Sherryl Kleinman: No one should want to be a lady

Why I’m Not a Lady (and No Woman Is)
by Sherryl Kleinman

Published in Feminist Frontiers, edited by Laurel Richardson, Verta Taylor, and Nancy Whittier. 2004. McGraw-Hill, p. 94.

Ladies have pale skin,
wear white gloves
they sweep across the top
of the armoire
to make sure the darker-skinned woman
who cleaned it
didn’t forget or cheat.

A lady doesn’t sit
with one leg dangling
over the arm of the chair
like she just doesn’t give a damn.

Ladies don’t fix cars, build bridges, wire houses.
Ladies become First Lady, not President.

Sit up straight, young lady!
Cross your legs (shave them first),
Remove (surgically if necessary)
that frown from your forehead.
Lower your voice.

(If anyone asks why you
snuck down to the Ladies Room,
say you had to powder your nose.)

Call yourself a lady
and he’ll protect you,
he’ll respect you,
he won’t leave.

But who protects the cleaning lady?

Wonder why we don’t have
“Ladies Studies”
at the university?

I’ll remain a woman,
keep the basic word
that got so dirty
she wants to clean herself off
and be called lady.

Until a real woman
can earn one dollar on the man’s dollar;
Until a real woman can call her body her own;
Until a real woman can love a woman in peace,
love a man without fear;
Until a real woman can walk the dark streets
with her mind on the stars and not on her back,

I will know that lady is a lie.


Dr. Sherryl Kleinman is a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where she teaches and writes about race, class, gender, sexuality, research methods and emotions.