case I bulk up like a man". I'm just gonna keep on seeing what my body can do and not give a crap about how ladylike it looks while I do it. (Also it made my life so much easier when I stopped caring about shaving. Sometimes I do it because I like that soft smooth feeling, sometimes I'd rather just get out of the shower quickly thanks. And guess what - nobody really cares. It is so freeing.)

    1. Hey Karen!

      That's awesome that you're so strong! Keep lifting all the heavy things- your body is capable of as much as you are willing to push it to.

      That's also my approach to shaving, haha! Once in a blue moon I will do it after I've been haging out with a girlfriend with shaved legs, and I'll touch them and be like "ooohhhh my god so smooth" and will have smooth legs for about two days and then be like "oh well that was fun I'll do that again maybe sometime". Haha!


  4. I couldn't agree more. For so long my parents raised me the old fashioned way where girls have long hair, don't wear make up, and are always polite. Funny thing is that for a moment I rebelled against some of these things and even cut my own hair into a bob! (Sorry dad<3) hahah
    But once I realized that it all didn't matter, I started to see what I liked on myself and not what others believed should be liked. Now I let my hair grow because I love my curls, I wear what I want because I WANT to. Make up was never a big thing in my life, and the most I wear is a red lip tint. I do like being polite, but I don't take someone's crap and stand down because it's "lady-like" to be submissive. It's all about thinking logically and doing what makes us happy.

    1. Hey lovely!!

      Hahaha I used to cut my own hair too!! I chopped it into this really hsaggy kind of punk-ish.. uh thing.. and died it purple, and oh gosh it was actually terrible (but also awesome). Rebelz4lYf(?!?!?!?)

      I have the same philosophy as you. I have long hair now because I too love my red curls. I embrace femininity sometimes because it's fun, and other days like today I'm just flopping about in my boyfriends clothes. I also don't really wear make-up except for sometimes red lipstick, but I have *nothing* against the idea of make-up- it's a personal choice, and for some women it is an empowering one. It's just not for me!

      Lovely to hear from you :-)



  5. I'd never heard of Pierre Bordieu before but I am so glad I know about him now, because you are so right - the way we act the majority of the time as human beings is utterly ridiculous. One silly notion that I found myself adopting was being unable to go to school without wearing makeup - that if i hadn't got make-up on all of my class mates would think I was ugly and that the spots I so desperately tried to hide would be the butt of all jokes. Fast forward a few years later and, to put it bluntly, I no longer give a shit. I wear make-up if I fancy it but ultimately my decision to do so is never governed by anything else other than my wish to do so. I'll sometimes head out clubbing with nothing on whilst my friends are all dolled up and not feel the little bit insecure. It's liberating really. I'm also the same with shaving - Such necessary effort for everyday! Ultimately, we've all got one life so why not make the most of it by truly realising what you WANT to do instead of what you SHOULD do.

    Cats In Crop Tops

  6. I have been told that I am not ladylike in the past, 'cos I burp, sprawl all over the sofa (in my own home and my close friends houses ofc!) I don't wear "girly" clothes, I swear a lot so apparently this makes me unladylike? I've also been praised by guys for "not being like all the other girls" but that means that they are still not taking "girly girls" as seriously as they should be. Who cares if a woman wants to wear baggy jeans and sweatshirts and walks with a swagger?! Or who cares if she wears short, barbie pink skirts and sky high heels!? I do both and I am a freaking woman!!

  7. I absolutely love this dress!! :)

  8. I really liked reading your article, very interesting ideas, and a "way of thought" (sorry, I'm french) well constructed! Just a little "but", the sociologist you are talking about is Pierre Bourdieu, not Bordieu. I supposed you just forgot a letter, but I can be wrong. VoilĂ  !