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.
It 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.”
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 dangerous 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
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.