I was 11 years old when I first remember being shamed for sitting like this. Not just shamed: told that because of my gender I was not able to sit with my legs open. It’s not ladylike, they said. I remember thinking, lady? I’m barely a girl. I don’t even have boobs yet – that long-coveted proof of womanhood that everyone else got before me and I’m still yet to have 25 years later – and I have to be a lady?
I went to a Catholic school, mixed, and we had a strict uniform. Girls had to wear skirts of at least two inches below the knee in length, box pleat, grey. Shirt tucked in, with all the buttons done up. Tie long enough to reach your waistband, which was never, ever folded over to make your skirt shorter because that could be distracting for the boys.
I was fairly vague in my thinking about gender at that age, other than I knew it felt unfair that I had to wear a skirt when the boys got to wear trousers. I was aware that I shouldn’t accidentally flash my underwear, and didn’t understand why they’d make us wear skirts and also expect us to keep ourselves completely covered up. What if I wanted to do a cartwheel? Why could the boys fool around at breaktime but I had to sit still — and even then, not down on the grass, cos you might risk flashing the boys.
It was during the morning register in my first term of secondary school that my teacher said, ‘good morning Natalie, and please close or cross your legs, ladies do not sit like that’ and then carried on calling other kids’ names while I closed my legs and wished the ground would swallow me up.
Obviously 36 year old Natalie has a lot to say about these things. But I sat on my sofa today like this, legs apart, and felt an old flush of shame rising because I was sitting incorrectly. I almost went to change my position. Instead I observed my feelings, documented it, and I’m writing this.
Like most women I have internalised the sitting positions that are approved for me under the patriarchy. I’m working on breaking out of that. Noone needs to see anyone else’s genitals without consent but also if I wanna sit like this, comfortably, I will. I’m still a lady, and fuck anyone who ever told me otherwise.