“Act Like a Lady” – They Said
So many women out there have a story of someone telling them to “act like a lady.” Unfortunately, most of those stories aren’t the kind that we enjoy telling. They are the stories about how we were told to make ourselves small; to keep our mouths shut; to look pretty and not have an opinion. Being told to act like a lady has taken on this persona of fear and guilt and shame. It breaks my heart a little every time I hear a woman tell me that she doesn’t like the word “lady” because somebody used it to make her feel unimportant, undervalued, and small.
A little history of the word Lady
When I first thought about what to call my first talk and “Negotiate Like A Lady” popped into my head, I ran the idea past a friend of mine and she had this same gut reaction to the word lady. It made me wonder, “What DOES the word lady mean”? So of course, in my very lawyerly way, I had to go out an do some research. I went to the dictionary, and online, and that led me to look in to some history (which is my least favorite subject, so this must have been important if I was willing to read history). What I found was that “lady” is actually a term of nobility; of strength; of respect.
And knowing is half the battle …
I know that knowing the history of the term doesn’t fix it’s manipulation to make us feel small and unimportant as women. Reclaiming the term “lady” for ourselves and brushing off the decades of misuse will take time and a concerted effort. I also know that as strong, powerful, change makers, it is our responsibility to reclaim this word and all the power that comes along with it.
Lady is a truly feminine word, but it is also a word of power and strength. It is a word that depicts a woman who stands in her power and in her strength and prepares to take on the world. And, it is a woman who holds herself and those around her to a higher standard of accountability. It is a woman who prepares to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. And most importantly, a lady is a woman who is proud and important and is full of opinions.
What other words have been turned into something hurtful and shameful? How many other words that mean to uplift and celebrate women have been stolen from us? Let’s take them all back. I’m starting with the word lady. What word will you embrace and champion to reclaim it for all women?