Sunday, September 6, 2009

I am NOT a lady

I have never been a lady.

I will never be a lady.

Why do people, mostly men of a certain generation, think its ok to refer to me as a "lady", or to other women as "ladies"(or lady if singular)?

When I was growing up, I'd regularly be told, by my grandmother (and occasionally my mother), "that's not very ladylike", usually referring to climbing trees, wearing shorts, slothing about, running, shouting and generally having fun. Very quickly I equated "ladylike" with "not fun" and went out of my way to avoid "ladylike" things and settle on fun things instead.

So these days, when people refer to me as a "lady" or if I am with a group of women "ladies" it tends to get my back up really quickly. My instant response, which is sometimes bitten back, is "I am not a lady, I am a woman."

Wikipedia, my source of things interesting, doesn't really have much to say on the term lady. It talks about the historical source of the word and how it has been used in a sexist manner "lady doctor" and "lady lawyer" instead of doctor or lawyer... (perhaps woman doctor or female doctor)? Personally I've never been big on identifying the gender of someone undertaking a role, I don't go around saying "my male doctor...", unless it is specifically relevant. "My doctor is pregnant" is clear about the gender of the doctor (unless modern science has suddenly increased the capacity for reproduction), and gender doesn't play a role in how successful someone will be in their career.

I'm not the type of person who talks about a "cleaning lady" even when I'm attempting to identify one in a crowd, people undertaking jobs tend to manage to do so in a genderless way for me, for most jobs. Actors are actors regardless of gender, as are poets, waiters and mayors. However, there are still Policemen and Policewomen (thanks to TV) and Ombudsman (are there Ombudswomen?).

I suppose part of this is based around my own gender identity. I don't see myself as overly feminine and usually instead sitting nicely between the male and female spectrum of behaviour (despite what some others may claim) and gender identity. This does play a role in why I don't like being referred to as a "lady" as I do see that term complete with all the trappings of femininity that I tend to avoid like the plague. However, for all those women that enjoy those things, go ahead and seize "lady" and use it as much as you like, a long way away from me.

So for the handful of people out there who might read this blog... do you have any problems with the term "lady"; what do you do about it; and how did those issues eventuate?


  1. It seems to me that adding the word "lady" to a profession is synonymous with adding the word woman. "Woman doctor" sounds no less sexist than "Lady doctor". So, I'd say that the term "lady" is only different from woman when used to refer to you because it's basically the female equivalent of "gentleman". Ie, it tends to mean "woman of particular social standing and behaviour". Or at least it did mean that back in the Victorian era. Since then, the middle and lower classes have done their best to copy the Victorian nobility. Additionally, we've generally gotten rid of the notion that someone with more money and power is *inherently* better (although we still value money and power of course). So, saying "gentleman" these days usually just means "a well mannered man". It's typically intended as flattery. If someone is calling you a lady, aren't they just saying that you're a well mannered woman? Sure, you might say "I reject your sense of manners and the expectations that it places on me", but it hardly seems to contain inherent sexism over and above the normal gender roles pushed by our culture.

  2. I think 'lady' is an old-fashioned term, and women are well within their rights to reject the outdated gender role associated with it. The context in which a word is used often makes all the difference though. I rarely hear 'lady' used in a positive manner - e.g. 'why can't you be more ladylike'.

  3. Just found your blog through Google, and it's funny because I do that too! When someone calls me a lady, my automatic response is, "I'm not a lady, I'm a woman." To me, "lady" sounds meek, weak, submissive, and in need of protection. "Woman" sounds strong, capable, assertive, and independent, which is what I would like to be and think of myself as. So you're not alone :)