Tina Fey’s Bossypants at one point explores the identifying moment when women realize they are “women.” The women she spoke to realized they were women when some guy noticed or cat called them. Later, I reflected that
my the inability to place this revelation could be the result of one or two things: the awakening might have simply never happened (perceived kid-feelings persist, because of actual extended adolescence, or simple obliviousness) or the lack of a necessary juxtaposing “man,” whose absence, by the book’s and personal anecdotes, precludes the Real Adult Woman Defined by Man-state from ever being fully realized. What follows is a short history of how I became conscious of the fact that I’m a woman-kind of grown up.
Part I: Elementary school.
I am amused and appalled by the evidence I found of the internalization and construction of Woman in my young psyche: a series of short books written ages 6-8 as school projects from grades 1-3.
Book 1, age 6: “My Trip to Six Flags,” is about how going on rides at Six Flags is awesome and how when I went with my family we got home at an impressive 1am and I went to bed late like a tween or a badass.
Book 2, age 7: The overarching theme of this touching juvenilia is how I consider my older brother my friend.
Book 3, age 8: Displaying a certain maturation and growing cognizance of pop-culture, I was no longer blatantly a character in my books. This work is about a “girl” with modest means who is visited and taken away by a prince-like character.
The mundane and discernible progression makes it seem redundant to state that a year later I was obsessed with Nick Carter.
Part II: Middle school.
I place my becoming a conscious (human) being around 11. I had developed a comprehensive understanding of the importance of being pretty before I understood the socio-political relevance of dismissing God and that one day I was going to die. Before 8th grade it seemed obvious that I should focus my attention on being smart and funny because I placed little faith in the future development of looks, a thing believed to be greater value.
I snagged the Special Double Issue of this week’s New York Magazine from my gift bag at the GenArt Fashion Show #WIN (the rest got left; let’s not get into puns about being weighed down at fashion week after parties #notactuallyfunny). In it, the Encyclopedia of 9/11. F is for (among other things) Flight Attendants. Subtitle: “The heroes of the day weren’t all men.” The piece ends:
“As Susan Faludi argued in her book The Terror Dream, the nation, frightened, grabbed at traditional gender roles in the wake of the attack. Our symbols of 9/11 courage were manly ones: New York Firefighters, Rudy Giuliani, the soldiers dispatched to crush the Taliban. The steely presence of mind of the mostly female flight attendants was largely left out of the hero narrative.”
I reflected on two things of note: first, the overall reactionary response, social and political, that defined the past decade, a component of which might be articulated with this quote. Second, the idea of the “hero” being tied to masculinity. I’m sure something can be said of the fact that flight attendants are overwhelmingly women, and perhaps this played a role in them being somewhat overlooked in the mainstream “hero narrative.” Certainly, there are many women firefighters and soldiers, who might have been overlooked by those making the case that female heros (see, I have to say female hero) have been overlooked; or, they’ve had masculine notions imposed upon them because their job has traditionally been one dominated by men. Like most jobs. (…)
I haven’t read Falundi’s book, but I’m intrigued.
I appreciated the bit of intelligent remembrance and analysis of the past decade that I heard, but the facebook statuses I was exposed to were a bit disheartening. Yes, remember 9/11. Also remember the CIA support of islamic radicals in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion, the bureaucracy of intelligence agencies, the lack of White House policy toward Afghanistan in what later proved to be a very critical period of history, those imprisoned without charge or trial within the last decade, Islamophobia, and environmental activists prosecuted under “terrorism enhancement.” It’s nice to hope our generation is less unconscious than the previous ones, but better to actively work against selective memory. As part of the generation that came of age during this past decade, I was left asking, we’ve had 10 years to wake up: have we?
I’m not sure if this is a gendered phenomenon, but I’ve spoken to at least a few college-aged women who agree: it is Not Acceptable to poop at work.
My college roommate said, aghast, after confessing to coming back to our apartment to relieve herself privately, “You can’t be that intern that poops all the time. What if your supervisor heard you? Boom. No promotion. ‘Brings her home life to work.'” Others react with similar horror, slowly beginning to cover their mouths with their hands in projected embarrassment: “Oh my god, no. Of course not. And our bathroom doors are paper thin. You can hear everything. No.”
I realize anxiety about using public restrooms is fairly common, as Michael Showalter’s relatable experience of using a Starbucks bathroom demonstrates (3:00), and if you went to public school in the United States, the thought of using your schools’ bathrooms probably grossed you out, and at least made you uncomfortable. (How much of this adulthood bathroom anxiety stems from having to publicly ask to use the school bathroom for years of our lives, this submission of our own bodily functions to a figure of authority, in classrooms of structured civility? We might never know.)
I’ve been socialized to feel the same way. But I don’t know if it’s right. And if there is a gendered difference, then I want to be conscious of this unfairness. And what of the important and totally justified movements to normalize other bodily functions, like breast feeding, which are, in fact, unique to women? Why are we so uncomfortable and grossed out? In the case of breast feeding, there are definitely externally imposed standards of “professionalism.” For pooping, there’s less of a case.
Young women seem to be rejecting the feminist label. I’ve observed this. Others have observed this. While women of other generations struggle with the feminist label as well, the young are expected to be progressive. So, I do think it’s noteworthy that younger cohorts distinguish themselves by being overwhelmingly pro-gay marriage, but are just as split as older cohorts when it comes to abortion.
Nona Willis Aronowitz and Emma Bee Berstein set out to redefine feminism for the Millenial generation, to uncover where the dialogue has landed us, and to continue having it. They chronicled their findings in Girldrive, after a road-tripping across the U.S. and interviewing many, many women. Smart, insightful, important, and easily recommendable as a whole, there’s one passage in the book that made me smile with particular delight:
“On our way from California to the Southwest, we brainstorm a list of men we want to interview–mostly guys who are our dear friends but whom we would never date because they’re asshole to girls. Or men who seem to defy gender labels and act as feminine or masculine as they want. Or hipster dudes, who, despite their gender-bending aesthetic, are more macho than you would think. Or…the thoughts race on. ‘There should be a femasculine movement, Emma quips in the car, only half-joking.” Continue reading