March 20, 2010

Good Girls Keep Their Legs Together

Dilnavaz_profile4-1

MY PIANO TEACHER LIVED two floors below us. A large lady with a stentorian voice and glasses dangling on her ample bosom, she caressed the ivories with a passion most teenagers reserve for romps in the hay. Single and living alone, music was her life and her students her family. That she was a stellar pianist and painstaking teacher was overshadowed by how the grandmothers of the building, mine included, viewed her. Miss Printer, you see, couldn’t keep her legs together.

Now before you assume I speak of the sexual, let me assure you I am merely referring  to the way she sat. Her wide thighs spread apart, printed cotton dresses hiked up beyond the knees, tapping her finger to keep time with the keys, Miss Printer cared a whit for the proprieties of womanhood. If one was writing their lessons at ground level, her mammoth bloomers would greet anyone who bothered to stare (and I was witness to many a curious young boy who did). Back home, lessons in ‘ladylike behavior’ weren’t complete without a reference to the disgrace that was Miss Printer and how a future of single misery awaited me if I didn’t rein in my knees.

Miss Printer has been dead 16 years. A new century has rolled in. At 31, I’m a girl no more and the ‘lady’ tag my grandma worked so zealously on is a grey area. I don whatever garb I please, jeans and pants taking preference over traditional wear. My legs are long and take up space and I don’t usually give a thought to how I sit (I’m sure a star called Nana is cringing somewhere up in the heavens) but occasionally, those words come back to chant in my ears and I find myself hurriedly clicking knees together, adjusting my skirt and feeling just the tiniest bit guilty for letting my ‘good girl’ guard down.

Such is conditioning. And I’m sure it’s been inflicted on many of you too. Do share. I’m curious to know how many women experienced something similar and whether men were at the receiving end of something comparable. Good girl or otherwise, this is one legacy I hope not to perpetuate. The world can do with one less pair of knees posing as Siamese twins.

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About: Dilnavaz Bamboat

Dilnavaz Bamboat manages communications and social media for a Silicon Valley non-profit. She is part of the editorial team at Ultra Violet and takes care of the section on Diaspora. She is also a writer and editor at IDEX, India Currents magazine, and Women's Web, and a founder member of India Helps, a volunteer network for victims of disasters. Originally from Bombay, she has shuttled between India and the United States for the last 12 years and now lives in Silicon Valley with her spouse. Singing, history, and red velvet cupcakes make her happy.

30 comments to Good Girls Keep Their Legs Together

  • “Keeping legs together” is a woman’s issue. I don’t think any man will have faced a similar situation. In fact, men cannot keep their legs together… it’s not comfortable!

  • @Are you trying to be funny? It’s a tired joke though, one on its last legs perhaps? Woman’s issue on a feminist site–it seems sort of obvious to me. Just saying. In case you hadn’t noticed the fancy name and tagline and all.

    • preeti pratishruti

      its wonderful the way u have written this piece!! i’m jst twenty n my sister is just twelve n my granny lives with us. i remember one night when some guests had come for dinner n me, my sister, granny and others were sitting at the drawing room with the guests. my sister was sitting with her legs wide apart and even though she was wearing pants, granny had a problem with it! she asked my sis to sit the way i was sitting…i didn’t want that to happen because i do not want my sister to be socialised in the same unfortunate manner as me but i still couldn’t do anything about it that day because of the presence of the guests and for the preservation of so-called family honour!! that evening came in a flash before my eyes upon reading this piece.

  • apoorva

    hey nice post, till second yr of my college i use to sit d way i wanted to but wid change of room mates things changed dere were more girly girls around me n they use to tell me to sit properly .initialy i never understood what dey ment bt one day in d canteen wen my guy frnd askd me to sit properly (though i was wearing a jeans) i realized what it ment to sit wid legs wide open its embarresing its irritating bt its yetanother thing we being gal has to do coz if we dont d society wil disapprove of us downrt straight

  • I am so well-conditioned that the last time I wore a dress was circa 1995- it is only jeans and trousers and salwars for me!

    Dilnavaz- I know you from college. I hope you are doing well!

  • Oh lord, how many times and how many people! We used to hang out in my grandma’s bedroom as she became more and more bedridden and while everybody else sat decorously on the sofas and things scattered around the room, I’d sit up on the bed next to her, leaning against the headboard with my knees drawn up. No matter what I wore everyone would apparently only look at my crotch. Asked to put my knees down and be uncomfy like a proper lady, I chose to casually plonk a pillow over my feet. Problem solved and they all felt really silly staring at the pillow. As an added bonus, it also PO’d my grandma who did not appreciate her pillows coming into contact with my footsies.

  • I had been a witness to a similar situation and thats y this post knocked my senses..a bunch of guys were on the receiving end of the so called ‘show’..on the other end was a gud friend of mine..JJ..being the pusillanimous me I couldn’t stop the guys from viewing the show..I was 15 then..so I politely went up to her and ask her to shut the open window..she did comply but along wit it handed me over wit a tight slap on my left cheek..its been 6 years but till date she has not been on talking terms wit me..she thought me to be kinda some pervert..mayb I was wrong..but couldn’t help it..!!

