Sunday, April 25, 2010

I Am Still Praying For Revolution

she still doesn't have what she deserves
but she wakes up smiling every day
she never really expected more

Being a girl is hard, ya'll.

Since I've been retired from college I've had a lot more free time on my hands to scrutinize every aspect of my life and find Internet Validation to back me up on it. I've traditionally been considered more robot than woman, but lately a lot of things have jumped out of the most well-lit of alleyways to remind me that I am, in fact, a girl and that society at large views me as such.

There's different levels of this, naturally. On the most basic of levels, adhering to societal standards for female beauty and behavior is work. Expensive work, at that. Through the miracles of a combination of genetics and luck, I've been blessed with a generally socially acceptable body and face. I don't face harassment from men and women alike like many, many women do for not falling into society's narrow definition of how a woman should look, but I do feel constant pressure to "be better". I could very much stand to lose my tummy flub, to spend a little extra time on my hair, to tone down my glaring paleness (especially since my skin tone is less "ivory" and more "sickly"), or to have a less lackadaisical approach to selecting my make-up and wardrobe. Even from where I stand at a privileged status-quo with society, achieving any of the above goals requires time, effort, and money that quite frankly I'm not willing to invest at this point in time. I can't imagine the sheer logistics that a bulkier, less-conventional, poorer, and more track-suited woman faces when contending with these same obstacles. God forbid that any of us forget to shave our legs during this quest for societal acceptance.

And that's just the aesthetic value of American females. While there's numerous problematic ways that women are expected to behave (I'm looking at you, "women who are assertive and successful are bitches and shrews"), the one that really gets me is the expectation to be nice and pleasant in the face of being treated like objects. This is rarely as blatant as the old man who once asked a (male) coworker of mine how much he would have to tip for a (female) coworker to accompany him out to his car. That sort of obvious objectification is blessedly dealt with swiftly, harshly, and with great justice. I cannot count the number of times, however, that strangers have told me to smile or laid their hands on me for no reason. I am constantly being touched by friends and strangers alike whether it's just to get my attention by gently grabbing my elbow or shoulder, or to force me to come closer by guiding me by the waist or hips. I've had bar patrons reach out and grab my hand from me to look to see what note I've scribbled in ink on the back and I've had complete strangers put their arms around my shoulders to move me out of their way. While this sort of thing isn't nearly as damaging or offensive as a male coworker being offered money for my services, it is still insidious and indicative of the general mindset that my body belongs to the general public to be both manhandled and commented upon.

The rub here is that if I try to take control of myself by, say, snatching my hand out of bar seat 605's clammy clutch and telling him "please don't touch me, dude. I'm display model only" then I will be viewed as an uptight bitch. I once asked a random bar patron "why?" when he told me to smile. His response? "You're a pretty girl, you should smile!" I know he thought he was just being nice and giving me a compliment but the implication that a) if I were ugly I wouldn't need to smile since I wouldn't be pleasing to look at in the first place and b) my lack of smile was somehow ruining his enjoyment of my presence is appalling.

All this, of course, is not new to me; just old wounds resurfacing after a recent incident made me question my minimally-enlightened view of myself and the world around me. I know that there's still a lot of work to do, both internally and societally, when my first reaction to a male friend aggressively pursuing my, um, "company" was guilt (guilt!). As if I had done something wrong by being present and female and still having the audacity to resist his advances.

Ordinarily I try not to bring up various -isms in this blog, or anywhere for that matter, because not only am I largely uneducated about them but I also feel like I'm not telling you, Interested Party, who is likely of my generation, anything you've never heard before. We're all fairly enlightened about the comparative unfairness of gender relations in our nation, to varying degrees of concern or notice, and I feel a bit silly pointing them out. Sometimes, though, I get a bit rage-y and a blog entry pops out. So here we are.

N'me touchez pas!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hard lessons, and love

Questions of science, science and progress, do not speak as loud as my heart

My very first memory, something pieced together with bits of actual recollections and photographs, is of Linda being born. They put me in hospital regulation animal pajamas and were very forceful about me washing my hands before going in to meet my new baby sister. I was extremely indignant, my sense of pride very strong for a not-yet 2 year-old, that the nurse assumed I was a dirty child. I remember snuggling next to my mom in the hospital bed, looking at the tiny, red-faced bundle in her arms, and being told that I was a Big Sister now; I had Responsibilities.

Most people don't have solid memories of their lives that young, and most of my other memories of early childhood are simply hazy remembrances of an emotion, a snatch of a sentence, or mash of very similar events that have blended into one. Kudos to Wee Martin for making such a big impression.

One thing I have precious few memories of is that of my parents being together. My mom and dad divorced when I was very young, and I feel that it's safe to say that all I've known, really, is a two-family life.

In my line of work I will get asked about my personal life from completely impersonal people. I always answer truthfully (albeit with brevity) and so on the odd occasion where it's merited mention, I will tell people my parents got divorced when I was but a wee little sprog. The universal response is "I'm sorry, that must have been hard", to which I surprise people with the counter-response of "not really, actually." I like to think that I've grown into a mature, sensible, well-rounded person who is doing her parents proud, and I neither attribute this to, nor feel it is in spite of the early separation. It is simply How It Is.

I've encountered very few issues being a child of divorce. The only major hiccup I can recall is my bff across the street not being allowed to come out and play anymore because her parents didn't want her associating with divorced riff-raff, and the only real emotional scar I can put my finger on is the tendency to question the viability of long-term relationships.

The benefit of having my faith in the almighty Love and Marriage shaken so young is that I've had a very long time to work through it. I've seen both the ugliness and the happiness that can result from a separation, and I have the wisdom to know that it will, in time, get better. I learned very early on that one relationship is not a barometer for others; just because my parent's couldn't work it out doesn't mean my friend's parents can't either, and just because my friend's parents were happy and in love doesn't mean that my parents were somehow less happy or loving. Every person, every experience, and every relationship is different and it took a lot of observation and questioning in my formative years to realize that there is no Golden Rule for relationships. It will work, or it won't. That is all.

Most importantly, especially as I've gotten older and my parents have had both time and distance to heal their old, deep wounds, I have learned that an unhappy ending doesn't invalidate the happy years that preceded it. My mom will come across a recipe card and wistfully remember how my paternal grandmother was so darn good at it, and wonder aloud if my father would like to have it back (you know, 20 years after the divorce). My dad will laughingly recall how once my mother was mortified when he got angry at a Sears salesperson over car repairs. Even though it ended badly and took a long, long while to smooth over, my parents had, at one time, a good relationship. That has been my hardest lesson to learn. Though there were fights and court dates, kid-shuffling and FAFSA disagreements, the 17 years of marriage they had before all this mess was still worthwhile. Once, they were happy, and that long-irrelevant emotion and memory doesn't just vanish into the ether when the bond does.