This is a word we use often when we talk to little girls. Saying things like “Don’t lift your skirt up, it’s not ladylike.” Or “Don’t burp at the table, it’s not ladylike.” And while I do agree little girls should not be doing these things, neither should boys. So why have we placed a gendered term onto what essentially should be called manners? If a little boy were to pull his pants off in public most parents would tell him. “Don’t do that it is not appropriate.” No one is telling him he is not acting like a man. The little boy is simply not using good manners and needs to be reminded how to act in public, not because he is a man but because he is learning how to be a decent human being.
This term comes back into play as young girls mature into high school or early college age. We begin to hear things like “it’s not ladylike to talk about sex in public”, or “it’s not ladylike to sleep around.”We expect our young girls to follow a moral code, because it is ladylike. Yet there is no term we use to teach our boys to be respectful, considerate, and modest. Boys are not held to the standard to be ‘ladylike’ because they are boys.
This is my issue with the term. We use it in a way that means to instill morals and manners, yet it leaves out half of the population. Shouldn’t we expect all human beings to operate with a mutual respect and understanding for others? That certain things should not be shared with the common public? We should not place a gender standard on what should be a HUMAN standard. I want my son to grow up to be modest, genuine, kindhearted and well mannered just as much as I want my daughter to. So why does society say that girls must be ‘ladylike’ but our boys are praised when they act just the opposite.
Young boys are encouraged to participate in crude joking and act promiscuous. In fact they are often praised for it.We have characters like Joey on the show Friends, Charlie from Two and a Half Men, and J.D. from Scrubs as some of the most memorable household names in America. All of these characters are praised for sleeping with as many women as possible, always have a crude joke to tell, and openly view pornography sometimes even in public. These characters are who everyone wants to be friends with, they are highly valued. This is the standard we have set for young boys. If a female character were to do any of these things the show would at the very least have poor ratings if not be cut from the air.
We should expect all people to act as decent human beings, not just our girls to act like ladies. Instead of telling young women to be ladylike why don’t we just give it the label that is long over-due, manners. This will cut off the gender gap we’ve created and teach our children that manners are not a gender specific issue, but a human issue.