  • I think what all the feminists need to understand is that there are some things that only women can do and certain things that only men can do. That’s just the way it is. Live with it!

    If women want to sit with their legs spread apart – go ahead – I’m sure some guys will enjoy the free “show”.

  • A

    A few months ago, a colleague-a woman around 22, provided me with some insight. When a woman sits with her legs spread it apparently means she is inviting a man ‘to come inside her’ and only sluts sit like that. I realised that i was being extremely slutty at that very moment. And no, none of the guys at the cafe decided to come inside me.

  • wordjunkie

    Down South, it is even improper for women to cross one leg over the other in the company of their ‘elders’. Needless to say, I was the family disgrace .

  • Priya

    Im sick of those who bring in words like natural law or “thats just the way it is” as someone here has so patronisingly said. All I would like to say its not a woman who leads a life as she pleases it that is a slut, slutty is a society that sees women as only objects of pleasure minus any will of her own.The ‘free-show’ talk doesnt even deserve a response.It seems somebody has taken upon himself the task of teaching feminists some lessons!

  • Yes, we did grow up with notions of ‘sitting properly’. Most annoying. No one ever told our brothers and male cousins to do so. Women’s bodies and body language have been subjected to so much unnecessary censure:(

  • There’s certainly a type of hypocrisy, however mild, going on with how we expect women to sit. There isn’t any biological imperative to keep one’s legs together when sitting, so why should one? It’s illogical. This is often confused as an issue of etiquette. It is not about etiquette (i.e. the right way to be in a situation) but about the idea of womanness (i.e. the right way to be a woman). I think there are right ways to behave in situation but I don’t think there is a right way to be a woman.

    I consider myself fairly open minded but I must say that if I were at a bar and my wife sat legs akimbo allowing fellow patrons a view of her underwear then I would lobby for her to close her legs. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t lobby on the grounds of “you’re a woman so behave like one” but more “I don’t want these other guys to see what I get to see.” I guess this is a bit sexist but mostly I think you could accuse me of being overly possessive or jealous. Do I want other men to see my wife’s underwear? I don’t.

    I think Dilnavaz is correct to highlight this hypocrisy. The problem is that for a woman to sit in position X requires a society that is conducive to women sitting in position X, a society that attaches no meaning to sitting in that way. Weirdly enough, the act of sitting exactly how you want – i.e. legs apart – instead of being liberating can be somewhat disempowering in a society that has already decided what “sitting legs apart” means. I guess the answer lies with education and to de-invest the act of “sitting with legs apart” of its current meaning. In a climate such as that I would have no problem with my wife sitting however she likes in a bar. As it stands, the bar is full of assholes.

    It’s interesting to me that there appears to also be an “appropriate” way for men to sit. My late father, who fancied himself an amateur historian and who longed for a more academic life, would sit reading the newspaper or drinking his tea, with his legs crossed very much like how women are taught to sit. I remember once one of my cousins commenting on it to me. I began sitting like my father in highschool and got called girly a few times but it got better when I got to university.

    I seem to have written too much…

  • Sasha Ryzhova

    Dilnavaz, we need to see you on Facebook!
    The World wants to read you and your readers want to be your virtual (or whatever definition!) friends! A convincing argument in favor of FB is: Let’s say, I’ve started writing poetry, and none of my friends care about my poetry, but guess what? I found a whole bunch of friends in India who care that some Russian woman who lives in the US likes to express her feelings in verses. So I am on a mission from my friend Anindita to get you to join Facebook to connect to your readers on a personal level. Imagine, they will pass on the links to your posts to their friends. It’s crazy how many more fans you’ll discover almost instantly! And no, I don’t work for Facebook, but I promised my friend Anindita to pitch a convincing argument to you to join the Facebook community! And then I won’t miss out on your wonderful posts! – Sasha

  • :D
    reminds me of the nuns from convent, n their sets of rules.
    ‘sit with your legs together’
    ‘feet under your chair, and not under your table’
    ‘girls look bad when they are drenched in rain’
    etc etc.

    though I’ve been a rebel then, 2 decades on, I find myself following those rules instinctively w/o even realising it!

    I must say, though that I never found anything too sexist about these set of rules ( I went to a girls’ school, so these set of rules were just extensions of a buncchhh of other more ridiculous rules we had around then), as against the ones set by the moral brigades of today’s times.

  • priyanka

    “the ‘lady’ tag my grandma worked so zealously on is a grey area” this resonates with me, very much so. i find it slightly uncomfy to have them pressed together so yeah, the last line is KILLER!:-D

  • Jenna

    When I read your post I heard the voices of my southern heritage ringing in my head……ladies don’t do this and ladies do that. Over the years, I realized that when they tried to make me behave like a “lady” they were trying to make me submissive, quiet and take up less space. As much as I love and revere my grandmothers, aunts and mama, I am only a lady when and if it suits me. Otherwise, I am happily and comfortably “brazen”. I’m Miss Printer, showing my bloomers……

  • shailesh

    @neeraj—I cent percent agree wid u, man.Everyone does function according to the norms of the society….and the society dictates women to cross der legs while sitting.It does’nt look nice does, it?????Women sitting wid der legs wide open….looks cheap,immoral and as someone said “inviting”.

