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.