Sunday, April 23, 2017

When Did "Lady" Become a Four-letter Word?

Perhaps you remember where you were when you first discovered that “wife” had become a four-letter word.

True, it was not quite as obscene as the horrific title “housewife” but once upon a time certain women decided that “wife” was derogatory, insulting, demeaning and offensive. Said women did want to get married, but, if you asked them whether they wanted to be wives, they would respond indignantly: What do you think I am?

While it received less opprobrium, the word “lady” was soon placed on the list of banned four-letter words. It was banned from polite conversation because it supposedly diminished and weakened women.  How could a strong, empowered female person ever allow herself to be called a lady? The merest utterance of the term would cause Betty Friedan to rise from her eternal rest and smite you.

Of course, America still has a First Lady. For my part I cannot understand why the night riders of the thought police have allowed this archaic misogynistic term to remain in use. If they have, it’s because many of our most recent first ladies have tended to play down the ladylike in favor of the personhood.

In fashion terms this means that they wore pants. They especially wore pants to the annual White House Easter Egg hunt. This year, however, in a radical break with tradition, First Lady Melania Trump wore a dress that seemed, to the New York Times fashion writer, to be ladylike. The horror! The horror!

Well, to be fair Vanessa Friedman did not exactly use those decidedly unladylike terms. She simply remarked that Mrs. Trump’s dress had broken with tradition.

You might guess that I did not find this little nugget of information by trolling through the New York Times fashion section. I owe it to the highly estimable Annie Holmquist of the Intellectual Takeout blog. (Via Maggie’s Farm)

Friedman describes Mrs. Trump’s dress, as follows:

Since the Easter Egg Roll was revived under Betty Ford, most of the first ladies who have hosted the event wore suits, or at least jackets, suggesting it was a professional commitment. Hillary Clinton displayed her penchant for rainbow-colored pantsuits when she was host, resplendent one year in buttercup yellow, another in grass green. When the Obamas were in the White House, they significantly relaxed the rules, the president often going without a tie or jacket, and Michelle Obama most often in pants with a J. Crew T-shirt or cardigan and Converse (one Tracy Reese floral dress excepted). The message was one of a new, more relaxed, modern and active era.

Personally I like the image of Hillary Clinton “resplendent in buttercup yellow.” I take that as a sign of advanced imagination. Have you ever in your life thought of Hillary Clinton as “resplendent?” And, have you associated her with “buttercup yellow?” If you have, you need a lot of help.

As Holmquist pointed out, Friedman is remarking that Mrs. Trump manifests a more feminine approach to fashion and to self-presentation. You would have thought-- and if you are a good feminist you still think-- that Friedan had driven a stake through the heart of femininity. And yet, there it was in the White House, at the Easter egg hunt. Another unwelcome revenant.

Friedman is too ladylike herself to engage in derisive rhetoric, but you get the picture.

Holmquist continued to explain that in our gender neutered day dressing like a lady, and even looking feminine, is seriously disrespected in certain quarters.

And yet she asked—and this is the most salient point— whether women, especially professional women, deprive themselves of respect for not dressing like women. If women dress like women it signifies that they are happy to be women? Does a woman who likes being a woman go around mimicking male behavior? Since the feminist Weltanschauung holds men to be malignant abominable creatures, why wouldn’t enlightened modern women be rushing out to buy clothes that did not make them appear to be imitation men?

You may recall the brouhaha that erupted in England when a woman decided to go to war against a dress code that strongly recommended that she wear high heels. By the correct feminist reasoning, since men do not need to wear high heels, women should not have to do so either.

One suspects that it’s not the heels, as much as the notion that women should be more ladylike and more feminine. I am awaiting the demonstrations and protests against the shoe manufacturers who produce these instruments of torture. And yet, considering how much women love shoes— case in point, Carrie Bradshaw—one suspects that this one conflagration will be a long time coming.

In any event, Holmquist wrote:

The fact is, women are free to wear anything they want these days. But I can’t help but wonder: Do many women deny themselves the respect they are craving by the way they dress? Is it possible that women who embrace their femininity and are unashamed to dress in a respectable, gender-specific way, such as Melania Trump exhibited the other day, are actually ahead of the pack when it comes to earning that respect?

Of course women are free to wear what they please. So are all the non-women out there. And yet, women, like men, are judged by the way they present themselves. Their attire shows how they want the world to see them. The psycho notion that no one should care how the world sees him or her should be thrown on the bonfire of the high-heeled vanities.

Do women command more respect when they dress more like ladies? Do they lose respect when they pretend to be one of the guys? Does a more virile appearance suggest that they do not know who they are or do not like being what they are?

