Sometimes what I suspect I’m doing – the way I live my life, what I write – is building an alternate version of femininity.
I was at the coffeeshop today working on Black Desert, and at the the next table over three skinny, blond 14-year-old girls were drinking waters and frappuchinos, gossiping about boys and discussing the total calorie count on the container of fruit they were sharing.
And as I was sitting there, the old despair started welling up in me again. That certain knowledge that I never have and never will look like that or live like that. I spent my pre-teen and teen years trying to conform to that mold, and it didn’t work. The problem with having one dominant femininity is that not only does everyone start looking and acting the same, but you’ve got this vast majority of women who – even with the help of loads of plastic surgery, strict diet control, and abstaining from all things non-trivial – will never, ever conform to that mold, no matter how hard they try. And they’ll spend their lives hating themselves for it.
Note that I’m not about complacency. I’m not about giving up and hiding under your couch and eating bon bons for the rest of your life. I love watching succeed, find power. But most people can’t get there by reaching for the 21st century American ideal of “femininity,” or skinny blond bauble in heels. It’s an incredibly transitory ideal (as all of them are). You can hit it from 16-35 if you’re genetically blessed or spend loads of time and money on it, and then you’re pretty fucked or very rich (and even the very rich will only get another 10 years out of it).
We have no Amazon ideal. We have no Tough Matron ideal. We have hot Britney. And when Britney has kids and loses her teen popsicle image and goes wacky and has real problems like most folks from her end of town, she’s nothing. That’s all of us: we’re nothing. No worth; not worth looking at, not worth noticing.
Youth and beauty have always been sought out and valorized, but there are alternative role models, alternative ways to find strength. When did we stop worshipping heros and start worshipping youth? In fact, real strength can often be found only outside of our narrowly-defined version of femininity. Young, thin and air-headed only gets you so far. “Hot,” if used in tandem with “smart” can get you called a bitch or send you right to the top… so long as you have the strength and financial ability to maintain it.
So what about all of us who’ll never be blond, thin, and believe youth should be left happily behind along with bad sex and credit card debt? Cause honestly, there’s very little I miss about being young. Perhaps I miss being invincible, but the bad sex and credit card debt? Yeah, that I could do without. I much prefer life on the downside of 25.
I remember throwing my first punch and how amazing it felt. All of a sudden you realize that this big clunky body that you thought was worthless by virtue of its so-not-hotness is actually *good* for something. You channel 200 lbs of strength into knocking over a 200 lb punching bag, and for the first time in your life, you feel strong. You have worth. Worth not measured by the width of your ass.
If fact, there were all sorts of things my body was good at. I just never had the courage to give it a try. If I wasn’t worth looking at, what kind of worth did I really have, as a bag of flesh and blood? Oh, sure, I had a brain. My dad always told me I was the sort of girl guys married, not the sort of girl they fucked around with. Problem was, I didn’t really want to get married. And I had a real problem with my worth as a person being decided by what it was guys wanted or didn’t want from me.
How about the world? How about, what can I, physically and mentally, as a whole person, give to the world? What am I worth to myself? What can my body, my mind, do for *me*? …. Besides attracting or repelling a bed partner?
And when I sit down to write I write about women whose sense of self-worth is defined by what they know, what they’ve done. Asses and breasts and hips and legs are tools, body parts, stuff you trade off and shuffle around, shit that gets you from here to there. It’s not who you are. It’s not what drives you.
In my world, you look for a friend and/or bed partner based on what they are, what they can do, strength and reliability and skills and flat-out usefulness. Beauty is lovely. Beauty is fun to look at. Beauty can stop your heart. But it’s a passing thing, candy, no more permanent than its component parts.
I build worlds where strong, scary women build and control the world. That’s not to say that there’s not a place for other kinds of women, for men of all stripes, in those worlds, but the people running the show have a different set of values. There’s no cult of youth and beauty there. There’s no 24-hour news channel. There’s no roadside advertising. There’s nobody in your face telling you to measure your worth by the width of your ass.
Thick or thin, doesn’t matter out there…. question is, when the shit hits the fan, will you stand and fight, or cower and die?
That’s the real question out there, the only one that matters.
And with those kinds of odds, nobody gives a shit about how many calories are in their goddamn fruit cup.