IT HAPPENED TO ME: A Tattoo Artist Wouldn't Tattoo My Hand Because It Wasn't "Ladylike"

I was stopped dead in my tracks when I was told the reason he wouldn’t tattoo my hand was that it was inappropriate for a woman.
Publish date:
February 13, 2015
sexism, feminism, tattoos

Growing up, the discrimination against women was such a normal part of everyday life that I didn’t recognize it for what it was. I was raised inundated with sexist mentalities. What girls could and couldn’t do. Who they could and couldn’t be. What was acceptable and what wasn’t.

However, as I've gotten older, I've witnessed change, a true progression. So when I went into a tattoo parlor to get my ninth tattoo, I didn’t expect to be turned away solely based on my sex.

As someone who has been tattooed several times over the course of my life, I pretty much know what to expect. You can go in with a specific idea, but you need to hold it with an open hand because more likely than not it will get changed. The artist is more concerned with the result of the tattoo than indulging their customer’s every whim.

I’ve heard things like, “It’s too small, lines expand over time, therefore it won’t look good in 10 years,” or “That’s not a good place to get tattooed. The ink doesn’t take well and it won’t heal properly.” I respect these opinions because they are coming from experts in the field. They’re artists that want to do good work and they’re going to ensure that their name is attached to a tattoo of good quality.

I had tried getting a tattoo on my hand before. I wanted a cross below my pinky, right on the side where the palm and the back of the hand meet. The tattoo artist told me that it wasn’t a good place and that it would more than likely heal incorrectly and need to be retouched over and over.

Though I had seen many people with tattoos in the same area I wanted, I heeded his advice because I trusted him. After all, he was essentially turning away money because he believed in what he is said.

Many years later, I still wanted a hand tattoo, but this time I chose a different spot. I planned to get an equal rights symbol on the back of my hand between my thumb and pointer finger.

Going in, I expected resistance, but I was prepared to stand my ground. Sure enough, the guy behind the counter told me they discouraged hand tattoos, but went to the back to get the artist anyway. I was determined and had my arguments ready, but I was stopped dead in my tracks when I was told the reason he wouldn’t tattoo my hand was that it was inappropriate for a woman.

His exact words were that it "wasn’t ladylike.”

My jaw fell all over the counter. Mind you, the guy had knuckle tattoos himself and his arm tattoos spilled out onto the tops of his hands. When I pointed this out, he replied that he was allowed this liberty because of his profession. He never once asked what I did for a living. He never addressed my age (28, by the way) or the large tattoos on my forearms. His only concern was that I was a woman.

I would like to say that in that moment I got up on my soapbox, grabbed my megaphone, and started a rally right there in the shop. But I didn’t. I was too stunned to process what has happening or to formulate a solid argument. I found myself asking over and over again if this was the real reason for his refusal or if I was being Punk’d. The irony of the whole situation considering the tattoo I was getting was almost overwhelming.

How could someone who lives an unconventional lifestyle themselves be so narrow-minded?

Offended isn’t an accurate word to describe what I felt in that moment. I was an array of emotions ranging from frustrated and helpless to hurt and confused. I got the tattoo, but I settled and got it on my wrist, instead of where I originally wanted it.

I may not have stood up for myself in the moment, but I still believe the situation was unacceptable. That misogynistic mentality that allowed this man to feel that it was his right to dictate to me what is and isn’t “ladylike” is a mentality that keeps women boxed in and oppressed.

I still plan to get a tattoo on my hand. I get to decide for myself what is and isn’t “ladylike."