Sit Like a Lady?
A few days ago I ran into an argument with a close friend who asked me to sit like a lady. For a second, I paused, looked at him and tried to figure out what he meant.
My legs crossed and my arms lying on the back of the chair, we both sat the same way. I asked him why he said that, to which he responded, "Girls can't sit like that. Boys can." Naturally, I was a bit shocked, and honestly, offended. However, I realise that a lot of people, including my friend, might wonder what was so wrong about that.
Over time, societal expectations of how women should behave have embedded themselves so deeply into our lives that we often fail to see their oppressive and overwhelming influence. These expectations attempt to fit every woman into one small box of what is considered acceptable and desirable, and inculcate into our minds damaging gender norms that inhibit personal development.
It raises the question why a certain body language is tolerable for one gender but not for the other? Now, don't get me wrong here, I personally know a lot of women who would have no problem sitting like a lady, and that's great for them. But what about someone who doesn't want to sit "gracefully" as we like to call it? Does that make her any less of a woman?
Body language experts claim that taking up space is a mannerism used to assert dominance, one that is most often found characteristic of men. Women, on the other hand, are expected to adopt more timid postures to make themselves look smaller in public spaces. On the surface, that seems like a pretty ordinary thing. However, considering the context of the society we live in, gender norms like these are only the tip of the iceberg.
Before we say we need to focus on "more important issues", it's important to realize that these norms are direct corollaries of the patriarchal structures that surround us, tirelessly trying to undermine female presence in public spaces. It is simply another form of toxic gender discrimination.
When we teach a girl from an early age how a lady should behave, we not only limit her personal development, but also teach her to view herself from society's lens instead of her own. As a result, this young girl will grow up defining her identity by society's standards, rather than her own.
Instead of trying to appropriate female behaviour, we need to teach women to embrace whatever version of themselves they feel most aligned with. In a world that is relentlessly trying to impose its ideals of desirable women on us, we shouldn't be trying to turn our girls into anything but themselves.