A few months ago, I accidentally shoved my foot in my mouth on a listserv I participate in. I got a bunch of irritated emails and issued numerous apologies. What did I do? I addressed the women as “ladies.”
Some women hate to be called “ladies,” I came to find out. It’s an outdated word, they said, which brings to mind white gloves, tea sandwiches, and balancing a book atop one’s head for good posture. (Betty Draper on Mad Men, for example.) The directive to “be a lady” or “act like a lady” usually encourages women or girls to become more like a retro gender construct—polite, smiling, quiet, compliant, modest, presentable—and they want nothing to do with it. I just assumed that because the word was so outdated, it meant nothing—and I was wrong.
So now I’m wondering, of course, about a lady’s counterpart. If “being a lady” has a stigma attached to it, does “being a gentleman” have a stigma, too? And what does “being a gentleman” even mean these days, anyway? Keep reading »