Girling


It takes more to be a woman in the world than it does a man. Everyone knows that. Right? It just does. I was out with a friend recently and she said the first thing she asked our boss about me was is she pretty? It made me sad. Not is she smart? Will she be a good fit? But is she pretty.

He told her that I was. And now I wonder if that’s what got me the job. I’m pretty enough.

Years ago, while working someplace else, I remember the boss saying to me, we can’t hire that woman (about a random applicant), she’s not pretty enough—and she’s too old. It didn’t matter that the applicant had years of experience, a stellar reputation, glowing recommendations. She wasn’t attractive enough. She wasn’t young enough. Her piercing blue eyes haunt me. Oh, sure, sure, laws have been in place to stop this practice. But then people just lie. She wasn’t a good fit. Or in a right to work state, like Virginia, just nope, sorry.

Butterfly Dream WallpaperIt gives one pause. Even as an ardent feminist, I have learned that to survive I must girl. I must play the game. I’m not good at games. Well, some games I am—I made it to a level 20 wizard (chaotic-neutral) before my fellow D&D-ers (all male) insisted I could no longer play, I could be Dungeon Master instead. Rule: don’t dis the smart girl, the fantasy writer, and not let her play, and then let her play god. Yeah. I only got to do that once, none of them survived the first cave. Bastards. Dragons can be your friends; especially if you are a fantasy-writing-dungeon-master for a bunch of man-boys. It’s not girling well, but being a woman. A woman knows when to girl and when to not.

Every girl who ever played a video game knows what it’s like to play with the boys. The rules are different. A girl can’t be part of the boys’ club. She has to be shamed, whored, harassed. Blamed somehow for being good. Ostracized.

Life-games are very similar—I have to girl to be successful. Polished, painted nails, make-up, hair gymnastics (for me it’s that—my hair is as fiercely independent as I am, some days more so), jewelry, heels, low cut tops, push-up bras, pants or skirts that fit in all the right places. I have to demure—which in woman-speak means I need to bite my tongue. Don’t cuss. Cussing is a guy thing (don’t tell Helen Miren, she’s my hero, because fuck that). I have to drop my eyes, not seem too assertive, not too competitive, not too manly. Be sweet. My dad, who may have been a bit of a misogynist (with a feminist wife and three daughters, he was mostly quiet about it), used to say to me, “Mel, you have to dial it back. I think you have too much testosterone. Women aren’t supposed to be brilliant or assertive. Your job is to look good. And you do, so maybe take some estrogen or something. Be pleasing. Smile at the boys, let them win. Be a girl.”

Hmm.

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I did one of those goofy tests on Facebook recently, a gender test. It pegged me as “casually feminine.” I’m ok with that. I’m casual about it. I’ve dabbled at other things. I, apparently, have too much testosterone to be completely feminine—which in my mind makes me a woman, not a girl. Even Facebook knows. I don’t let the boys win; you have to earn that shit. I don’t submissively drop my eyes. I don’t submit. I’ll not, like a good girl, go gently into that good night (and if the night was indeed good, I won’t have any rage left, will I?). But I will rage against the dying of the light, even though my words have forked lightning.

I’ve learned that certain girl-things appeal to me as a woman. I like looking good; it gives me power. It gives me the room. I like heels and jewelry. I like that I can change my face with a shadow here and a highlight there. Glasses with tint, glasses without. I can change the whole tone of a conversation by simply holding the ear piece in my mouth. It’s provocative. I can’t see shit, but that’s not really the point. I like being provocative; tongue on glasses/phallic symbol (because everything in the boys’ club is a phallic symbol), bat my eyes—and then nail them with smart. Of course, then, and only then, does a woman demure. Peace dragons in caves who will kill you with their kindness—it’s a girl thing. Yeah, I don’t think those boys ever played D&D again. All they had to do to get by her was give her a hug…but nope out with the phallic-symbol swords (see there it is again)! Death to all dragons. Roll high! – or, you know, use a healing roll rather than a damaging one. She hugged them all to death. I feel, in retrospect, that she too was casually feminine. She girled them.

Girling is a dangero18033224_10210902523693859_387652621658276167_nus job if you take yourself too seriously. It’s good to have a dragon or two in your corner, or at least glasses with an earpiece you can suck on whilst staring demurely into the middle distance. In order to girl successfully, you have to be a woman, secure in who you are, indoctrinated into and completely rejecting the system of good ol’ boys rule, or rather boys rule the world at all. It’s taken me a long time to be comfortable with that gir
l/woman.

