How to be a Lady
Be very afraid but also very angry. Also sorry. Remember to apologize.
Ask everyone if they need anything.
Pretty. Be so pretty. But not too pretty. Approachably pretty. Not too much.
Smile and wave at your red hat neighbor with the pedophile eyebrows.
Does anyone need anything?
Enjoy sex, but not too much. Just enough. But don’t get pregnant. Birth control is your job, but also a problem. It makes you crazy or less pretty or just very sad. And something about eugenics.
Make money, but not too much. Or make lots, but don’t talk about it.
Worry. About your body, your outfit, and your hair. Worry, somewhere, that you’ve offended someone. Worry that your pain is not interesting, or your need is not worthy. Worry for yourself and for everyone else.
Keep your earned madness in your purse, or a pocket if you can find one. Like a mint or a worry stone, something to roll around on your tongue or in your hand when things start to boil over a bit.
Again, can I get anything for anyone?
Cry, but only on your own time. Let it out. Don’t let them see you cry.
Teach your girls, your ladies-in-training, to be tough and smart and confident and competent. But don’t let them take the bus alone and also teach them about mace and knives and bitch faces for all occasions.
Get the job, but don’t get hurt. And don’t give them the wrong idea.
Swallow your pride, ambition, bile, and rage. In the morning, with your anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds. Swallowing is good. Just swallow everything. And smile. Smile!
Have a complicated relationship with your thighs or your nose, your eyes or your stupid laugh. Whatever they tell you to hate, you must commit to like. Through the hate.
Gobble the art of women. Read all the ladies’ books, about ladies. Maybe “The Firebrand and the First Lady” by Patricia Bell-Scott, or Jami Attenberg’s “Saint Maizie.” Or something older, like Zora Neale Hurston or Doris Lessing. Read Kate Manne, Rebecca Traister, and Soraya Chemaly. Listen to the ladies, from Billie to Beyoncé. Close your eyes and nourish the soul with Hildegard von Bingen or Cécile Chaminade. Feast your eyes on the forgotten lady paintings, like Judith sawing off the head of Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi. Or spend some time with Judith Leyster, Lee Krasner, and Sally Mann. Cook with Ina, Nigella, Samin and Julia. Process the rage with ladies.
Make things. Take your rage and your fear, your beautiful broken heart, and weave it into pillars of white hot tangible things that we can fondle with our fingers, put into our mouths, hang on our walls, and shout from the windows.
Eat great hunks of bread, slathered with purple jam made by your oldest female relative. Have a cocktail or quit drinking, whichever will raise the most eyebrows and stir revolution in your soul. Eat the bones, like the king himself, or go all vegan up in their pearl-clutching faces. Whatever you want, honey, we’re taking this ship down.
Burn it all down. Burn it to the fucking ground so we can build it up again. My grandmothers were marching, after they made the jam. My mother was mad and didn’t even know it — she was too busy apologizing and making pies for everyone. We’re still marching. Let’s march right on up to the big house and burn it all down.
Did I just say that out loud? Oh dear, I’ve forgotten my training. I’m so sorry, I’ll have a spritz, and a thigh, please. Does anyone need anything?