Daryl Metcalfe Calls Kathleen Kane a Woman!

And he thinks it's an insult! A defense of un-ladylike women everywhere.

Kathleen Kane

When I was 8, I had a habit of chewing gum at school, even though it wasn’t allowed. My preferred brand was Bubble-Yum, which was rumored to be filled with spider eggs, but was the most plush, pillowy, bubble-friendly gum imaginable. I may have been picked last for every team, but I could blow better bigger bubbles than anyone I knew. It was the closest I got to athletic success.

I was sent to the principal’s office a number of times for my gum-chewing. This was in 1976 at a school founded by a progressive, idealistic group of parents who would absolutely have considered themselves in tune with the most liberal social movements, feminism among them. Yet the principal told me that the reason my affront was so grave was that chewing gum was “unladylike.” She said, “Don’t you want to be a lady, Elizabeth?”

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Daryl Metcalfe

A lady? I was 8. I didn’t know what a lady was. I had only one role model, Eloise, and Eloise didn’t give a shit.

Those conversations with the principal have stayed with me throughout my life as I’ve found myself coming up short in the lady department, unable to be consistent with manicures and highlights; deficient when picking dresses for cocktail parties; forgetful when it came to having children. And I was reminded of my talks with her again when I heard what PA state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe said about PA Attorney General Kathleen Kane: “There is a difference between a woman and a lady, and the AG is a woman.”

He said it on Chris Stigall’s morning show on 1210 WPHT-AM and Stigall was pretty shocked. “I think that’s what I heard,” Stigall said. Then he tapped the mic, “Yeah, it’s on.”

Stigall had jokingly introduced Metcalfe as “one of those angry men out to hurt Kathleen Kane because she’s a woman and he’s a man” and asked, “But why do you hate women?” Metcalfe said such a statement would certainly surprise his wife and daughter, not to mention the “ladies” he works with. That’s when he made his linguistic distinction between “woman” and “lady.”

Metcalfe was not using the word “lady” the way some people do, in a semi-ironic Lena Dunham pop-culture reappropriation. He was using it according to its dictionary definition: genteel, polite, feminine. What that definition used to connote is a woman who spoke in dulcet tones and wore a scent; who enjoyed flowers; who liked chiffon (more important, who knew what chiffon was, and where to go to get it, and why it mattered); who was sugar and spice and everything nice, just like the little girl she used to be. Blanche DuBois and Scarlett O’Hara were ladies. “Lady” vs. “woman” was largely about femininity. It wasn’t enough to have a vagina — you had to powder it.

These days, surely not even a very traditional, conservative Republican like Daryl Metcalfe would demand all of that from the ladies in his office — Blanche never would have gotten any work done, for one thing. But it is a good bet those ladies know their place, don’t interrupt during meetings, work magic with a gift registry, have the right hemlines, are gentle and not brash.

See, a “lady” is what a woman should be in the retrograde mind. The details might differ — one person’s gift registry is another’s can of Endust — but it’s all about delimiting a woman’s role. That there should still be strictures in 2015 is both amazing and preposterous, but then, we still have ideas about what men should and shouldn’t do as well. Human beings feel safer when everyone is drawing inside the lines.

Some people, however, won’t allow themselves to be constrained; it’s not in their nature. Kathleen Kane, the first elected female attorney general in Pennsylvania, is one of those people. Unlike Hilary Clinton and her her endless pantsuits, Kane didn’t masculinize herself for her man’s job. She kept her hair long and wore high heels and skirts. Still, she ultimately, briskly got defeminized by Metcalfe because (aside from their being political opponents) she’s outspoken, serious and decisive. His remark ends up saying a lot more about him than about her.

Whatever your opinion on what’s happening with Kane right now (I tend to agree with my colleague Joel Mathis that she’s bad at her job but being treated unfairly), I’ll just say this: Lady or no, I’ll bet she blows one heck of a bubble.

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