U.S. Rep. Todd Akin says his Senate opponent Claire McCaskill was much more “ladylike” last time she ran for office.

A Mitt Romney supporter recently told NPR that Michelle Obama isn’t a good First Lady because she’s not “ladylike” enough.

The last time someone told me I wasn’t being ladylike, it was one of my parents reminding me as a pre-teen that if you’re wearing a skirt, you can’t sit like you’re wearing shorts — ’cause that’s not “ladylike.”

Some synonyms for “ladylike” are motherly, cultured, genteel. When someone uses the word in a political context, they’re usually suggesting that there is something wrong with that woman’s behavior. But why should we be surprised in this political climate that there are those throwing around that kind of “Leave it to Beaver” language? It’s totally in keeping Akin’s “legitimate rape” world view that hearkens back to the 1950s, both in style and substance.

But those who are threatened by women who don’t adhere to a “popular girls devote themselves to pleasant conversation” era would get an earful from some of my favorite “ladies” on Facebook:

“That term makes me cringe. ‘Act more ladylike’ was a popular criticism thrown at those of us growing up in the 60s and 70s.”

“Patriarchal ‘stay in your place’ bullshit.”

“This makes me want to act very unladylike and smack someone.”

“If standing up for women makes me less ladylike, then so be it.”

“Michelle Obama is a beautiful, intelligent and extremely ladylike first lady. What silliness.”

So while I cross my legs at the ankle and sip my tea with my pinky fingers perfectly poised, I’m reminded that these comments by Akin and a Romney supporter aren’t isolate episodes of a couple of people stuck in a bygone era. Much of the underlying tone about women in this election year smacks of sending us back to a June Cleaver-like time, where women “knew their place.” And that political attitude isn’t going to change until we vote people with that mindset out of office and elect those who accept that fact that women are full participants in 21st century life, not apron-wearing, baby-carrying , embroidered handkerchief-carrying helpmates who nod politely when their husbands speak.

Akin also claimed that McCaskill is more of a “wild cat” these days.  I shudder to think about what he’d call Sarah Silverman.

Image via iStockPhoto/RetroAtelier