Some people were saying in the comments the other day that I have an antiquated idea of what it means to be a woman.
Melanie said this: I think you have an amazingly antiquated view of womanhood in general. You have absorbed so many beauty standards. You spend time analyzing why you don’t conform to xxx and what is wrong w. you bc you don’t conform to xxx.
When I read that, I felt for a second as though I’d been slapped. Amazingly antiquated? Oh god. I’m terrible! Why am I so bad at being a modern woman? Is there something wrong with me for not being more confident? Since then, I’ve been thinking about what she said. It really confuses me. Which makes me want to think about it more but also makes me feel like I’m not making any progress when I think about it and after a while I just feel kinda stupid.
I don’t think there’s a big difference between having an antiquated view of womanhood and being an antiquated woman. At least not according to what Melanie says. I have an antiquated view. I have absorbed all of these beauty standards. Now they’re inside me. They’re a part of who I am. I can’t stop thinking about them. I am an antiquated woman.
What does it mean to be an antiquated woman?
Melanie suggests feeling bad about your appearance and overanalyzing it. Here are some of my own guesses (based on what pops into my mind when I hear the word “antiquated”): Cooking, cleaning, being in a marriage where your husband makes a lot more money than you, wanting babies, wearing your hair long and styled, making sure your nails are perfect all the time, reading lady mags, being bad at math, wearing tea dresses with pearls.
Or, if we’re talking, like, REALLY antiquated: lace-up corsets and therapy sessions where your doctor stimulates your clitoris for you, since you seem hysterical (that really, really used to happen. Did you guys know that’s how the vibrator was born? Because doctors’ fingers were getting so tired?)
I confess– I do some of those things on the first list. Can you guess which ones? Clue: I don’t have long hair.
But I don’t know any women who don’t do some of those things. And I don’t know any women who have never felt bad about their appearance. Which makes me think that probably all of this is part of being a woman right now. Today. In the modern age.
The truth is, I don’t think there’s such a thing as being an antiquated woman. Everything that a woman who is living right now can be is a part of being modern. If she wants to knit, she’s a modern woman knitting. If she wants to write a book about how real women should submit to their husband’s every whim, she’s a woman I really don’t want to encounter, but she’s still a modern woman, responding to current-day cues.
The questions we should be asking have nothing to do with what is old-fashioned and what is the right way to be contemporary. They have nothing to do with who is a holdover from what generation and who is good at being a hip young woman living in NYC in the present day. They aren’t about what women should think and feel or which of their problems women should care about.
The questions we should ask ourselves about being a woman have everything to do with what makes us comfortable and what makes us uncomfortable. What makes us happy and what stresses us out. What feels right, and what is just really friggin’ annoying.
What’s the deal with beauty? Why are so many women still struggling with body image issues? Why am I? I don’t like feeling bad about my appearance. It seems pointless. I’m an interesting-looking/ potentially beautiful young woman who sometimes feels like she can conquer the world and sometimes feels like hiding. The fact that I have bouts of self-doubt about the way I look makes me want to stand up and challenge the way I think about beauty. It makes me want to stand up and challenge the way the whole world thinks about beauty. But instead of standing up, I sit down and write about it and probably give myself chronic back problems.
How about relationships? How come marriage is such a hot topic? Is it OK to be young and married? Or older and single? I love being married. Even though a lot of my friends are single and even though I thought I’d be single for a lot longer, I surprised myself by falling in love and jumping happily into a marriage that might look a little traditional from the outside. What I mean by that is, he doesn’t have time to cook, I love cooking. He makes a lot more money than me (which makes my life easier even though it sometimes also makes me uneasy). He is good at math, and I am not. I am trying to figure out who I am in this marriage. I think I might just be me.
How much should I care about my career? I care about it a lot. Too much, I often think, as I’m sobbing quietly into my laptop keyboard with another rejection letter open on the screen, wondering how long I can be a failure before my in-laws tell Bear that he should really think about giving this whole marriage thing another shot with someone with an actual job title (that was an artistic embellishment, in-laws, you’ve been nothing but amazing to me!). Stay tuned. I’m going to write a post about titles soon.
How about weight loss? I think of this as separate from General Beauty Woes. Everywhere I look, women are trying to lose weight. They’re trying frantically. They’re trying constantly. They’re pretending not to try and trying anyway. Why are women supposed to be so thin? The absolute truth: I don’t spend much time agonizing over my weight. Once in a while, it occurs to me, and I decide to eat nothing but carrots for a year. Most of the time, I have this vague sense that life would be better if I were thinner, but I am not crying about it, the way I am crying about my rejection letter. At the end of the day, I care more about my career than my appearance. That sounds pretty modern to me, if we’re using the random, very loose definition of modern that I seem to be using here. But I know women and girls who would rather look a certain way than succeed in their work. That’s not an old-fashioned problem. it’s happening right now, everywhere you look.
What I want: to acknowledge that you can care about your career and your appearance and your relationships all at once. The brain is an amazing thing with crazy capacity for multitasking. To never have to pretend that we’ve already solved all of the problems that we want to consider “old-fashioned.”
Eight out of ten of my friends have struggled with some form of disordered eating. Let’s not pretend that weight doesn’t matter anymore. Or beauty doesn’t matter anymore. If I’m feeling it, it matters. My friends aren’t abnormal. I’m not abnormal. None of us are abnormal. We’re real, regular, fantastic women, dealing with the complicated, contradictory, sometimes ridiculous problems that the world throws at us.
I’ve learned a lot by writing about being a woman right now, today, as I am. It’s made me realize that anything you’re thinking about, anything you’re worrying about, any self-doubt you have— it’s more common than you think. And it’s ripe for challenging. So let’s talk about it, over some cake. Because every time I think I’m weird, it turns out there are about a million other people just like me. And every time I notice something awesome about myself, it turns out that I’m right.
Also, cake is good. And I’m pretty sure that’s been around for a long time, too.
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Melanie, if you’re reading this, forgive me for ranting a little. It’s not really at you– you just inspired the post.
Unroast: Today I love the way I look in a white dress with a light sweater over it, and a thin belt. Except that I don’t have a thin belt yet. I really want one.