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On what is not wrong with you, part 6: having bodily functions

Let us discuss the word ‘ladylike.’ This word conjures the idea of demure high-society women nibbling on tiny sandwiches before patting daintily at their unsullied lips with napkins. Sorry, serviettes. Or whatever one calls them in order to avoid a terrible faux-pas.

The word ‘ladylike’ can, in my opinion, be applied to anyone – female or not. The key is ‘is your behaviour a type which the Victorians deemed acceptable for high-society ladies?’ These days we don’t expect anyone (male or female) to behave in the ways the Victorians deemed suitable for high-society ladies – we’d all be fainting and gagging for a pasty before you could say ‘I take my tea with lemon, Jeeves’. Hence why the word is useful, because it can be funny when applied to people who are being disgusting. Downed ten pints then puked in a gutter? Not very ladylike. Eaten an entire packet of Cadbury’s Twirl Bites then burped loud enough to disturb the neighbours? Unladylike. Shat your trousers on a rollercoaster? Likewise.

I don’t personally think the word ‘ladylike’ itself is necessarily misogynist – it’s just an outdated label that can be applied in various ways. So, as with all words – slippery little bastards at the best of times – I think a lot depends on context and intent.

Bodily functions

Unfortunately for the word ‘ladylike’, it is most frequently used in contexts which make me want to hurl large blunt objects at delightfully shattery china. It is often used for comedy, but more often used as a reminder to women that they shouldn’t admit to having any bodily functions at all.

There are two reasons I’m writing this blog. Firstly, because I overheard a conversation in a restaurant recently that went something like this:

Small girlchild: burp
Second small girlchild: giggle
Mother of aforementioned small children: Don’t do that, it’s disgusting.
Small child 1: Why?
Mother: We’re at the dinner table. Besides, it’s not very ladylike.

When I was a little girl I loved many things that I considered ‘ladylike’ – tiny china teasets, huge frilly dresses that I could spill Ribena down at parties, and (please stop laughing at the back) ballet pumps. But if someone had told me then that in order to maintain a veneer of ladylike charm I’d have to not just acquire these frilly things but also refrain from doing other things I liked – making mud pies, burping, running along the landing naked after a bath with a towel streaming behind me while I shouted “Der ner ner ner ner ner ner ner BATMAN” – I’d have hurled my cup of Ribena into their stupid narrow-minded face.

The second reason I felt compelled to mash wildly on my keyboard in barely-disguised and possibly excessive rage is that I read this interview. Take your time, have a read, and come back when you’ve reached the point that you think my head exploded.

Anyone who guessed ‘some time during the first question’ is correct. The woman being interviewed is a science writer. I’m not familiar with her work but it sounds brilliant, not least because she’s written a book about sexual arousal called ‘Bonk.’ However, rather than ask her something about all the fascinating things that she’s studied, or what drew her to the subject matter, the interviewer instead jokes that it’s not ‘ladylike’ for her to wonder what happens to the anus when it has a cellphone inside it.

I’m not saying the interviewer is an evil person and needs to be crushed, but were I to meet them in person I’d certainly be tempted to ask the startlingly obvious question: “would that have been your first question to a man?” Would the first thing they probed be whether the subject matter was a bit inappropriate or un-dainty? I doubt it.

It’s my body and I’ll piss out of it if I want to

I’ve frequently heard grown adults talking about women’s bodily functions in ways which imply that we, as women, have some sort of superhuman level of self-control which means we are never scruffy, pissed, obnoxious or irritably-bowelled. I’ve met girls who’d be horrified if they accidentally farted in front of a boyfriend, or boyfriends who would be disgusted to walk into the toilet post-shit and smell something other than roses.

Sure, burping might not be polite. Farting, swearing, talking loudly about getting fisted or accidentally pissing your knickers on the night bus: all of these things can certainly be considered rude, or gross, or inappropriate. But the idea that they’re more gross and inappropriate just because a woman is doing them is ridiculous.

