Mincing Words: Where Do You Fall on the “Lady” Debate?

by Katrina Pallop

When I think about words that might be polarizing in the feminist community, “lady” certainly doesn’t top the list. There have been huge campaigns to reclaim other historically salty terms for women, from “bitch” to “slut”—even the dreaded “c-word”. (Nope. Won’t write it out. Won’t do it.) 

But figuring out what to do with the word “lady” is uniquely tricky. Unlike some of its harsher sisters, “lady” is still used freely in both the antiquated and ironic sense. It’s tough to know how to feel about being called a lady when it’s unclear what the label actually implies. 

Ann Friedman has an excellent piece in New Republic about this slippery word, a favorite among young feminists. Many young women, myself included, have wholly adopted the term into their lexicons. I think that eighty percent of the emails I send out on a daily basis begin with, “hey lady”. But it’s easy to see why some might bristle at the implications of the word, given its historical use. 

Trying to determine whether “lady” is a “good” or “bad” word for feminists would be a useless linguistic kerfuffle. As with any other reclaimed word or term, it’s all about context. Two young women referring familiarly to each other as “lady” is one thing, while an older male speaking dismissively to a woman is quite another. 

What has your experience been with the word “lady”? Do you use and embrace it, or shun and reject it? Do phrases like “ladymag” drive you up the wall, or amuse you? A penny for your thoughts, BUST readers?


Photo via WikiPaintings (William Merritt Chase)

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