As a young woman growing up in the fifties, we had tons of mindless social rules to follow. Playing the “cute” card allowed some of us to squeak by if we failed to meet expectations. Employment ads for women cited “energetic” as a desirable skill and “cute” or “perky” more than likely factored in the hiring decision. It would be several years before President Kennedy would sign the equal pay act, which may have required some of us to ratchet up our “cute” factor.
Miss. B, my favorite high school teacher, taught college level English prior to arriving to our small town. She wore the latest fashions, drove above the speed limit, smoked cigarettes and was seen drinking whiskey. In addition, it was rumored she might not be chaste, which only added to her mystique. No one would have dared to call her cute or sweet and expect to survive her wrath.
Maybe she felt the sting of unequal pay long before it became a cause, but she wanted to make sure female students would leave her classroom as intelligent, independent young women. If you did not meet her expectations, she would go into lecture mode and launch a tirade about limiting behavior. “Cute and sweet are adjectives for women who have no brains. Some of you are pleased when referred to in that manner. You should be highly insulted if anyone ever describes you as such.”
Miss B came to mind as I observed an older woman at a public meeting last week. As the woman introduced the male speaker, she turned on her full force cute to include executing a little curtsey. It was an embarrassing absurdity, reminiscent of a cheerleader introducing the high school football captain at the annual banquet.
No female over age four should aspire to be “cute” but I have observed that most of the women who resort to this behavior are in my age group. Why do we do this? Unless we want to be trivialized or characterized as little old ladies, we should lose the “cute”. We can be handsome, attractive, interesting, intelligent and entertaining. But “cute” – never!