    • wow, of all the things I’d like to say – it is this one that has the strongest urge to express itself. @ shailesh – dude, everyone does function according to the norms of the society… and the society dictates men DONT scratch their balls, crotch. It doesn’t look nice, does it???? Men scratching their balls/crotch in public… looks cheap, immoral and as no woman would tell you, ‘disgusting’.
      Atleast we’re inviting. You need to get a life dude, and get off this website.

  • Bangalore Dude

    @neeraj and shailesh, what is with wrong with you people? When things are wrong with societal norms, do you just sit there and moan, or do you try to make changes? I really think there is no point in replying to people like you, who just have their heads stuck in the sand.

  • Sorab

    How about not eating with your hands as something a gentleman would never do? Heard that a lot when I was growing up but it still hasn’t worked. BTW to some of the men who have suggested thatmen have to sit with their legs apart, that is simply not true or proper ettiquette.. Ask any woman (or man) who has had to sit next to you on a bus or a sofa and who has to be content with one third of the space instead of their rightful half.

  • Jane Doe

    If you can’t sit with your knees together, wear black innerwear and carry pepper spray.

  • Bangalore Dude: you say there in no point in replying to people like me who “just have their head stuck in the sand”, yet you reply. How strange. Anyhow, how do you propose to make changes to the societal norms? You shouldn’t be talking about changes if you don’t have answer to this question.

  • shailesh

    @nino’s mom–Why so serious,dear????The topic maker nowhere talks of what men shud do and what dey shud not do.She jst talks abt women sitting crosslegged.I presented my views,dats it!!!Kindly revert bak to the topic or have’nt u understood what the topic talks abt!!!!My FR gives me the freedom to speak.I just exercised it so do’t tell me to “get off dis website”.
    @bangalore dude—Change we need!!!But how will u bring it abt.By badmouthing everyone who dos not corroborate wid ur views.Funny no?????

  • Bangalore Dude

    @neeraj, I wasn’t replying to you, I was telling the world about you. Anyway, the changes are happening, whether you like it or not. Just look at the number of people being supportive of this post, versus the few like you who say “that’s the way it is, live with it”.

    @shailesh, read my previous sentence.

  • Jenny

    As someone who found this while reading various articles for a Feminist Theory class: Yes, crossing your legs is a feminist issue. There are many ways that women are socialized into femininity that are so ingrained that you can’t notice them anymore. Why does it matter that women cross their legs? It cuts off circulation, and makes a woman take up less space, as we’re so often encouraged to do. I always laugh (though I catch myself doing the same thing) how you can look around a women’s studies class and see every man sitting back, legs spread, and every woman with her legs crossed leaning forward on her desk, as small as possible. In a state where jeans are semi-formal, it isn’t to protect ourselves whilst wearing skirts, it’s habit. And it’s a habit that should be pointed out and analyzed for what it means and what it allows to continue.

  • [...] are sent to children from a very early age as “Boys don’t cry” and “Good girls sit with their knees together” are uttered across America. This idea that to be “ladylike” is to take up as [...]

  • InuLink

    Honestly, I’ve never liked these gender disequivalencies. Me being a guy, I hate hearing things such as,”Girls do this, boys do that, oh you can’t do that because your a boy/girl.” In my own thought, I feel as if no one should be subjected to being taught a different mannerism or ability, based off of their genitalia.

    I understand covering yourself up if your wearing a skirt or short dress or such. But if you chose to wear that article of clothing, you should be aware of the limitations given by it, whether physical, mental, or social. I just don’t feel you should be put in an uncomfortable position because you’re a woman, or man, and that’s how people say you’re supposed to be. If we never turned against what people say is right, we would’ve never built upon our ideas, created things, and we ultimately would be animals.

    Seriousness aside, atleast moderately, if I was female, I would probably wear jeans mostly all the time, or atleast opaque leggings under a skirt… And probably spread my legs like I’m intending on flooding a city (not really, but at the very least in a comfy manner), and uppercut any man, or woman, who dared to come in a 3 foot radius of me with desires for a peep show.. or atleast fill their eyes with spray, depending on my physique.. but I do suppose I am a little violent.

  • Moz

    Trying to sit with your legs together is totally abnormal! To develop and maintain good posture, all people are supposed to sit with their feet flat on the floor with legs slightly apart. For centuries, women have been told all sorts of lies in order to keep them small and insignificant and all it ends up doing is ruining their health (think high heels!).

    Those of you who say “this is just the way things are blah blah”, go and check out some native cultures and see if the women there are told to sit with their legs together. The reality is that these societies couldn’t give a toss! And they certainly don’t attach some ridiculous sexual or moral meaning to a way a person sits. They are far more sensible and advanced than the Western culture, yet we think the whole world revolves around us and our social mores. Arrogance at the highest level!

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