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On Lady-Guilt: Enough is Enough

Chivalry was dead to begin with. There is no doubt about that.

Okay, it’s possible that’s me being a bit dramatic. But honestly, I’m tired of hearing that old line about chivalry being dead, like it’s something that happened recently. People-women, mostly seem to be forever wondering where it went, while I’m wondering what it looked like, if it was ever really here to begin with.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that things are not going well for women right now. You’ve got Congress debating what we can and can’t do with our bodies and trying to define what actually constitutes rape and don’t get me started on high-profile cases like Steubenville, which are a drop in the horrifying bucket of what’s really happening with rape cases all across the country.

I encounter a lot of frustration when I read about these things and discuss them with others. Yes, there are things we can do, information we can put out there, to try and subvert rape culture, to try and reclaim some of the dignity lost in the debates over a woman’s right to choose and other such topics; but even with our best efforts, nothing seems to be changing fast enough. I’m 24 and I can’t remember a time when things were easy for women, at least not in the same ways they are for men.

Much as I hate to say it, perhaps a solution comes in the form of starting small. We as women have to insist on being treated with respect on a micro level, in ways we might not even realize we’re being mistreated. There are hundreds of these injustices out there, thousands of little liberties being taken, but I’d like to examine one in particular that strikes me as especially disturbing. I’d like to talk about Lady-Guilt.

What’s Lady-Guilt, you ask? That probably isn’t what you call it, yourself, but you know exactly what I’m talking about when you see it. It goes hand in hand with, is perhaps even a facet of, rape culture and it seeps into daily life in a myriad of ways. Allow me to illustrate.

Lady-Guilt is a girl feeling guilty about rejecting a guy who wasn’t very charming at all; you feel bad on principle because he “put himself out there” and that’s hard. On the flip side, though, men are seemingly permitted by society to reject women in a thoroughly cavalier fashion and everyone assumes we did something wrong. You weren’t cute enough, or outgoing enough, you came on too strong; the list goes on.

Lady-Guilt is girls who are unsure about having sex with the guy they’re seeing. They have completely valid reasons for not wanting to (yet), valid reasons for not wanting to be interrogated or pressured (though really, we should be allowed to not want that kind of pressure whether our reasoning is good or not) about it, and yet somehow wind up cast as the guilty party anyway, not if but when the man involved grows impatient with waiting.

Lady-Guilt is the endless discussion and argument over the scenario I’ve just outlined. I once read an article that articulated it well via the “cupcakes metaphor”. To summarize briefly, it outlined a scenario where you are baking cupcakes and mutually agree that you and your friend want to eat them after dinner; it’s okay to insist on waiting even if your friend wants to try one before the meal, they’re your cupcakes after all. Anyway, I was feeling more secure that I wasn’t alone in my beliefs…then I made the mistake of scrolling to the comments section. There I read arguments from men and a surprising amount of women about how the person withholding the metaphorical cupcakes was everything from a prude to a tease to a bitch for asking that someone respect her wishes.

Lady-Guilt is the fear of being called a slut or worse if you do want to have sex with the guy you’re seeing. It’s dreading the “walk of shame” and feeling judged for behaving exactly as any man might in the same situation. The difference is, he’d be getting praise and high-fives the whole way home, not frantically smoothing his hair and trying to make last night’s makeup look presentable.

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  • Hilary June

    Great article. Sucks that this even needed to be written in the first place.

    No such thing as a walk of shame … embrace it! It’s a Stride of Pride!! (Was is Liz Lemon who coined that term?)

    • Andrea Augustinas

      Thank you!
      And I would love to live in a world where every woman is as confident and kick-ass as Liz Lemon. That’s the dream.

  • David Lopez

    very good article. made me see from the other side where I have been messing up as an individual too.

    • Andrea Augustinas

      Thanks for reading!

  • Joey Pitchford

    I find it a bit presumptuous to assume that men, seemingly purely on the basis of being men, “never spare a second thought” or view past relationships all as ending due to the fault of the woman. This is a gross oversimplification and what appears to be an attempt to discredit men based on the authors narrow personal experience, which in no way speaks to the greater nature of men.

    While there are assuredly certain situations in which blame lies entirely on the other party, it is still healthy and reticent to examine ones own actions, purely because there will also be some situations where, put bluntly, you screwed up and it was your fault. Just because “you were the one who got dumped or rejected in the first place” in no way means that the individual in question was not at fault for this happening. If I was in an unhealthy, uncaring relationship and ended said realtionship, is the fault for the failure of the relationship on me by nature of being the one to break it off? Of course not, and to say otherwise is absurd.

    This applies to both genders equally, and the idea that being on the receiving end of a break up excludes an individual from needing to self-examine is ridiculous. Introspectively regarding ones own action is, in fact, the only way to determine who was truly at fault, as without this process the blame is placed entirely on the other party for essentially no reason. We have to evaluate what we do, as a man I do this constantly in regards to past relationships, my current relationship, and everyday interactions with the people around me. Otherwise, we have no way to learn or better ourselves, and are primed to go through life never taking responsibility for the things we have done wrong. We all make mistakes, and even though there are plenty of situations where any given individual is not to blame, we still need to be able to maturely evaluate ourselves and learn from the times where, in reality, the blame does actually lie with us.

    • Andrea Augustinas

      I appreciate you taking time to comment, and I’d like to clarify a few things. It was never my intention to minimize the importance of self-examination or taking responsibility for one’s own actions—women are of course sometimes to blame for relationships ending, whatever the particular reasoning may have been. And everyone, regardless of gender, stands to learn something from any experience.
      As to the accusation that I’m oversimplifying, of course I am. That’s kind of the point. This is a general behavior I and others have observed that is prevalent enough to merit discussion. I’m sure there are men out there who’d never dream of making a woman feel this way (you seem to believe you’re one of them, and perhaps you are), but the fact that these issues come up again and again not solely in my own experience is an indicator that there is a larger underlying problem. I’m not an advocate of man-hating or dismissing the gender as a whole and if you saw that as the intent of the piece then I’m afraid you missed the point.
      I also can’t help but notice that you yourself seem to be male. Generally members of a privileged party (in this case, men) fail to understand the full impact and intricacies of the struggle faced by the oppressed party (in this case, women), so you’ll have to forgive me if I take your remarks with a large grain of salt.
      Thanks for reading!

  • Jessica Maxine Gordon

    Such a great article. Lady guilt is such a problem and it leads to so many women making decisions they are uncomfortable with simply because they are afraid of the repercussions. The author of this article made some truly insightful comments. Thanks for the new blog connection, HelloGiggles!

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