“I often wonder if more girls were willing to be ladies, more guys would feel challenged to be gentlemen.”
This got posted on the Modest Fashionista board that I contribute to and follow on Pinterest. Not gonna lie – I threw up a little when I read this. I was unable to attribute the quote to anyone in particular, although if you enter it in Google you’ll find that Keri Hilson appreciates and defends the quote on her Twitter. I am here to do the opposite.
First, let me provide a bit of background to the Modest Fashionista board. It’s geared toward women who dress modestly for religious reasons, and although there are posts that apply to Muslim and Mormon women, it largely seems to serve tznius fashion observed by Orthodox Jewish women. So we’re starting out with a community that is on the more conservative side, and I think that’s important to note when dealing with the more old-fashioned appeal of this quote.
When we’re talking about how the terms “lady” and “gentleman” are defined, if we weed through the notions of class and politely addressing someone, we’re left with words like “refined” and “polite” and “well-spoken” to define a lady; words like “civilized” and “educated” and “sensitive” and “well-mannered” to define a gentleman. I think it’s interesting that different words are used to define “lady” versus “gentleman”, particularly when it comes down to the fact that while “well-spoken” may imply “educated”, the latter may not necessarily be required of the former. I also think it’s interesting that it seems to be implied that women are naturally sensitive, and therefore don’t need to be defined as such to be considered a lady, whereas an average man is less appealing to a woman because he doesn’t have the “gentlemanly” quality of sensitivity. I’ve always had my own personal hang-ups with the term “lady” – for as far back as I can remember, actually – but my issues with overly gendered words being used to describe me are a discussion for another post. To me, it always hinted of women who were too well-behaved for their own good. While I certainly see merit in manners and being able to form a coherent argument to defend one’s beliefs, the idea of being “refined” is to me inherently classist and therefore something I would be unable to achieve. Furthermore, it strikes me as an inability to be honest with one’s opinions for fear of offending someone. I’m not talking about troll baiting or making rude or offensive statements simply to get on someone’s nerves (or even something as simple as informing your cashier that you find their hair or physical body modifications to be in poor taste – that’s rude and your opinion was not warranted in that situation), but I’m talking about having the courage to say the right thing, or to say what needs to be said, even if it might make some people uncomfortable.
But after dissecting the dictionary definition of these words and exploring issues regarding classism, manners, education, and gendered traits, what this quote really gets at – what Keri Hilson was using it to explain – is the use of sex as a weapon, if you will. If women are seen as sexualized by men, then that man will only see or treat that woman as a sex object and not as a person, who needs to be treated with dignity and respect. It’s slut shaming at its finest, and I have a pretty big problem with the implication that a woman needs to behave in a virginal and modest fashion in order to be treated with respect, while men have no such standard imposed upon them. I think it’s also worth noting the societal expectations regarding relationships and marriage here. It’s assumed that to be a happy, well-adjusted adult, you need to be married and have children. News flash: you don’t need to do either of those things to achieve happiness. Currently, society and the media particularly portray women as marriage hungry harpies who are constantly looking for a rock and a serious commitment, and men as only interested in casual sex. In addition to this, in order to win a man, a woman is expected to embrace his interest in casual sex and portray herself as a sex object to attain his attention. It seems to me that if once you reach adulthood, you sit down and examine what you want from life – what would genuinely make you happy and not what society says will do so – and present your desires in a clear and concise manner in the beginning of a courtship and then compare notes, you have the option of parting ways amicably if your desires clash or attempting to pursue the type of relationship you desire with someone who wants something similar. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a purely sexual relationship, but both parties deserve to be treated with respect, and if you both genuinely want this and you’re not in the situation of a woman using sex as a weapon to eventually ensnare a man in marriage, then the idea of leaving it as simply sex is not synonymous as being disrespectful toward a woman. And a woman who does not fit the stereotype of a “lady” has just as much right as a woman who does to seek out serious relationships that involve wining and dining and maybe not the 69ing. “Getting wifed” doesn’t mean that you need to conform to a societal ideal of ladylike standards, and a “lady” can still desire sexual gratification. Respect is deserved regardless, and if you feel like you’re not getting it, then it’s the fault of the person disrespecting you and you need to leave them. Respect is not an act of decorum reserved for the upper class, nor is it a reward for a woman keeping her legs shut. Respect is about valuing someone’s worth, and someone’s worth has nothing to do with their sexual activity, period.