Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.
Nora Ephron, Commencement Address, Wellesley College, 1996
My mum was a fantastic and fun-loving person. She was beautiful and self-deprecating. In the early eighties in Australia there was a series of ads for a brand of paint called Walpamur which featured a monkey called Wally. My mum once went to a party dressed as Wally Walpamur and wasn’t recognised by a single one of her friends. She was a lady who knew when to bend the rules.
But she was a lady. Like most of us, Mum was a product of her generation and she mostly conformed, as I do, to what was expected of her. Not all of the lessons she taught them rubbed off on Mum’s five daughters – and I’m quite sure that she’d have changed her mind about a lot of them if she’d lived and kept changing as the world changed around her – but I do remember hearing things from her like, “You have to suffer to be beautiful.” And, “When a woman is walking with a man she should take two steps to his one.” She was strong and amazing but she believed in being a lady.
I don’t so much. Some of the sexiest and most fantastic women I know are those who believe that it’s what you do that’s important, not what you look like when you do it. And because of their lack of concern about being “pretty” they look absolutely amazing. Strong, clever, fearless, vital and striving. So much more attractive, I think, than “ladylike”.
One of the angriest of The Vagina Monologues, Geneva, was delivered by (L for) Lucille. Lucille is a lawyer and her stage presence was such that I’m sure that every person on the stage and in the audience, based on her performance, would choose her as their legal representation. The piece she presented was “My Angry Vagina” and as she strutted confidently around the stage she made people laugh and cheer and agree with her every word. This was not about being ladylike. This was about being liberated and level and likeable and learned. This was about being Lucille.
I feel so lucky to be living in a time and place when I’m allowed to have a voice. When I’m not supposed to just sit in a corner and be quiet and demure and pretty and accommodating.
Ladylike? I’d rather be licentious.