“Be a lady they said” was written on December 6, 2017 when Camille Rainville, now twenty-two years old, was studying at the library on the University of Vermont campus. Rainville created her blog Writings of a Furious Woman to spotlight the now viral 785-word poem read by Cynthia Nixon during the three minute fashion film released last week by the same name.
Viewed over 20 million times, the praise for and critiques of Be a Lady They Saidare rolling in. Primarily celebrated as a painful testament to the impossible social standards women are subjected to, some view it as a “step back.” Judith Taylor, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto’s Women and Gender Studies Institute, contends that because the film offers no solution to these pressures it is little more than an exercise “of wallowing in self-pity”.
As a fellow academic, Taylor’s reading of the film sounds familiar, steeped as it is in the language of inclusive social action, albeit rather idealized and myopic. Raised white fist in the ivory tower.
As a woman, watching the slick montage of suffering felt familiar. I don’t relate to the models or featured celebrities, but to the routinized oppression of women under patriarchy. This oppression begins early and before I was a zygote inside my mother’s body, it was decided that I will be less important than a man. Although impossible to fully describe what inhabiting my lesser skin is like, the emotions generated by Claire Rothstein’s film come close: jagged, fast, layered, sad, and beyond our grasp to circumvent.
The evil bullshit of patriarchy runs through though every aspect of my life, from the invisible power systems that reproduce gender inequity to the cellular aspirations I convince myself are a good idea: lean, low carb, chocolate if I’m lucky. It’s why I avoid eye contact on the bus and volunteer only on certain kinds of committees at work, mainly the ones with fewer old white men. It shapes how I speak to myself and the way I eat in public, if at all.
Women are constantly made to feel like misfit enemies of a system that wants us to be smooth and silent as well as fiery and forceful. These are the contradictions of an unfree set-up and the solution, Dr. Taylor, is to burn it down.
I relish the day when it’s not just a few thousand of us at international marches and slut walks, but when we all walk the hallways of our lives with the confidence that comes with equality. We don’t need to be men to rule, but we do need men- and others- on our journey towards solidarity. We must stand together to halt the plutocratic greed that is killing us and the bounty of the earth. Perhaps most of all we need to continue reading, writing, and fighting our way through the bio-toxicity we make our girls, our women, ourselves swallow every day.
They can inherit something else if we care enough to make it happen.