Just writing that subject line, the song “I Love Being a Girl” suddenly pops in my head. I have an urge to look up the words, but I am currently on a plane as I type this & without Internet connection. I remember the song from when I was a little girl in dancing school. I danced from the ages of 2-12 for a dance school in Brooklyn called Miss Helen’s. She was an older teacher and we had a real piano player (no pre made music). Miss Helen was a woman of the 1930’s and 1940’s. A time when ladies were really ladies; even when they had to go to work. And men sported timeless attire. Hats, overcoats, and shiny shoes. All the music we ever performed at Miss Helen’s was from that time period. Inevitably every year one class did a tap number to “I love being a girl”. It was usually a younger class with sweet little girls, stamping their feet and learning the early lessons of dance to move on the beat and stay in line with the other girls using peripheral vision.
I have mixed feelings about being a female. A curse and a blessing. From the time I can remember I was encouraged to embrace my femininity. My mother and grandmother insisted I dance. My grandmother was always buying me frilly dresses and pretty overcoats. “Sit like a lady”, “ladies don’t say that or laugh like that, “just be careful, you don’t want to get your pretty dress all dirty”. I would look longingly at my brothers who could hunch over, sit however they pleased and run off to play without worrying about soiling their clothes. I always felt ridiculous with poofed up itchy dresses and ribbons or curls in my hair. My mother was always trying something new with my hair. I had to sleep with curlers many nights, or some kind of Chinese ribbons that my hair never took to. I absolutely HATED my dance recitals and putting on make-up. I felt like a clown. I wanted to be in the audience with shorts, sneakers and air conditioning like my brothers and cousins who were forced to come sit and watch this yearly grand performance.
When I became a teenager and started buying my own clothes, I put myself in comfortable things that normal teenagers wore. I started wearing make up in my early teens and poofing my bangs with Aqua Net hairspray like most girls did in the late 80s, early 90s. I paid little mind to jewelry or nails or shoes or anything super girly. I joined the Coast Guard and fit in well, not having to worry about my clothes each day and being able to throw back my hair in a bun under a hat quickly. I loved it.
I guess what got me excited about being a girl was the opposite of being in a uniform. The rare times I was able to get in civilian clothes and literally let down my then fairly long brown hair, I felt so… feminine! The guys I worked with every day did a double take. I felt like a new person. It was kind of cool to literally transform. Over the next few years once I became a civilian I discovered all sorts of fun things. Hair different ways, different kinds of earrings and bracelets. Flat shoes, heels, boots, leggings, colored panty hose. Different shades of make up and nail polish. Hair up or down, curly or straight. Dresses, skirts, pants, capris, tight shirts, loose flowy ones… Oh the possibilities were endless. Thanks to my mom in my formative years, I knew how to do my hair in different styles and not be bothered by the discomforts of pinchy shoes, clothes and tights. My grandmother immediately noticed my transformation. She was a woman of class. She had timeless beauty and style. She had a wardrobe many a woman would envy with years worth of clothing, shoes, handbags, belts, scarves and luggage. She always bought me beautiful things over the years; things me and my parents thought were way to expensive and sexy. Underwear, lingerie, bathing suits, shoes that I couldn’t even walk in. When I started to realize how much fun these things were, my grandmother was so excited for me. We were always close, but we really bonded at this time in my life over the joys of being a woman. She had and shared clothes she outgrew by popular designers before they were even popular. I was finally listening when she talked about fashion and the stitching on our bags. I got a little more into housewares. She loved to set a beautiful table and had given me many China sets, glasses for all occasions, napkins, table clothes, and cutlery. Gosh it is fun to be a girl. Poor men with so few options.
I never appreciated these things before then. My mom loved her make-up, manicured nails, perfume and clothes; but she wasn’t into anything expensive and sort of detested her own mother for insisting on the best of everything. At the time I started to really enjoy fashion, my mother sort of became a hippy. She divorced my father, married and moved in with a Venezuelan man from a missionary in Florida, and started working in a homeless shelter. She started to wear old comfortable clothes and let her once short always perfectly hair dried tresses grow long. She stopped wearing jewelry and make-up and cared less about a perfectly clean house and homemade dinners on the table. My grandmother and I thought her to be crazy. She became quite spiritual and pretty adamant that these “things” just don’t matter.
