Who’re You Calling a Lady?

This week, Rep. Allen West (R-FL) reminded American women that in order to be afforded due respect from him and ultra-conservatives like him, they need to act like ladies.

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) had criticized Rep. West’s opposition to raising the debt ceiling:

The gentleman from Florida, who represents thousands of Medicare beneficiaries, as do I, is supportive of this plan that would increase costs for Medicare beneficiaries, unbelievable from a Member from South Florida, slashes Medicaid and critical investments essential to winning the future in favor of protecting tax breaks for Big Oil, millionaires, and companies who ship American jobs overseas.

In response, Rep. Allen West sent a personal attack in the form of an email to Schultz cc’d to Congressional leadership. In it, he called the Congresswoman “the most vile, unprofessional, and despicable member of the US House of Representatives” and a “coward,” and told her to “shut the heck up.” Then he wrote this:

You have proven repeatedly that you are not a Lady, therefore, shall not be afforded due respect from me!

Exclamation point!

Within minutes, #ActLikeALady became a trending topic on Twitter, begging the question: What the heck does it mean to act like a lady, anyway? In fact, the etymology and usage of the word “lady” is fascinating, and may shed some light on what Rep. West was trying to say with his statement.

Looking at Rep. West’s choice to capitalize “Lady,” it’s possible he wants Rep. Wasserman Schultz to marry a Lord or an otherwise wealthy, high-class gentleman in order to earn the distinguishing title. Looking at other common usages of the word “lady,” it’s also possible that he wants Rep. Wasserman Schultz to own rental properties (landlady), run her household (lady of the house), become a deity (Our Lady the Virgin Mary), become a prostitute (lady of the evening), become homeless (bag lady), or clean houses (cleaning lady). Or maybe he’s hoping her husband will run for president, which would make her the First Lady (unlikely).

But what Rep. West was likely getting at was that Rep. Wasserman Schultz should be acting more “lady-like,” i.e. following the standards of behavior for fine and proper high-class women of the 19th century. According to West, unless she “shuts the heck up,” as many ladies of old undoubtedly had to, a modern woman does not deserve a man’s respect.

Politics, however, is a place where women should (and must) speak their minds. So I would argue that there is no place for a “lady” in politics because a “lady,” with her demure deference and decorum, wouldn’t get anything done. There is a place in politics for women, however–women like Rep. Wasserman Schultz, who was the first Congress member to speak out against the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.” Thanks to her outspokenness, the GOP dropped the “forcible rape” language from the bill. Rep. Wasserman Schultz, a staunch advocate for women, follows in the footsteps of Bella Abzug, a Congresswoman who served from 1971 to 1977 and famously said: “This woman’s place is in the House—the House of Representatives.”

So I, for one, am grateful that Rep. Wasserman Schultz is not a “lady,” even if it means she must sacrifice the respect of a Tea Party conservative with the maturity of a middle-schooler. (Such a loss!)

Ironically, Rep. Wasserman Schultz bestowed the title of “gentleman” on Rep. West in her original statement, following Congressional custom. Looking at the Wikipedia entry on “gentleman” (which is three times longer than the entry on “lady,” by the way), it seems the word either refers to a man with education and family distinction, or a man with good manners. I think Rep. Wasserman Schultz was being a bit generous in this case, showing us that you don’t need to be a “Lady” to take the high ground.

Photo from Flickr user Lovelorn Poets under Creative Commons 2.0

Comments

  1. Marti Sladek says:

    I used to have a T-shirt that read, “I may not be a lady, but I am one hell of a woman.” Wish I still had it!

  2. Elyse the Kraken says:

    If being a “lady” means shutting up, then I don’t want to be a lady. I’m going to remain a woman with an opinion.

  3. If you get right down to it, what he really means by being a “Lady” is being the under-educated, disenfranchised property of her husband with little to no interest or stake in the political process that governs her life and choices. We get it, you would love to return to the days of petticoats and lynch mobs, but it isn’t going to happen, so you better learn to dialogue with a woman who takes her job seriously and may even believe she is there for the people she represents. Radical, I know!

  4. Maggie Mahoney says:

    I just sent the following email to Congressman Allen West: “You Sir, have stepped on a hornets nest with your lovely “you are not a LADY” comment. Enjoy your days in Washington, DC, Sir, you may be leaving sooner than you planned to.” I’m sure there are many capable individuals in that congressional district that would a better job.

  5. Allen West is clearly a misogynist. He is fully anti-choice and now continues to try to keep women, or ladies, in our place as quiet, meek individuals who ought to agree with him and keep our traps shut. Please.

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