“I’m just being myself. There is not an ounce of me that believes any of the crap that they say. We can’t be feminine and be feminists and be successful? I want to be a fucking feminist and wear a fucking Peter Pan collar. So fucking what?”
I have mixed feelings about Zooey — well, mostly about the public persona she has– but I do love this quote. I’m not exactly sure who the “they” is that she’s referring to, but I know who “they” are in my life. Sometimes, “they” have been individual people telling me what I should be doing in order to be considered legitimate, or sexy, or mature.
I bought a Cosmo a few weeks ago– picked it up in the grocery store because it had an intriguing line on the cover. One of the features that month was evaluating what men in different parts of the world find attractive or sexy in a woman– and one of the quotes they had was a man talking about how a woman who drinks (and enjoys) beer is just so sexy. I asked my husband what he thought– and he nodded in agreement. “It can indicate that you’re not one of those women,” and he shrugged, flipping through his Aviation Week.
“One of ‘those women’? Who are ‘those women’?”
“Oh, y’know, high-maintenance, kinda bitchy– the stereotype city girl.”
He looked up at me. “What?”
“I am one of ‘those women.'” I tossed my Cosmo away and threw up air quotes.
Now he was just confused. After all, I grew up in the Deep South, I know how to handle guns, I want to buy a dune buggy so we can go “muddin’,” my wardrobe is primarily jeans and hoodies, I’m a huge geek– there’s nothing about me, on a day-to-day basis, that screams girly girl. Even my own mother would confirm this– she spent nearly every day of my childhood and teenage years trying to get me into something that had lace on it. I detested “frou-frou socks,” anything that had a drop waist– and yes, I absolutely hated Peter Pan collars. Hated them. Still do, actually. When I was finally somewhat in control of buying my own clothes, it was baggy chenille sweaters and twill khaki cargo skirts all the way. I spent almost half my life doing everything within my power to avoid anything that I perceived as stereotypically feminine.
Looking back, though, I’m starting to understand how my own in-born sense of style was slowly mixed up with the culture I was being raised in. On top of being burdened with all the restrictions of southern fundamentalist Modesty Rules– there was this entire culture of “tough women” or “Southern women” or “country girls.” I grew up in a place where half the pick-up trucks had “Silly boys, trucks are for girls” bumper stickers right next to the Browning logo. I grew up in a place that mocked the genteel Southern belle and idolized cowboy boots. I grew up in a place the helped create the lyrics of “Before He Cheats“:
right now he’s probably slow dancing with a bleached-blond tramp,
and she’s probably getting frisky
right now, he’s probably buying her some fruity little drink
’cause she can’t shoot whiskey
That’s the message I breathed in right along with hem lengths and collar heights– the kind of man you want to marry, the kind of man you want to be attracted to you, is going to want this version of a woman. The kind of woman you can “ride the river with,” as Louis L’Amour would put it. He’s not going to want some fragile, delicate little thing he couldn’t throw into the back of a Conestoga wagon.
And, I’m not exactly delicate– I think of myself as fierce, and capable, and independent, and a little bit bad-ass. But that does not mean that I automatically fit into every other mold designed to shape a “strong woman.” I cry at everything– everything— and I can’t handle violence in movies very well. I’m easily frightened; I refuse to kill bugs or spiders. I love shopping, and British tearooms, I’m obsessed with Paris and I love, love pretty clothes (<–that’s one of my pinterest boards, for the curious). I don’t like metal music, or heavy rock, and I’m a huge fan of Katy Perry.
In short, who I am as a person fits some parts of a stereotype about “girly girls,” but not all of them.
Part of discovering all of this about myself was incredibly painful. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out a lot of things about me when I was in grad school. I did a lot of exploring, made a few decisions I regret, but one of them was allowing myself to be so pressured into not being “one of those women.” In an effort not to be perceived as anything remotely approaching high-maintenance, I down-played and mocked parts of myself. I alienated myself from myself so that I could win some kind of “cool woman” card. I tried 50 different beers looking for one I could tolerate, just so I could be a woman who liked beer, and that was somehow cooler than a woman who liked apple martinis.
It took me a long time to realize that it doesn’t matter.
It took me forever to figure out that I’m bad-ass, but I also want to be held and comforted. That I’m bold, and yet timid. That I’m confident, but terribly self-conscious. And all of these things that don’t exactly make sense when you put them together– they somehow make me who and what I am. Complicated.
And it’s ok for me to totally go ape-shit over haute couture, but spend most of my days wrapped up in my husband’s flannel shirts. And it’s ok for me to squee over the fact that the creators of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries are now doing Emma (which, y’all, SO MUCH FREAKING YES), but also loose my mind over the fact that Ender’s Game comes out in a few weeks.* I can love all things lace and lovely and fuzzy and cute and adorable– and apocalyptic grunge. I can drink my little fruity drinks with the little umbrellas, be a teensy bit high-maintenance, just a touch bitchy, and yet reject any person’s attempt to mock, belittle, or judge me. It’s totes not my problem if Judgy McJudgmentpants decides he doesn’t like me because I toss my hair too much, laugh really loud, and have opinions.
It’s all good.
I’m me– whatever that means.
*As a side note, you should be aware that there are people who are boycotting Ender’s Game because Orson Scott Card, the author of the book and a producer of the film, is a bigot. He’s spent the majority of his career viciously campaigning against LGBTQ rights. I have chosen not to boycott the film, but I believe that awareness of this is important. It is necessary to engage with any of the media you encounter critically.