They have both since passed. I now understand my mother a whole lot more. At some point in the past few years my feet really started to hurt in shoes. Many a morning when it was freezing cold out and I was in a rush, drying my hair and squeezing into stockings knowing there would be no time for breakfast, I watched my husband turn dashing in about 5 minutes flat, and then make himself some eggs and read the paper over a long cup of coffee. I am no longer sure that the time sacrifice to look nice is worth it and should be encouraged. There were times during PMS or that time of the month where it took all the energy in the world to get up and dressed to the nines and get to work. Running to the bathroom with feminine hygiene products discreetly in tow in between meetings; and then being embarrassed to show up late while being wildly uncomfortable and bloated, with pinching clothes… only to sit down and see some man who I’m sure took 5 minutes to be ready and who ate a breakfast gawk at me like a piece of meat. Not cool dudes out there. I was really doing these things for me because they were fun, not for them. How dare men get to do nothing and then stare at pretty women? I was understanding what people meant when they say it’s a man’s world.
I started to notice the respect that well dressed women get. A female standing at a podium making a speech with an unfitted shirt and wild undried hair just does not command the same attention as the slim suit skirt with lipstick and a Brazilian blowout who would follow before or after her. I have watched audiences, colleagues and even coffee baristas ignore the comfortable, practical woman over the impeccable one who had to put hours into looking that way time and time again. When this realization started to take hold, I began to get bitter about the injustices women in general face.
I understood the bra burning craze and movement toward a hippie life in the late 60’s, early 70’s. There were men at the time who understood these injustices too and went with the flow. What stopped them? Drugs and too free of a life I assume, but they weren’t on a bad track. The jokes about the ladies room lines really started to get to me. Yeah haha funny, but it’s just not really ok. Why are their restrooms even close to the same size as ours? We are heading in with babies, small children and handbags. Changing tables, broken hooks with no where to hang a purse many times except your own teeth. Sweating in a jacket, squeezing in with a little kid, having to actually wash your hands at all, but then doing it while balancing everything else one is holding trying not to touch anything nasty. Why is bringing the kids into the ladies room still even the norm? Even when you don’t have any or they have grown, they are all still in there, underfoot; being lifted to the sinks. Poor mother doing a balancing act and everyone right around her trying not to get in the way or hit with splashed water. Forget it if you have your period and need to take care of business amongst the chaos. Then only to go outside and see the man you are with happily on his iPhone, never understanding what you have just gone through… Or bless his soul never understanding why you are an irritated grump when he asks what took you so long.
That is in my free country. There are women who are actually still oppressed in the world. All over. Then there are THOUSANDS who are made to work fields under hot burkas so we can drink coffee and eat chocolate and meat. There are many more who have to work in hot deplorable falling down factories to make cheap garments… Sadly mostly for women so men can ogle them.
Domestic violence. The sex trade that men actual pay for, treating women like objects. Women are not equal. I don’t know why I believed that when someone told me that when I was young.
A few months ago I watched a free Netflix movie called Miss Representation. I was so moved by it I had all 4 kids watch it. There are SO many unfair and male dominated decisions even in our “free” country right under my nose that I never noticed. Why the sex object in ads, video games, movies? It’s so ingrained that we don’t even notice it and little girls (and big ones too like me) think it’s normal to have to strive to look fake all the time. In politics, tv and movies; women are cheapened and made fun or or talked about provocatively when a man almost never faces the same ridicule. What’s even funnier is that at the end of the day women actually get down to business. Men are often consumed with power and being the alpha male in the room or thinking about what’s under one (or more) of the women’s clothes, that they aren’t even paying attention and things are repeated and beaten to oblivion before a decision is even made. One of my favorite parts of the Miss Representation movie I mentioned is how some political women who are a MAJOR minority in the United States said that they often joke in the bathroom across party lines on breaks that they would have had the decision over and done with in a few minutes opposed to the days they are spending deliberating on our capital’s floor watching egos and the same non-sense being repeated over and over.
I wish my mother and grandmother were still alive to have intelligent chats over coffee (my mom) or a gin & tonic (my grandmother), about how they feel about feminism in this day and age. We are in an interesting time period. My grandmother grew up during the depression when men and women’s roles were a little different. Not too far from the farming generation where no one worked outside the home, and men & women were equal in taking care of two different parts of running a home and raising children. Fashion had no part of practical life. Men were getting their power reduced with voting and equal rights. Both sexes pooled together to do what needed to be done for our country with WW2. Women looked and acted like women, men like men- but it seemed fair. Even when men left the home to work and more money was flowing, women stayed home to keep house and raise the kids. Then the economy started to boom and women now had products (made by men no doubt) that made them look shapely, done up and feel pretty. Advertisement, tv and movies ramped it up and suddenly it was the female norm to be “done up” everyday, stay skinny and keep a perfect home.
