There’s lots to cringe at over at the Sense & Sexuality blog, but this particular essay jumped out at me. Of course, it’s not like I haven’t heard the same thing over and over again: “you’re trying to have it all and hence you’re unhappy,” “gender equality kills romance,” “porn is SATAN – and your inappropriate desire to be treated like a human being is the reason men watch it,” et cetera.
What interested me here are Ashley’s statements on femininity:
“Could it be that in the helter-skelter clamoring for equality and liberation, women have forgotten to maintain their femininity, that unique quality which attracts men to women, precisely because it is different from them. Masculine men are attracted to feminine women. The old adage “opposites attract” applies here.”
Helter skelter? Are you comparing us to Charles Manson or the Beatles now? Because there’s a very crucial distinction… OK, seriously, as a stereotypically feminine feminist, I feel I need to represent here for a moment.
First of all, femininity is a highly subjective concept. In some people’s eyes, I may very well not be feminine enough – boobs not big enough, perhaps, or the tendency to bitch people out when they patronize me might be considered way too “masculine,” but “gender neutral” I am not. I wear make-up and rub my body down with a massage bar from Lush before I go out. I dye my hair, and I do it at one of those places where they bring you tea. I have a dangly earring habit and a mesh underwear habit and a pictures-of-our-Viking-vampire-friend-Eric-Northman habit.
I fret about my looks and getting older. I’m not proud of it, but it’s hard to disengage from the neuroses. I was recently talking to a man about how good the wrinkles around his eyes look, and had to stop and acknowledge the fact that when I start getting them, the effect won’t be the same. I will hate them. I hate them already, and they haven’t arrived yet.
I probably shouldn’t be admitting this, but I’m a little obsessed with the male orgasm. I hate it when it’s portrayed as something that’s either sleazy or predatory or just dull.
I don’t like opening my own champagne bottle if there’s a man around to do it. I don’t like wearing clothes that conceal my shape, because damn, I want it out there. I have no qualms about crying in public, should the occasion call for it.
I firmly believe that sexism is often mistaken for chivalry, but real chivalry I like. I don’t mind it if a man pulls my chair out for me or opens the door for me, though it doesn’t always mean I won’t do the same for him next time. I love getting flowers. I’ll beam if you compliment me on the way I look today. I once called a boy and begged him to come to my house and dispose of an enormous cockroach (I have a phobia, OK?) and he did (thank you, Duncan – I have not forgotten, and never will, unless dementia gets me first).
Am I happy? Sometimes, sure. I’m certainly not stupid enough to believe that my happiness is somehow dependent on gauzy bits of fabric or the way that I coo over men. It’s dependent on being myself. I take great pleasure out of doing things my way, but I like to think I don’t have a superiority complex. See – and I know this might seem like a crazy idea, Ashley, considering that you blog for a site that’s all about finger-wagging at young hussies – I think people should mostly do whatever it is they want to do.
In all of this talk about female unhappiness, we forget the fact that it is much more acceptable for modern American women to actually talk about how they think and feel today. There is less sugar-coating. You don’t have to pretend that you love making less money than a man, or that marriage is a wonderful institution for all six billion of us. Self-reporting is a tricky business, so when we point to studies that say that women are not nearly as happy today as they were yesterday, we could actually be muddying the waters.
I was also struck when you, Ashley, said this:
Women are capable and strong and certainly equal, yet would do well to remember that they have a unique and particular role to play in society.
What is that role and how do you define it for half of the human race? Does it involve making babies? Being decorative? Um, last time I checked, this hasn’t exactly changed much for women. We still give birth, and the beauty and diet industries would not be making billions if we weren’t concerned with being pretty. And how come there is never any talk about a man’s “role,” unless we’re talking about money? (Something that’s frustrating for a lot of men I know, especially know that the recession is in town)
Yes, I do believe that married couples need to humour each other occasionally, if they want to stay married. However, I am sick and tired of the old cliche that women are responsible for men’s behaviour. Men are not children, Ashley. It’s a very neat and convenient set-up however, a woman must be responsible for herself and her husband when he’s out of line. This is the same logic used to justify rape: “it wouldn’t have happened if the dumb bitch didn’t secretly want it! She used her mind control ray to reel him into her pants, and now she wants him to go to prison!” Can we just drop it, please?
You don’t deal with unhappiness by trying to put on some Magical Costume of Femininity, Complete With Apron and Garter Belt (I do think garter belts are hot, though). It’s both sexist and simplistic to suggest that. You deal with it as two individuals who are negotiating their life together. It sucks, it’s thorny as hell and delicate bits of our soul get caught on the thorns and bleed all over the place, and there is no guarantee that it will work out in the end. Boo hoo. Such is life. If you don’t ever want to get hurt, don’t ever leave your front porch – as I have found out more and more recently.
It’s easy to blame the high divorce rate on uppity women, instead of investigating the general human tendency to make mistake and, well, be human. Hey, Eve at the apple and Madonna made that horrible “Swept Away” remake, so it’s fair, right?
Hat-tip to Nona at Feministe.