"Be a lady, they said." With these words, Cynthia Nixon begins an intense study of everything that phrase could hide at any given time.
Created for Girls Girls Girls Magazine, the narrative is a truncated version of a longer work by Camille Rainville. But it's a piece that translates easily to video, with brutal visual juxtapositions from pop culture and beyond filling in for lines that didn't make the cut.
"Be a Lady They Said" hits our screens at an interesting crossroads. There's all kinds of compelling, graphically gorgeous media being made right now about the unique burden women bear, specifically with our bodies. What constitutes a "real woman" is also being publicly reimagined—what we look like, what we want, what makes us strong and interesting.
And we're in the early stages of an election year—a chaotic, circussy time when much feels possible. Change can happen here, and Nixon has exploited such a window before.
"Be a Lady They Said" leverages her reputation for Trojan Horsing disruption into center ring, specifically during transitions of power: In 2018, she ran for governor of New York. And while she lost, there was plenty to say about the #CynthiaEffect, "a perception that her candidacy had pushed a centrist governor into embracing ideas like legalizing marijuana" and prioritizing mass transit system improvements. "Now everyone understands that the governor controls the subways," Nixon proclaimed.
She notably also played Miranda on Sex and the City, a character whose arc was most remarkable outside the show. When the series was at its most popular, she was the one that people least wanted to be: "When a girl is told that she is [a Miranda], this is what she hears: 'You're annoying, you're a pessimist, you care too much about work. You're a party pooper. I hate you. I fast forward through your dialogue any time you come on screen.'"
Tough crowd … and for someone who was, by all accounts, successful, stable and just really normal.
Time's been kind to Miranda, though. In 2018, Vice called her the only redeemable character on the show. Man Repeller posited that if SATC were made today, she'd be the protagonist. And writer Jennifer Keishin Armstrong admitted to being heartened that modern young women feel empowered to engage in "Miranda worship," considering she's the "boring successful woman."
Most of this is probably due to the gubernatorial race, but we like to think also it's because women's own perspectives about being women are finally enjoying a nice, public flex: In 2016, the petty insult "nasty woman," lobbied at Hillary Clinton, became a kind of anti-lady anthem. That's no accident.
Below is the full, original text of Camille Rainville's "Be a Lady, They Said."
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. Leave something to the imagination. Dress modestly. Don't be a temptress. Men can't control themselves. Men have needs. You look frumpy. Loosen up. Show some skin. Look sexy. Look hot. Don't be so provocative. You're asking for it. Wear black. Wear heels. You're too dressed up. You're too dressed down. Don't wear those sweatpants; you look like you've let yourself go.
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. Watch what you eat. Eat celery. Chew gum. Drink lots of water. You have to fit into those jeans. God, you look like a skeleton. Why don't you just eat? You look emaciated. You look sick. Eat a burger. Men like women with some meat on their bones. Be small. Be light. Be little. Be petite. Be feminine. Be a size zero. Be a double zero. Be nothing. Be less than nothing.
Be a lady they said. Remove your body hair. Shave your legs. Shave your armpits. Shave your bikini line. Wax your face. Wax your arms. Wax your eyebrows. Get rid of your mustache. Bleach this. Bleach that. Lighten your skin. Tan your skin. Eradicate your scars. Cover your stretch marks. Tighten your abs. Plump your lips. Botox your wrinkles. Lift your face. Tuck your tummy. Thin your thighs. Tone your calves. Perk up your boobs. Look natural. Be yourself. Be genuine. Be confident. You're trying too hard. You look overdone. Men don't like girls who try too hard.
Be a lady they said. Wear makeup. Prime your face. Conceal your blemishes. Contour your nose. Highlight your cheekbones. Line your lids. Fill in your brows. Lengthen your lashes. Color your lips. Powder, blush, bronze, highlight. Your hair is too short. Your hair is too long. Your ends are split. Highlight your hair. Your roots are showing. Dye your hair. Not blue, that looks unnatural. You're going grey. You look so old. Look young. Look youthful. Look ageless. Don't get old. Women don't get old. Old is ugly. Men don't like ugly.
Be a lady they said. Save yourself. Be pure. Be virginal. Don't talk about sex. Don't flirt. Don't be a skank. Don't be a whore. Don't sleep around. Don't lose your dignity. Don't have sex with too many men. Don't give yourself away. Men don't like sluts. Don't be a prude. Don't be so up tight. Have a little fun. Smile more. Pleasure men. Be experienced. Be sexual. Be innocent. Be dirty. Be virginal. Be sexy. Be the cool girl. Don't be like the other girls.
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. Don't overact. Don't be so emotional. Don't cry. Don't yell. Don't swear. Be passive. Be obedient. Endure the pain. Be pleasing. Don't complain. 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.
Be a lady they said. Don't get raped. Protect yourself. Don't drink too much. Don't walk alone. Don't go out too late. Don't dress like that. Don't show too much. Don't get drunk. Don't leave your drink. Have a buddy. Walk where it is well lit. Stay in the safe neighborhoods. Tell someone where you're going. Bring pepper spray. Buy a rape whistle. Hold your keys like a weapon. Take a self-defense course. Check your trunk. Lock your doors. Don't go out alone. Don't make eye contact. Don't bat your eyelashes. Don't look easy. Don't attract attention. Don't work late. Don't crack dirty jokes. Don't smile at strangers. Don't go out at night. Don't trust anyone. Don't say yes. Don't say no.
Just "be a lady" they said.
Brand: Girls Girls Girls Magazine
Director: Paul McLean
Production Company: Mini Content
Producer: Claire Rothstein
Words by Camille Rainville
Narrated by Cynthia Nixon
Bespoke Composition: Louis Souyave
Music Supervision: OPM