I suspect that they do. But, then again, what do I know?

I suggest that we do better to discuss women’s issues in terms of fashion than in terms of reproductive anatomy. Why does it happen that any time the nation has a conversation about women’s issues the focus is directed below the waist?

Why does anyone imagine that women will receive more respect for wearing pussy hats? Yes, I know that pussy hats are fashion forward these days. They make a statement— I do not dare to imagine which—but do they command more respect for professional women? Which puts women in a better light:  an ankle-length dress or a pussy hat?

No, that is not a trick question.



James said...

That was a resplendent post of grass green earthiness Stuart!
I remember many years ago having a surprising short discussion with my First Sergeant about wearing appropriate clothing. He had an amazingly convincing fashion sense.

trigger warning said...

Well, I think it depends on the First Woman involved; viz.,


Anybody else around here old enough to recall R. Crumb's classic 60's series, Big Ass Comics? When I saw the image above, I was transported back to the Summer of Love (which, IMO, was more real than the Summer of Recovery).

But I'm always impressed by the Proglodyte focus on the [ahem] Big Issues.

James said...

I remember. I was a "Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers" follower in Austin.

trigger warning said...

James, Freewheelin' Franklin was my role model.

James said...

We were blessed to have great literature when we were young. Balzac Bah, Dumas please, and you couldn't send Hesse out for anything he'd always get burned. Not to mention the uncertainty when Fat Freddy adopted Schrodingers cat; had it used your shoe or not?

Sam L. said...

Ah. the memories of our youth-early manhood!

Ares Olympus said...

I recall with confusion and amusement seeing old letters addressed to my mom as "Mrs. [John Smith]", i.e. my dad, as if his first name was sufficient to describe her identity. It made sense when I was a kid when you address neighbor adults as Mr. and Mrs. [Smith], but it never made sense that a woman should be addressed by her husband's first name. But it does seem like women who were a bit older than my mom felt a comfort in that container.

I also recall the first time I noticed my mom being called ma'am which sounded very weird, but I admitted I wasn't sure what else to call a woman whom you don't know. I don't hear ma'am any more, but occasionally I find myself addressed as 'sir'. So I figured out some people were taught as children to use honorary titles to show respect for others. I suppose if I was in a military family, I'd have been taught this tradition.

I see women being called ladies all the time, while presuming gentleman is the male equivalent, I never hear a group of men called "gentlemen", except of course by public speakers perhaps addressing a large crowd.

It seems like in the olden days people were more comfortable calling adult women "girls", as you'll see in older movies, and we still have the boys of summer on the baseball field, but I can see some women may feel "girl" as demeaning. And if you're a black adult, being called "boy" seems to be an insult. I once corrected my dad when I was in my early 20s when he called me "his boy" in front of a friend. I corrected him that I was his son, while I'm not sure if I was insulted or if I was just being a troublemaker.

Holmquist wrote: The fact is, women are free to wear anything they want these days. But I can’t help but wonder: Do many women deny themselves the respect they are craving by the way they dress? Is it possible that women who embrace their femininity and are unashamed to dress in a respectable, gender-specific way, such as Melania Trump exhibited the other day, are actually ahead of the pack when it comes to earning that respect?

I've thought about the issue of gender more recently, with the trans-issues like restroom access. And one conclusions I decided is if you're willing to dress like a lady, you definitely should be using the "little lady's room", ideally cleanly shaven, even if you're a post-menopausal woman.

I saw this article this week, from a mother talking about her daughter who looks like a boy, and having now extra confused adults ask if she wants to be addressed as "he", but no, she's just a "tomboy" and likes boys more than girls.

The topic did help me realize that how we dress isn't just about how we feel about ourselves, what's most comfortable, but how we want to help others identity who we are. And so if you're an 8 year old girl who wants to dress like a boy, that is surely normal and fine. But well, you still have to accept you're not doing "proper signalling" to the people around you, and you're going to cause some discomfort perhaps, and some embarrassing wrong pronouns.

It makes sense that Melania, who was a model after all, that she is someone who appreciates dressing up in very feminine ways.

The word gentleman is definitely not a 4-letter word, but a good fraction of men may consider it an insult at times, a manipulative word that suggests they should behave themselves and follow other people's rules.

We missed out on "First gentleman Bill", but we can't be too far from "First gentleman" in the white house. Actually isn't daughter Ivanka going to be "First lady" rather than Melania?

So perhaps if a woman becomes president, the white house hostess will be her adult daughter as well, and so we'll still have a "first lady", and keep that gender tradition?