I do know some men who have mastered the art of girling. It’s a relaxed, I’m-comfortable-in-my-skin sort of look. They cut their eyes at you, melt you at twenty paces with a smile. They ooze sexy. But they’re few and far between (I have a short list of such men, I’d name them, but I’m guessing you can too). I think women girl better because we’ve been trained to use the wiles we have, use our sensuality to make our way in the world. Men, or man-boys, are trained not to. That makes me sad. I am allowed to accentuate all that is provocative about me physically and intellectually. Men are expected to fight their way to the top. If I have learned nothing else in my life, I have learned that to girl well you have to have a dragon inside, you have to be willing to be casually feminine—and that puts you on top. Consciously girling is to be comfortable in your own skin, comfortable enough to play with the presentation. It is to know how to own your dragon. I think I like that definition, maybe I’ll submit it to Meriam-Webster.

 

 

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The Objectification Gateway


In the beginning, most cultures were matriarchal. Archeological digs support this, over and over again. Women signified birth, growth, regeneration, nurture.

And then something happened. I don’t know what, probably some war in some distant land in some distant time. And women became victims. They likely struggled to save their children, their homes, and their lives. But warriors ran rough-shod over them.

And the world changed.  Owning became more important than nurturing, power more important than family. And women, physically weaker, became objects, possessions. They were bought, sold, traded. Oh, sure, it was called a dowry, or brideprice—but it was the buying and selling of women.

In medieval Europe, as late as the 1600’s, rape was considered destruction of property—not an act of violence against a woman. Artemisia Gentileschi, a seventeenth century artist, was raped. She knew her attacker; the best she and her father could do was have him charged with destruction of property. Artemisia, not a virgin anymore, would have trouble finding a husband. Kind-a Neanderthal.

There are places in our world, in 2012, where women are still the property of their fathers, then husbands. Places where women are told what to wear, to whom they may speak, what to think. Places where it is unlawful to educate women. Look at the little girl from Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai. Shot because she was going to school and keeping a blog about equality. Shot! Oh, you say, that’s the Middle East. Things are different there. But human beings are human beings—we must come to the realization that we are all in this together (There is no more new frontier, we have got to make it here [Don Henley]). Pakistan is a U. S. ally. Ally—“A person who helps or cooperates with another; a supporter, an associate; a friend; Something which is similar to another thing in nature or characteristics, or placed near it in classification; Something which acts as an auxiliary or support to something else.” (OED) Pakistan is our ally; that puts it a whole lot closer to us than you may want to believe.

Women began a long journey back to, if not dominance, then equality. The right to vote cost lives. Cost lives! So, ladies, if you didn’t vote in the last election… think about that. In the most recent presidential election, women made up 53% of the electorate. Women have been considered a “special interest group” by both parties. In other words, side lined, marginalized, spoken to with condescension. 53%–a majority, no just a special interest…

The biggest argument I remember my parents having, some time in the 1960’s, was about money. My mother, a registered nurse, and hospital administrator, wanted to get a credit card in her own name. She was told by the credit card company that she had to have my father’s permission. Really? She didn’t need his income to qualify, just his permission, as though she were his possession, a special interest. Not an ally.

I have a student in my class, a young man, who insists upon calling me honey, or sweetheart, or darlin’. Hello? I am a college professor; I have more school under my belt than he has years alive. Don’t honey me! I have worked hard for the title of professor. Use it. Someone in the class said to me, “that’s just how he talks.” Just a boys being boys sort of thing. Calling me honey is derogatory – it puts me in my place in his world. It implies an intimacy on his terms—whether I like it or not. Sadly, he has yet to come to the realization, that my classroom is my world and my rules.

Women have fought long and hard to be de-objectified; to have rape defined as a violent act, an invasion, and never legitimate; to have independent credit reports; to even keep their own names. Why are women so outraged by the comments of recent politicians? Artemisia Gentileschi, Malala Yousafzai, my mother, that’s why. Women continue to have to fight for control of their bodies, their medical choices, their pay scale!

What’s wrong with beauty pageants? That was the question on my Facebook wall.  All of the above. Pageants send the message that a woman must, above all else look good. She must be beautiful (whatever that means), obedient, quiet—demure. She must be ok with being called honey, and knowing that how she looked is why she could afford an education (about which I could write another whole essay!). I don’t know that it’s a “gateway” to objectification, but it certainly is a window that young women should not look through with rose colored glasses… It is a snapshot, flashback of the way women have been treated… Why don’t the judges just put for sale signs on the models?

I tried to reply to the Facebook post last night, but I was too angry. I was angry for every young girl who thinks auctioning her body to improve her mind is acceptable. I was angry about the patriarchal system that told her this was a viable plan. I’m angry at the women who continue to play the “I’m a pretty girl” card and expect something in return – women who think being smart is bad for them. Sarah Palin springs to mind in both instances. I was angry for all of the young girls denied education based upon gender. I was angry for all of the women who have risked their lives to make the world a better place for their daughters and granddaughters, only to be called honey, or not allowed credit without male permission. I was angry for every woman in America, where rape has been redefined. I was angry because in four hundred years we have not moved so very far from Artemisia.