Bring in my mom’s generation who had to do all that but then also work outside the home to buy all these life necessities to look and be perfect. Child rearing, keeping house, working like a horse; but doing it with heels, perfume and make up was and still is generally an expectation of females only. Men just have the work like a horse part. Women fought against it at first with the bra burning and high divorce rates of the 70s, but somehow they became oppressed and took on extra roles throughout the years. Many women, myself included, play this part because it’s what we were taught to do. We saw it on tv and magazines and in movies, watch our mothers, aunts and neighbors do it; so we think it’s normal and don’t even question the differences. Men run 95% of the media and politics, everything that shapes out perception of the world. My mom, like most other women, (now myself included) ended up hitting a burn out wall. We feel mostly powerless against the world and against the majority of women who have not yet awoken to this reality, feel there is nothing we can do and kind of quietly rebel against this nonsense.
Gender inequality is everywhere. I saw it so much on the vacation I’m returning from over a vast number of cultures in a few countries. I’m on a plane right now. Everywhere I look men are sitting spread eagle right into the women’s spaces. Women are sitting uncomfortably like ladies. Most men push past women everywhere, doorways, trains, on lines. When I see a woman struggling with a suitcase or trying to get a stroller down stairs, it’s another women helping her and other ladies making sure she is being helped unlike the oblivious men charting off to push the weaker and slower out of the way as soon as possible. Women are still covered in much of the world. They can’t show their faces. They are the ones pushing strollers and lugging the family’s bags. In the crowded and stinky restrooms women are brushing out their hair, applying a fresh coat of lipstick to keep their man’s attention and tending to the children. Why don’t men have to do any of this?
Men may never know what it feels like to be scared to get into a cab late at night or even walk to the car. They never have to change their last name and deal with the legal obnoxiousness of having several identities. Or being paid less for doing the same job! They cannot understand the pressure most young girls start to feel in the preteen years when they see their dad, brother or classmate’s nudie photos for the first time and start to believe they need to look like the altered models for a man to find them attractive. They have eating disorders and serious self confidence issues because of the media. Men will never understand what it feels like to bleed every month, have your hormone levels rise & fall and not have any control over the emotions souring through your body. Or being so tired some days from the loss of iron you can hardly function. We are told we are wimps for not pushing through crowds or dealing with a period, but has any man ever dealt with a menstrual cycle or been called a bitch for elbowing their way through a crowd? Yeah yeah yeah… the way of the world and the curse of being a woman and all that stuff, but by who? It’s the way of the world, but we should be able to see the injustice and unfairness in the differences of the genders. How can women embrace femininity when they are expected to be both sexes at the same time and take on every role every man or woman has had since the dawn of time? So many women before me including my own mother have realized this simple fact but are such a minority that they can hardly do anything about it except maybe hold some rallies where they are mocked by both sexes alike or post blogs, write stories or make low budget movies where they will be called a feminist and very possibly be publicly made fun of.
In some ways my grandmother and Miss Helen had it a little easier. A bit closer to a period where women were gaining domestic and political rights but both sexes had a very separate yet equal role. Men held doors and helped ladies with heavy bags. Both sexes dressed up and women weren’t expected to have twiggy like bodies. I may have loved being a girl then.
I still do enjoy many parts of being a girl, but not at the expense of being expected to do it all. In the past few years I only blow dry my hair once or twice a week. I don’t wear make up many days. I’m certainly wearing more comfortable clothes and shoes. I shop only consignment. I care much less about ultra girly things. I would rather drop money on a charity to help women and children around the world shape the next generation over an expensive bag that plays into the obscene role of the woman who has the perfect job, kids, clothes, house, and husband. It’s fake and exhausting. I’ve been waking up to this reality over the past few years and can feel proud that I talk to my own daughter about the confusing world women live in so she doesn’t fall into the same confused state many of us are or were in.
No more having three-year olds in tight sparkly costumes cut down in a heart shape to their non-existent bust. All dolled up with hairspray and lipstick, looking like a clown singing about enjoying being a girl in a world where there is female oppression, genital mutilation and sex trade. If you are lucky enough to live in a free country, enjoying being a girl means obsessing over your weight, bearing most of the household duties, watching your sisters be gawked at and spoken of as objects and spending hours a day trying to look like the media says you should to be taken seriously at work or even in the grocery store.
I also know there are a lot of men and single dads out there that do play a big role in parenting and running a house. They get my kudos and I know they are likely helped with that baby stroller on the stairwell by another women rather than a fellow dude. It’s also a woman who sees you outside a public restroom deliberating how you and your daughter can both use the bathroom and offers to take her in.
We are all human, let’s treat each other as such. This just means a little more elbow grease from the “weaker sex” on raising awareness in both world wide and domestic issues; and a little more compassion from men on what half of the population around them feels. Equal rights and equality between sexes is not the same thing.
Love & Peace. Namaste.