When Did Women Learn to Stop Being Ladies? – Mary T. O’Sullivan

By Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL

“The more you act like a lady, the more he’ll act like a gentleman.” – Anonymous

            Bad behavior by women might no longer be illegal, but people still shake their heads when an incident is on display. Just think of the many “Karen” memes that came into “fashion” in about 2014 and grew in popularity soon after the famous Amy Cooper incident when she called police because a black man asked her to put her dog on a leash in a bird watching park. Most “Karens” use extreme profanity and are very confrontative and aggressive. They’re the ones that always want to speak to your manager, and film you with their cell phones, just to prove their point.

            While these “Karens” are now part of our Zeitgeist, we see bad behavior by women often in the workplace. And the Karens are often stereotyped to be 40 plus something women, but you may be surprised to know that using curse words in the workplace is common among the younger set, Millennials. In a Glamour Magazine article called “Watch Your Mouth”, 66% of Millennial women surveyed admitted that they swear at work, and 33% didn’t think it should be stopped. The “F” bomb and MF bomb were considered commonly accepted language at work, regardless of whether it offended anyone else or not. And it turns out, the survey discovered that men swear just as often, but 27% of Millennial men said they were bothered by it as opposed to only 18% of Millennial women. Even more interesting is that 37% of Millennial men said they would consider filing a complaint against use of bad language, while only 15% of women said they would do the same thing.

            Does this make you wonder what is going on here? And how about those “girls’ nights out? What is the point of the loud yelling, screaming and drinking in public? Years ago, my husband and I were returning to Point Judith on the last Block Island Ferry of the day. The ship and passengers were about shove off when a group of twenty something girls boarded – and everyone knew they were there. They sat within a few feet of us and carried on, swearing, screaming and drinking all the way back to port. This incident was my first encounter with the confusingly bad behavior of women, especially young ones.

            I’m wondering if this is a case of feminism gone terribly wrong. What’s the logic here, if men can act like drunken, rude jerks in public, why can’t we? If men get away with swearing at work, we should as well? Do these women think that being liberated means acting like a foolish man? The idea behind feminism and women’s liberation isn’t to act like men; it’s to become equal with men in the eyes of society and the law. It’s to make sure our place at the table or in the C-Suite holds no barriers to our success. And that we are paid is at the same level as men.

            But apparently, acting like dumb men hasn’t gotten us much further than we were in the 1960s and 1970s. And in fact, this conduct may have caused women in the workplace to slide backwards. Mangers may not consider us a “good fit” or possessing enough maturity to do the job.  Female managers are no more likely than their male counterparts to promote a habitual curser either, regardless of how many extra hours you toiled. And swearing and comportment aside, there is still the scourge of pay inequity, often for the flimsiest of reasons. (Even though you have more talent and more longevity, he has a Masters Degree, therefore, you will earn less.)

            True feminism does mean speaking up and standing strong for ourselves and other women, however, we often fail at that as well. There are tomes of literature around how women don’t stick together and won’t help each other’s careers, how we compete with and snub each other and play high school clique games behind each other’s backs. Retreating to such childish behavior makes us look small and unsophisticated, as does using bad language and acting with rude and overly aggressive behavior.

            In her 1977 feminist manifesto, author Marilyn French casts doubt on using the word “Ladies” instead of “Women”, in particular on restroom doors as shown on the cover of her book, The Women’s Room. I’m sure that while Ms. French is a staunch defender of women’s rights, the right to be crude and crass wasn’t on her agenda. She objected to the second-class treatment of women, the opposition to women who worked, the expectation that women’s happiness can be derived from the home, the husband and the children, the inequality of pay, the demands of housekeeping and child rearing, and men with dalliances outside of marriage.

            But nowhere in that novel is there mention of becoming callous, behaving aggressively or rude, or public swearing. So where did the “lost in translation” take place? Can we blame the influence of Madonna, obviously wearing underwear as performance clothing, complete with those silly looking cone shaped bra cups? Today’s styles that look more like clothing worn by” ladies of the night?” (My neighbor was the librarian at a local high school and the teachers referred to the girls’ clothing as “slutwear”.) It makes people wonder what the parenting has been like for the last 20 or so years. Did the parents think it was okay for their daughters to look and act like a street person?

            So, where does that leave the argument that women should be equal to men? There are still so many inequities. Remember the recent scandal of the gym equipment at the 2021 NCAA Final Four in basketball? The men had a fully equipped gym, while the women were assigned a yoga mat and a few dumbbells – nothing more sophisticated than you would have at home in your basement. I’m sure that is the kind of fight Marilyn French had in mind when she wrote her famous book.

Aggressive behavior, bad language and downright rudeness aren’t signs of strong women, but weak women who don’t know how to act strong. Just think, decent men can be coarse, but often they are not crude, rude or aggressive in public or towards a woman they want to impress. Why? Well, that would just be ungentlemanly.

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Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science, Organizational Leadership, International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach, Society of Human Resource Management, “Senior Certified Professional. Graduate Certificate in Executive and Professional Career Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas.

Member, Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society.

Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University.

Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM.

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1 Comment

  1. Yvonne DiVita on June 14, 2021 at 10:37 pm

    Amen, Mary. Well done. I am at a loss to even think of where we go from here.