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.

Lady-Guilt rears its ugly head when you break up with a boyfriend or a guy doesn’t call you. Sure, you have that friend who’ll do the whole knee-jerk “he’s a dick” routine with you. But then you have friends, more than a few in most cases, who immediately want to dissect what you did wrong, or how you could’ve handled things better. And then you find yourself in the awful position of feeling guilty when you were the one who got dumped or rejected in the first place.

And that sucks.

Why do we allow ourselves to be treated like this, here in the 21st century when we’re supposed to have made so much progress, when we’re supposed to have come so far? Society constantly encourages us to question what we did wrong, rather than considering what the other person involved might have done. Think I’m exaggerating?

Take this scene from Parks and Rec, wherein Tom Haverford lays out exactly how guys have been conditioned to reinforce Lady-Guilt.

Maybe we really are wired differently. As women we seem conditioned never to make anyone else feel badly about themselves. Odds are you can recall, with surprisingly accuracy and vividness, every guy you’ve ever dumped or rejected, and the not-small amount of guilt which flooded you at the time. I can almost guarantee, though, that the guy who dumped you a few months or even a few years ago, never spares you a second thought. Or at least, he looks at the relationship as something you messed up, riddled with your mistakes and so on.

And hey, maybe some men do feel guilty when they treat women unfairly. But there’s an imbalance even in this: the fact that the “nice guy” problem even exists (and that you know exactly what I’m talking about when I put it in quotes like that), just shows that even when men do behave badly, they are encouraged to absolve themselves and find another party to blame. And that party, all too often, is a woman.

We’re at a critical moment in gender equality. Most of the problem right now lies with persuading men that no means no, no matter what. But as women we also need to look out for each other, making sure that each and every girl coming up in the world understands that she is absolutely, 100% allowed to say no, or yes, to anything she chooses.

You can read more from Andrea Augustinas on her blog.

Featured image via.

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