What Cynthia Nixon’s Video “Be a Lady, They Said!” Tells Us About the Gender Debate

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With over 2.2 million views on Vimeo, and having toured the world through social networks, the Girls Girls Girls Magazine video featuring Cynthia Nixon has had an impact, both for its visual content and its powerful message.

In the nearly three-minute video, a stoic, cold, monolithic Nixon recites the poem of Camille Rainville, a 22-year-old student at the University of Vermont who wrote what has now become a manifesto that condenses women’s struggle for gender equality.

“Be a lady they said. Your skirt is too short. Your shirt is too low. Your pants are too tight. Don’t show so much skin. Don’t show your thighs. Don’t show your breasts. Don’t show your midriff. Don’t show your cleavage. Don’t show your underwear. Don’t show your shoulders. Cover up.”

While many may associate Nixon’s close-up with her failed bid for New York’s 2018 governorship and all that that entails in the feminist revolt during the Trump Era the Girls Girls Girls video goes far beyond that.

Donald Trump’s arrival at the White House has become a symbol in itself hence the president’s cameo and his wife’s surname with the breaking of an oppressive silence to which women have been subjected for too long. 

Harvey Weinstein, Lockhart Steele, Roy Price, Chris Savino, Cliff Hite, Robert Scoble, John Besh, Kevin Spacey, Andy Dick, Louis C.K., Al Franken… More than 201 powerful men have been held accountable for their actions against women in the United States alone.

Yet cultural codes remain the elephant in the room.

Women like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren have been examples of the deep-rooted machismo in all scenarios; although slowed down, the label “angry,” “feminist,” “frigid,” among others, is still the response of the hetero-patriarchal system to a woman who decides to raise her voice.

“Be a lady they said. Don’t talk too loud. Don’t talk too much. Don’t take up space. Don’t sit like that. Don’t stand like that. Don’t be intimidating. Why are you so miserable? Don’t be a bitch. Don’t be so bossy. Don’t be assertive.”

But more than the code, it is perhaps the medium what still needs to be restructured.

“Be a lady they said. Don’t be too fat. Don’t be too thin. Don’t be too large. Don’t be too small. Eat up. Slim down. Stop eating so much. Don’t eat too fast. Order a salad. Don’t eat carbs. Skip dessert. You need to lose weight. Fit into that dress. Go on a diet.”

According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and The Empowerment of Women, the sexualization of women in all types of media is starkly evident, but little has been done about it.

“Women in all types of media tend to be thin and sexualized. They talk less than men. They have fewer opinions. And they are far less likely, in the entertainment industry, to play roles as leaders or professionals, or even as women who work for a living,” says their Beijing Platform for Action.

The organization found that 46 percent of the news, both in print and on radio and television, perpetuate gender stereotypes, and only 6 percent “highlight gender equality,” reflecting another, even more serious reality: globally, men still hold 73 percent of the top media management positions. 

In other words, what we see on the screen is coded by and for men.

“Let him down easy. Boost his ego. Make him fall for you. Men want what they can’t have. Don’t give yourself away. Make him work for it. Men love the chase. Fold his clothes. Cook his dinner. Keep him happy. That’s a woman’s job. You’ll make a good wife some day. Take his last name. You hyphenated your name? Crazy feminist. Give him children. You don’t want children? You will some day. You’ll change your mind.”

These are the words written by a 22-year-old girl; by a person whose social consciousness is awakening in the midst of #MeToo aftermath, and in her lines you can still feel the same subjugation that women fought against in the early and mid-twentieth century.

Is it enough to imprison the bad guys? Is it enough to demonstrate in the streets? Will the time come when we can just put our arms down and rest easy? Will there come a time when three-minute videos will not be needed?