What does it mean to be ladylike?

Ladylike. It’s a compound word consisting of the word lady, known to us all to usually mean a woman of good social position who is decorous in public and always keeping herself restrained for the sake of social propriety, and like. Maybe the formal usage of lady for women nowadays has died out, but the unspoken push to be ladyLIKE still haunts us. Can we seriously, the modern-day women of the 21st century, still be compared to the prim and proper idealised image of the women of the ‘50s? It may be accurate to say that women still obsess over their hair, like back in the day when pixie cuts were popularizing the fashion industry but the bouffant still reigned supreme. But we are no longer the polished female goddesses that wear meticulously ironed and perfectly tailored vibrant knee-length dresses, no longer the servile empty shells with no identity of their own, no longer the silent women with no opinions.

Historically, women have fought long and hard for us to be able to have an opinion that can be expressed in public with some acceptance. Yes, in our current society anyone can expect backlash due to the crowning jewel reason of feeling entitled to free speech, or the simple: You have no right to judge me, who are you anyway? Honestly though, that’s fair enough. Everyone has a right to an opinion, but with regard to women and rights, I say we ditch the notion of being decorous repressed beings as suggested by the label ladylike, and just be something else. Anything else for that matter. Whatever you want to be.

Speaking of empowerment, often a startling piece of news can be read in the media that unsettles the whole equality balance. I guess men will always have the patriarchal ‘manly’ roles thrust upon them, and the art of beautification will always, to some degree, be valued as the ultimate dominant factor in a woman’s abundant repertoire. Perhaps she has a wealth of other qualities to offer, but the expectation of attractiveness and especially caring about one’s appearance will always be a hard one to shake.

Recently I read online that Edinburgh University released an article in their student newsletter recommending that students spend excessive amounts of money on their graduation day outfits. Like I get it, it’s your big day, you’ve worked tirelessly for the last four years (we all know the late night boozy crying due to a pressing deadline, the all-nighters full of procrastination, and the sleep-deprived morning afters), but suggesting a shopaholic’s splurge on a dress for one day is a bit extreme.

‘Girls, this is your time to invest in some sophisticated glamour,’ the article reads. ‘Think French chic meets New York business and you’ll get it right.’

The punchline is in and the target audience is (drumroll please, I mean this is juicy stuff): women! Of course, we’re the target audience. I mean we’re the only ones who would have the sheer audacity to spend £2,395 on a Harvey Nichols clutch bag, so why not sensibly suggest it in a collegiate newsletter, I mean nothing could go wrong right? It’s not like anyone at university, no matter how prestigious the institution is considered to be, is on a budget (note the sarcasm!).

It grinds my gears that this is considered acceptable. Outside of London students receive £3,731 to live on per year, so assuming that students can afford to fling all that into one outfit is bizarre.

If I read that post in my university’s newsletter I sure would be puzzled. The logical reaction seems one of two options: take the article seriously and end up feeling frustrated by the insinuation that all students are well-off, or, as a satirical piece on how much effort and stress ladies can put into deciding on an outfit. If it’s the latter then fair enough, I would say most women have spent longer than usual on at least one outfit in their lives for a special occasion, but if it’s the former then the article is not just rubbing salt in the wound for students on a budget, but what about the ones who can afford an outfit like that for graduation?

University should not be about money or class divisions but more about the journey and acquisition of knowledge. Isn’t that, after all, the experience universities sell us in those same newsletters?

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