Women are brilliant, I’ll grant you. But we’re no more skilled than men when it comes to being able to control our bodily functions. We’re disgusting and messy and we smell. We leak strange juices, burp when we’re windy, get rolls of fat when we sit down wearing tight jeans. We’re curious about what people put up their arses. We sweat and we swear and we get drunk and fall over. Occasionally we even shit in the woods.

So I think what I’m trying to say is that there are certain rules of politeness that I’m happy to adhere to: I won’t burp at the dinner table or do the Batman-towel thing in polite company. But I’ll only follow these rules if they apply to everyone. I’m not going to sit demurely in a corner stifling my farts if you’re allowed to trump with gay abandon in the seat next to me.

I am woman, hear me burp.


  • Tom says:

    Oh you should *definitely* ready ‘Bonk’. It’s ace.

  • G says:

    I personally think that the interviewer in this case is digging at the word ‘ladylike’ because we’re all a bit more grown up than that, aren’t we? They’re just giving the author an opportunity to expand (sorry).

    Good article though :)

    • Girl on the net says:

      Blimey – don’t apologise. You may well be right – I have been known to get worked up about things that are less significant than I think. I read this interview shortly after I’d heard the restaurant conversation, so it’s possible that ‘ladylike’ was looming pretty large in my mind at the time.

  • ruudboy says:

    I am totally going to start telling my (male) friends off for not being ladylike now.

  • Dm7 says:

    Hear hear!

  • Dumb Domme says:

    “grown adults talking about women’s bodily functions in ways which imply that we, as women, have some sort of superhuman level of self-control which means we are never scruffy, pissed, obnoxious or irritably-bowelled.

    This sort of talk, the talk that implies we have superhuman self-control is the same sort of talk that forwards mistaken notions about women’s want for sex. It’s as if we are (or should be) above biology — both the bodily functions and the urges.

    This kind of talk often does a disservice to men, too. The same sort of narratives that excuse men for being impolite when they burp at the dinner table (“boys will be boys”) is too similar to talk that excuses men for leering at women’s tits (“men think with their cocks!”), and sometimes explains/excuses men who sexually assault women (“they can’t help themselves! it’s not their fault!”).

    Perhaps we can abandon holding women to a “higher” standard (one that isn’t really “high” at all) and we can quit forwarding the assumption that men are impolite animals who can’t be held responsible for actions over which they have control.

    • Girl on the net says:

      Absolutely – I couldn’t agree more. The more we simplify things (men think with their cocks, tee hee) the less we are able to recognise any actual humans in the caricature. I think expecting anyone to behave in a certain way simply because of their gender paints us all with broad brushstrokes that make us look weird and distorted.

      I have a particular issue with the generalisation that ‘men always want sex and women don’t’, which I’ve harped on about before, but the point you make about leering is a good one. Basically as soon as we ‘expect’ people to behave in a certain way, we end up excusing behaviour that shouldn’t be excused simply because it fits with the generalisations we’re used to hearing. “What do you expect, he’s a man?!” shouldn’t make any sense, because what’s more important is that he’s a person, with urges and bodily functions and moral values and free will and etc etc etc.

      I’ll stop banging on now, but basically, you’re 100% right DD and I also love you a little bit. OK, a lot.

  • Dumb Domme says:

    Sorry I missed your reply. I was in the ladies room powdering my nose.*


  • Useful says:

    If you were any cooler I’d have to track you down and secretly touch you on the train, and then go home and spend several days alone with myself and my memories.
    So I suppose you should try to avoid getting any cooler…?

  • Lee says:

    Forgive me, but I got to the phrase “trumping with gay abandon” and dissolved into a three minute laughing fit, biting my thumb not to wake the world.

    Such awesomely funny writing, you could be the next Victoria Wood. Seriously :-)

    • Girl on the net says:

      I’m flattered, although I feel like that might be a slur on the legend that is Victoria Wood. If I could be 5% as good as she is, my life will have been worthwhile =)

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