March 3, 2017
When I was 12, my grandmother put me in Cotillion, a set of southern etiquette classes. Months passed of learning to walk in heels, use the correct fork and dance without offending my partner’s toes. On the night of the winter dance, I put on a grey and purple dress my mom and I picked out at Dillard’s weeks before, and on our way, I spilt Taco Bell nachos all over my lap. One of the rules I had been taught was that being late was never okay, so I went with yellow and brown blotted up splotches all over my lap anyways. Upon arrival, I received disapproving looks coupled with sugar-sweet words of affirmation, of course. Ladies must never say anything to offend another person, despite my lack of grace on what I considered then a night of importance. I believed that since I lacked constant perfection, I must be less of a lady.
I have come to realize over the years that my elbows seem to gravitate to tabletops and I’m not fond of keeping my legs crossed for long. I have chipped fingernail polish, uncrossed black denim-clad legs, pale skin and unkempt hair. My voice is always a bit too loud, head always a bit too high, opinions always a little overstated, height taking up too much space. Do all these things add up to make me somehow less of a woman? It’s common for adults, peers and even children to nudge me lightly and remind me, “Hey now, that isn’t very ladylike.”
My definition of lady must be different from everyone around me. When I think “lady,” I think Rosa Parks. I think Yoko Ono, Eleanor Roosevelt, Michelle Obama. I think of women with power and drive who have used their brains and wit and heels and attitude to bring about change. Women who used their too-loud voices to say something worth saying. Women who are women not despite being bold, but who are bold in spite of everyone who has told them they aren’t woman enough.
Woman is revolution. Woman is independent. Woman is being told I need to get married and deciding I don’t want to. Woman is speaking louder than the men in the room and still not being heard. Woman can be demure and lovely, but Woman doesn’t have to. Woman is not always smooth and pristine–Surprise! Woman grows hair on her legs. Woman grows fire in her heart, ideas in her head, and children in her stomach, if she so chooses.
Woman doesn’t apologize for destroying a social contract she never signed.
I will not apologize for chipping my nail polish or looking you in the eye. I am strong, and smart, and useful, and heard. I don’t want to meet your definition of “lady” if it means giving up everything that I am proud of. I am Woman, and I support my fellow women. All of them.