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Thoughts... on being ladylike.


I swear all the time. I'm a bit of a fucking trooper. My mum hates it. She constantly tells me to stop swearing as it 'isn't very ladylike'. I tell her ladylike is a patriarchal construction intended to silence women. She rolls her eyes. She doesn't care, she just wishes I'd stop whining about how fucking shite everything is. Things are pretty shite, though, been miserable weather for nigh on ten years now, annit?

But yeah, there's lots of things I do that probably aren't very ladylike. Do you remember that programme Ladette to Lady? I loved that programme. Never really noticed what sexist bollocks it was. Probably wouldn't have cared anyway, it made crackin' telly. Anyway, I'm quite sure I'm not anything at all like a 'Ladette' but I don't think I'm quite sophisticated enough to be a lady. Not very 'refined', I suppose. Not that I'm too bothered. They'll never get this Yorkshire lass to pronounciate correctly.

Yet still I'm troubled by the notion of 'ladylike'. What does it actually mean? And why on earth do people keep telling me to act like it? So I asked my female housemates: "What does the term 'ladylike' mean to you?"
"Women having to act in a way - In particular in a way that doesn't resemble men"
 "Yeah, women behaving in a way that is deemed by certain people to be appropriate."
"Acting in a particularly way society believes women should act like"
"Not acting like a chavvy bitch"
Then I asked the boys, to see it from their different perspective:
"Outdated downton abbey phrase to describe how women should act
And finally, "Little Britain "I'm a lady" sketch".
So it seems that, in our generation, at least, everyone is quite aware that the term is outdated, patriarchal bullshit. They also seem aware that is used to generate humour by Britains' worst beloved sitcom (yeah, I went there, fight me. While we're at it, Mrs Brown's Boys is shite too).  So why do I still hear it flung about in an attempt to shame women in submission?

I'm quite a clever young woman. I'm on track for a high-class degree in Classics, my A-Levels were a pretty solid example of my capabilities and I like to think I'm up to date with current affairs. I'm clever, and I know it. But according to the 'rules of etiquette,' I shouldn't express my opinion. I should be clever yes, but not too clever.  "It isn't very lady-like to argue over politics, dear". God forbid I voice my smart-ass to a man. How heavenly unladylike! Basically, it seems, we should all be 'smart enough' but not too smart. Otherwise, you're too argumentative, too opinionated. You're a lady, so naturally you're to keep shut in the company of all those clever, little men.

I'm neither meek nor quiet. There is no 'be seen but not heard' around here. My dad has actually been calling me a gobshite for as long as I can remember, which is a bit mean but definitely quite true. I talk a lot, about anything, and usually fairly loudly. I also have the laugh of a hyena A loud, chortling laugh that echoes for miles - a trait I received from my similarly loud-mouthed dad. I'm chortling like a buffoon because I've found something amusing. What you've said made me laugh so hard it reduced me to tears. Ought I limit my reaction to a small snigger and feign merely slight interest in an effort to appear ladylike? No, thank you. That sounds bloody awful.  I may be causing an unladylike scene but what a beautiful scene to be making; one of pure, unadulterated laughter.

Likewise, does my excessive drinking make me grotesquely unladylike or just your run-of-the-mill university student? I still indulge some of the feats of my earlier "chavvy bitch" days; I'm still partial to a "nice" pint of Strongbow (although now legally purchased at a public house rather than sharing a tin with a mate in the park) and a vodka mixer is necessary if you want to survive a hot, sweaty student night. However, I also attend dinner parties and sip on very posh champagne whilst pretending to appreciate the pint-sized canapes that in no way resemble real food. So what? Am I an unladylike woman for indulging in alcohol? The media certainly vilifies woman far more so than men for binge drinking. I'd say this is another cracking example of how 'ladylike' is used to control female behaviour.

I just don't understand the concept of being 'ladylike'. Why am I chastised for doing exactly the same as boys do? If my dad and brother can swear like troopers at the football, why can't I? It seems that it is nothing to do with being a lady, rather it is everything to do with being a polite human being. Swearing is impolite, binge-drinking is gross and being loud is obnoxious. That I'll readily admit. But will I stop because it's "unladylike'? Will I bollocks. Being ladylike can suck my metaphorical balls.

Next time someone tells you "you're not being very ladylike", tell them to do one. As long as your polite, pleasant and happy, you're doing good. You don't need some out-dated terminology trying to control your behaviour.

More reading, if you're so inclined.
When You Tell Me I'm Not Being Ladylike, What Do You Mean?
4 Reasons Never to Tell Your Daughters to Be ‘Ladylike’
The Lost Art of 'Ladylike'


  1. hahaha, this is brilliant. I can really relate to this! I'm so unlady like, drink too much (like a good pint of beer, swear too much to) etc etc, but like you, I'm degree educated so I'd say I'm quite clever! But I do agree, that term is quite outdated! x

  2. This is the best post I have read for a long time. I am always being told I am far too unladylike. My reply is always that I don't care? Who am I trying to impress? If I'm comfortable being a loud unladylike mess then that's the way I intend to stay! You really did this post justice.

    Emily -