Just ‘be a lady’ they said

PUBLISHED: 10:35 29 February 2020 | UPDATED: 10:35 29 February 2020

Cynthia Nixon. Picture: PA Archive/PA Images/Tim Ireland

Cynthia Nixon. Picture: PA Archive/PA Images/Tim Ireland

PA Archive/PA Images/Tim Ireland

If you have not already seen Be a Lady They Said, by Girls. Girls. Girls. Mag, put it on your to do list. Following on from the likes of ‘#LikeAGirl’ and ‘This Girl Can’, Sex and the City star Cynthia Nixon reads the words of poet Camille Rainville, who lists a whole manner of contradictory and conflicting messages and instructions which girls are told throughout their lives.

'Fit into that dress. Go on a diet. Watch what you eat. Eat celery. Chew gum. Drink lots of water. You have to fit into those jeans. God, you look like a skeleton. Why don't you just eat? You look emaciated. You look sick. Eat a burger. Men like women with some meat on their bones. Be small. Be light. Be little. Be petite. Be feminine.'

Released on Monday, the same day Harvey Weinstein was found guilty of first and third degree rape and sentenced to 25 years in prison, the video is going viral around social media and creating a stir.

We are still not living in a gender equal world and Rainville wakes us up to the everyday sexism ingrained into our society. It is a reality check, and a very important one at that.

'You look frumpy. Loosen up. Show some skin. Look sexy. Look hot. Don't be so provocative. You're asking for it...Don't lose your dignity...Don't be a prude.'

The video shows fast changing clips of models, film clips and news footage (often shocking), whilst Nixon voices the contradictions and a soundtrack builds in intensity. The fast-paced style combined with the footage and words is overwhelming by the end. I was upset and angry, but mostly shocked.

'Be a lady they said. Don't talk to loud. Don't talk too much. Don't take up space. Don't sit like that. Don't stand like that. Don't be intimidating. Why are you so miserable? Don't be a *****. Don't be so bossy. Don't be assertive. Don't overact.'

I realised I have heard most of the things mentioned in the prose throughout my life and mostly just accepted them. Why? Why should I accept hearing that I am too skinny, but don't put any weight on or you'll be too fat. Why should I accept being told I look too pale, so put some makeup on - but not too much or you'll look too done-up. I was constantly getting told off for the length of my skirt at school. I am not talking anything outrageous; I was built like a beanpole and no shop made a school skirt to fit me around the waist as well as down to the knees. I could go on.

We say such a lot without always realising what it insinuates as it is so common in our language. We need to change the way we speak and stop placing ourselves in typecast boxes. 'Sit like a lady', 'speak like a lady', 'ladies first', 'girly', 'run like a girl', 'man up', 'man spread'.

Why it is still more expected that I will take my male partner's surname if I marry, rather than any other alternatives? Why is it acceptable for men to go topless in the sun when women would be told to cover up? Why am I expected to look a certain standard to please other people?

It is crucial that we raise the next generation of girls to see themselves as themselves and not as a product of societal expectations. It is also crucial that we break down this typecast gender structure, in order to support this generation. Perhaps if we did this, it would not take girls until their 20s, or older, to feel comfortable with who they are, or pressured into certain things. 
Warning: the video contains scenes which may offend.

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