This isn’t even an opinion piece, it’s an experience piece. Nothing but my own experience (real or imagined) and a bunch of shit that went on at some point in the distant past.
I was recently engaged in a topical dialogue about how the women in some action movies who are supposedly trained and competent assassins have their jobs made even harder for them by the footwear and clothing they are made to wear (by costume people, I assume). This isn’t really about clothes or what women should wear for certain tasks – I cycle my bike with a short skirt on (I like short skirts, I like to be aerodynamic), I wear underwear when I’m doing it (though that’s neither here nor there, but just a sideline response to the woman who yelled “oh my god!” at me as I rode past the other day. *I’m wearing knickers, yo!*). At the time, I didn’t see why a woman should have her job made more difficult in order to fit a certain ‘look’. Well I do, because it makes money – the form makes money. I’m not that naive. But it led to an interesting discussion about being female and clothes and choice and how male behaviour is equated with power and the female remains the ‘other’, and how when we condemn clothing usually worn by women, we negate a female’s right to choose her own identity. A friend made that point, and it made me think about how I see the women, how I still haven’t gotten past the ‘male gaze’ that I claim to challenge.
Anyway, this got me seriously thinking about my experience and life, etc, and my own tendency to – if not mimick male behaviour – feel more comfortable with men, almost as a man. And how STEREOTYPICALLY male pursuits have always appealed much more to me; but more than that, seemed safer to me than those associated with womanhood.
You see, I was always sort of under the impression that being a woman really fucking stinks. Like there’s no joy in it, it’s hard work, work work work. And work that I’ll never finish, never accomplish anything out of, never be any good at. I never felt pretty, not like I felt a girl should feel. Other girls surely felt it. I don’t say that for sympathy, only because it’s true – it’s the way it was/is – and it didn’t bother me, because I wasn’t really a girl, and would never really be a woman, so I was out of the pretty game. Phew!
Early on, as a child, I found comfort in boys as friends. I felt safe around them – more so than with my own sex – and could converse and interact easily. It wasn’t like that with girls; girls’ interactions were moated by eggshells, hierarchy, unwritten rules and unspoken etiquette. Fuck!
I always felt it would be safer to be a boy or a man, and so I sort of did the next best thing. Even now I do it. I wouldn’t have to try to look as good as the other women, I wouldn’t have to participate in all of that – what a trip (I thought). I knew that what would hurt me most would be being rejected by women, and men wouldn’t reject me, wouldn’t shun me and I would never commit some unspoken offence against the men that I’d never understand because I didn’t know the secret man-code. There’d be no eggshells. Everything just as it is – straight up. There’s a real safety in that.
So where is this going? Is it a memoir or is there a point to all of this indulgent reflection and retrospective speculation?
Well, I suppose it’s about when I got my first real introduction to womanhood – the madness, the malady – and the realisation that came after. Pregnancy.
In my place, that was how I felt. A place I’d evaded for the whole of my life prior to then. And here it was – I was pregnant, and waking up to womanhood and how women can be regarded in the systems in which we place our trust when you’re 8 months pregnant can really suck.
I feel like I got my first real taste of being thrust into womanhood upon my first antenatal appointment. Until then, I had never truly experienced the madness that is to be female and suffering in a system organised and overseen by an ideology that says women are trivial.
As someone who’d found power in physical prowess – I had often (and still am, often) preoccupied with maintaining physical strength – to suddenly be physically incapacitated (in many ways) was terrifying. Suddenly I couldn’t just break out of the situation – there was no strength in me to overcome the fact I was faced with – that I was at the mercy of a system, a process – both external and internal, actually inside my body, that didn’t listen to, much less respect my autonomy and (in some ways) right to decision-making.
I was treated like women are treated – hormonal, mad, to be simultaneously fussed over and dismissed; fragile – mentally and physically – and incapable of making adult decisions.
I was a woman. And, as I had suspected, it stank.
And what I realised after the hellish, transient bliss of the gas and air had worn off and lactation had ceased. When my breasts were small again and I could hide them, when I was skinny again and striving to eradicate any trace that this body had created a life, I realised that this myth of womanhood, of ‘other women’ (or ‘other girls’) is just that. A big lie, keeping us separate and divided and distracted.
The bogey-ladies I simultaneously admired and feared for their winning of womanhood don’t exist (or are a rarity), they are almost completely a fabrication of a system that belittles women, tells them their concerns, their interactions, they social dynamics are trivial and too petty to be of concern to the real grown-ups, the men. And so we believe it. Some of us retreat from our physiology – like me – some of us play the role we feel is expected of us. Some of us just exist seamlessly between the ‘female role’ and the enfranchised, whole being that we know we are.
I felt vulnerable and ‘other’ from the already-established established ‘other’. That’s what I’d been feeling since childhood – not separate from other girls, but separate from the idea society constructs of how girls jus t *are*. And I still feel it, I still fall into that hole, I’m not going to lie to make myself look like I’m over anything. Often. And it can transfer to the experience of motherhood. The media mist is heady and I’m not immune to it, and in the same way that Shout mag told me “this is what they’re like, and you’re not it” when I was a teenager, it tells us now, “this is what mothers do, and you’re not like other mothers”. And I definitely did (and often do) not feel like other mothers. The real mothers. The grown-ups. The ones organised enough to own cars and complete permission slips on time. I gravitate towards dads, because I feel like a dad. In the playground the other day the thought actually came to me, ‘it’s good to see so many other dads here, so it’s not just me’. Wait, what?! I found myself recounting this to a friend and we both fell about laughing, since she’d had the exact same thought at one time.
Tricksy, these cultural constructs.
*You win at motherhood!* Is how I would have felt at one time (and still can…as I say, not perfect over here). *I will sit on the sidelines with the men, because to be a real mother requires skills and a certainty about the role that I just can’t attain – or so I’m told.*
“Male pursuits”? – they’re just pursuits, yo!
But the other gift of the maternal for me has been to truly be able to throw my soul wide open to other women. To know them intimately, and to know they’re not to be feared – I am them, they are me.
A poet I love called Janne Robinson wrote a poem called “To the women who don’t give a fuck”. My tendency is to give too many fucking fucks. But that’s what women are meant to do…right?