Tuesday, October 20, 2009

What does 'ladylike' look like, anyway?

Men with strong personalities are go-getters. Women with strong personalities are bitches. This disparity ticks me off because (and this will shock only those who haven’t met me) I have a bit of a strong personality. Don’t get me wrong – I’m Southern and can “Bless your heart” as well as the next belle. But I have no problem telling you what I think. I’m not a fade-into-the-background kind of girl. I enjoy good conversation and have never shied away from controversy. I don’t speak unkindly but I do speak plainly and some folks find that kind of talk disconcerting coming from a woman (normally I’d say, “coming from someone without a penis” but I’m trying to be more demure).

My no-nonsense approach applies to people I hire as well. If I contract someone to do something I expect the work to be done. And if it isn’t, the worker either needs to make it right or pay me back. This is not a problem as long as I’m working with a man. If I’m working with a woman, however, things get a little tricky.

A woman who is in business for herself needs to understand that while she may build relationships with her clients she is ultimately responsible to provide the service for which she was hired. For example, if you advertise that you know Latin, have a grasp of literature and science and understand current events and I hire you to teach my daughter, you dang well better teach my daughter.

And if you don't, do not tell me you’ve had some family problems that kept you from preparing your lesson plans.

Do not tell me you’re going to do better when you’ve already been given three weeks on top of the entire summer to get your act together.

Do not tell me you’re hurting financially.

I completely understand how difficult it can be to get the bases covered when your family life is imploding. I know there’s a steep learning curve any time a new task is begun. And I have great compassion for anyone who’s hurting in this economy. But if I hired you to teach my daughter then you better teach my daughter.

And if you don’t, please don’t act all shocked when I fire you.

I found myself in that exact situation recently and even though I handled myself respectfully, I was firm, which equaled bitch in the eyes of the two women with whom I was dealing.

I don’t understand that. Do. Not. Understand.

All my life I’ve struggled with issues of femininity. In my mind a feminine woman is soft-spoken, quiet, reserved, and size 4. Needless to say, I don’t fit that stereotype. I’m often loud, have never been afraid to speak my mind and the last time I was a size 4 I was probably four. Is the image in my head self-imposed? Probably. But it’s there for a reason. Soft-spoken women are lauded as lady-like. Loud, confident types aren’t.

So when I was called, “hostile” for demanding the service for which I’d paid (and no small amount I might add) I couldn’t believe how quickly I thought, “See, Christy, you’re not a lady.”

But just as quickly as the thought entered my mind, out it flew because truth wins. I knew I’d been honest and fair. I knew I’d been kind even in the process of telling someone she was unqualified teach. I knew I’d followed the biblical model of conflict resolution.

And I knew I’d protected Amy from a year of inadequate instruction. That may not make me a lady, but it sure as hell makes me a mom who does what it takes to protect and provide for her daughter.

I’ll take that over demure any day.