There are times when art imitates life in such a concentrated and profound way that it can cause a tectonic shift in the way we as a society look at the world around us.
That is exactly how I felt as I watched the powerful 2-minute video titled, ‘Be a Lady They Said‘ that puts intense imagery against the powerful words of Camille Rainville’s shockingly realistic poem about what the double standard against women looks and feels like.
The film shows Sex in the City star, Cynthia Nixon in a center shot that doesn’t move.
With slicked-back hair and charcoal eyeliner, wearing what looks like a men’s suit, Nixon looks directly at the camera as she recites the poem out loud. The piece starts,
“Be a lady they said. Your skirt is too short. Your shirt is too low. Your pants are too tight,”
And then with startling images of highly made-up women, we see pop culture examples of how women fail to live up to the mixed messages of what “ladylike” should be.
Nixon masterfully peppers the viewer with well-known warnings for women like “Don’t show your underwear.
Don’t show your shoulders. Cover up. Leave something to the imagination. Dress modestly.”
Then, with no warning, she immediately pummels the viewer the exact opposite of those messages with words like,
“You look frumpy. Loosen up. Show some skin. Look sexy. Look hot. Don’t be so provocative.”
It is hard to watch this 2-minute video and not feel a sense of dread (if you’re a woman) because the messages are all too real and deeply felt.
What girl or woman hasn’t been told to “coverup” only then to be told, “you look like a prude”?
The video paints an incredibly accurate portrait of how difficult it is to walk the fine line of freedom of female expression while simultaneously trying not to draw enough attention to oneself to be put in danger.
The video has attracted a 400 comment firestorm of clashing ideas about what ladylike is, why it’s dying out, and how “worthy” women who don’t conform to old school ideals of female behavior can actually be.
In short, I’m not sure which is more traumatic, the video or the comments.
A woman called Eva wrote about her lack of understanding of the perspective Rainville’s words express.
“I’m not a huge fan of all this continuous whining. I’m a woman. I live how I please. I’ve never been bothered by criticisms related to the femininity of my behavior (or lack thereof) and I don’t feel particularly burdened by social expectations for my gender.”
Another commenter was excited to see this piece of work striking such a chord. A woman called Jen wrote,
“I love this so much. What’s amazing is that all these phrases are said by women to women. Mothers to daughters. We have the power to wipe this out. We’re doing it.”
But women weren’t the only people who chimed in.
Plenty of men showed up to mansplain how they thought that double standards against women are largely untrue or invented by women and not men (uh…can you head my eyes rolling in my head?)
Like this guy who thinks church and a bar of soap will cure what ails women. A man called Paul wrote,
“Wash out your mouth with soap honey. Girls like you are not “with it” You make me puke.”
And he wasn’t alone, a man called Luke chimed in with this gem,
“And who says all that? Men or the other women? I think is the women…”
No matter what you may feel about how women are perceived and treated in society, the video is worth watching and thinking long and hard about.
Even if you’ve experienced a life of ease, or never having been put in danger of abuse.
Just considering that not every woman has that privilege is a mental exercise worth taking.