Nixon – an American actress best known for her role on HBO’s Sex and the City and more recently her unsuccessful bid to become Governor of New York – is the voice of the video. It has already attracted more than 2.2 million views on Vimeo and countless shares, since its release on Monday.
What messages are we giving women? “Just be a lady, they say”
— The Women's Organisation (@TheWomensOrg) February 24, 2020
Nixon reads a list of countless contradictions that are commonly told to girls, often from childhood into adulthood.
“Be a lady they said. Your skirt is too short; your shirt is too low. Don’t show so much skin, cover up. Leave something to the imagination. Don’t be a temptress. Men can’t control themselves. Men have needs. Look sexy. Look hot. Don’t be so provocative, you’re asking for it.
The compelling and powerful words were written by poet Camille Rainville. While its confronting imagery – including anal bleaching, scars, young girls in heals and full frontal nudity – has got people talking, its message has not been lost in the process.
“Don’t be too fat, don’t be too thin. Eat up, slim down. Stop eating so much. Order a salad, don’t eat carbs. God, you look like a skeleton!” Nixon says in the video.
— Kristina Ryan (@adland_K) February 24, 2020
These messages are not uncommon for women to hear, in some way, shape or form every day of our lives. While some media outlets are claiming the video presents an outdated, 1950s perception of the treatment of women, the often subtle messages of sexism sent to children are still very much part of modern culture.
I was raised by a great feminist mother who was as forward thinking as you could hope when it comes to gender stereotypes. I was taught from an early age that I could be whoever and whatever I wanted to be in life.
— Morgane Guyennot (@GuyennotMorgane) February 25, 2020
That said, I remember being told off for “not sitting like a lady” and told that I would “never be invited for tea with the Queen” for not holding my cutlery properly. These were not lessons I ever heard being told to my brother.
I also remember walking around in my underwear in a third-floor apartment I was sharing with my mother in Paris. She told me to shut the curtains or get dressed because I was “encouraging men” to break in and attack us.
These kind of messages, which have been engrained in our culture for hundreds, if not thousands of years, continue to shape and mould girls into the women they eventually become. They can often be the cause of self-doubt and anxiety that plagues many women throughout their lives.
The response to the trending #BeaLadyTheySaid and #BeALady hashtags has been mixed, but generally supportive.
One Twitter user wrote: “If I had a penny for every time I’d heard any of the lines in this video throughout my life, I’d be one very rich lady.” “This. Please everyone watch this. Men and women. It’s so true. And half the time we probably don’t realise. Please watch,” another person wrote.
Pioneering feminist Marilyn Frye wrote about the concept of “double bind” – or “ubiquitous features of the world as experienced by oppressed people” and women. In laymen’s terms, it’s the old damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t theory. For example, as Nixon points to the contradiction in the video: “Look sexy. Look hot. Don’t be so provocative. You’re asking for it.”
A full transcript of Camille Rainville’s powerful words can be found here