That’s Not Very Lady-Like

by Kathryn Cloward on April 18, 2013

This graphic came through my Facebook feed a while ago, and it bothered me.  It wasn’t just the princesses in their flirty poses—the sexy warrior bothered me too.  This article is what came through me as a result.


I am a mother of a son.  The messages that my son is exposed to about femininity and masculinity, matter to me greatly.  I want him to know that it’s totally okay to wear purple if he wants to, and experience the freedom to cry unashamedly when he’s upset.  I desire for him to know that some girls (like his own mother) have dreams that don’t include becoming a princess, and courageous and fearless women don’t usually carry swords or wear capes.

And what could easily be the most important point to make, I want him to understand that a cotton tracksuit is a fabulous choice of attire when seeking an outfit that ranks high on the scale of comfort and ease of movement.  I mean who really thinks that it is a favorable idea to gallop on a horse wearing a micro-mini dress with a sweetheart cut neckline?  If you purchase anything above a training bra you know exactly what I’m talking about.

When I was growing up I heard more times than I can count, “Kathryn, that’s not very lady-like.”

Says who?????  That’s what I always wanted to know!

Like nails on a chalkboard, the phrase “lady-like” has come to represent the billboard of everything that I was being molded and shaped into, without my natural consent.

I was always so confused by the lady-like checklist because if I was acting “unladylike,” I certainly didn’t know it.  That is, until I was told otherwise.  Since my scope of awareness and influence was basically through my three older brothers and their pack of friends who were in-and-out of our house all of the time, I really had no idea that it was not okay for me to join their belching contests, or play tag-team wrestling on our brown shag carpet.  I looked up to my brothers.  I wanted to be like my brothers, so that meant acting like them.

But I guess, as I often found out, a lady doesn’t act that way…

I think it is important to point out that I was not a “tom-boy.”  Not even close.  If I had to slap a label on myself, I was quite “girly.”  When I reached high school, I recall a few of my friends referring to themselves as tom-boys.  But that wasn’t me. However, I wasn’t scoring favorable on the “lady” checklist either.

I had no idea how to be a lady, until I was told that whatever I was doing was not the right way to behave.  So I became an expert in absorbing what’s appropriate for a lady, based on whether I was being reprimanded or not.  Oh, and you should be aware that I did not grow up in the British monarchy.  I was raised in a middle-class tri-level home in the suburbs of San Diego, California.   Just saying…

Over the years I have discovered that I wasn’t the only one who struggled with this lady-like concept.  One of my friends was sent to charm school to learn proper manners and etiquette. She by far has the best table manners of anyone I know.  In fact, to this day she eats with her pinky stretched out as straight as a ruler.  It catches me off guard because I know of no one else who eats that way.  And contrary to her father’s best intentions for molding her into the perfect feminine package as defined by his point of view, she opted out of “feminine sports” like tennis (really?) as her father hoped, and excelled as one of the best softball players I know.  I am sure when she joined the Army her dad had a coronary because camouflage fatigues were most certainly not on his lady-like checklist.

But in my mom’s pursuit to make sure that I sat with my legs crossed and didn’t talk with my mouth full, she was purposeful in making sure my role models embodied feminist woman.  I was not allowed to play with Barbie’s because she was not a realistic toy.  I seldom watched TV, except for two hours per week (house rules), and I never watched animated princess-themed movies.  The books I was encouraged to read were biographies of trailblazing women like Amelia Earhart and Marie Curie.  I was encouraged to be an athlete and I excelled at sports with very little effort, and I had no desire to dance on the sidelines and root for the boys on the field.

My mom was purposeful in helping me understand that I could be anything I wanted to be and do anything I wanted to do, as long as I worked hard and had a positive attitude.

So I grew up to be a somewhat lady-like, self-motivated trailblazing mom who is passionate about empowering children.  I want to nurture boys with the vision that they can dream of one day being at-home dads raising children, teachers of arts and music, or builders of skyscrapers; and girls can dream of one day being CEOs of corporations, writers and publishers of children’s books, or motorcycle riding circus performers.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing too outrageously unrealistic with wanting to be a princess, because apparently that still happens. Just ask Kate Middleton.

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