you are not my typewriter
{Sunday, January 09, 2005 . How Grand to be a Young Woman at the Dawn of the Millenium}

So I wrote this essay. It's really long. And it's kind of disjoint and confusing. So do with it what you will.

When I was in junior high, I was a complete tomboy. A lot of girls go through a tomboy phase, but mine was unusually prolonged. I cut my hair short with the original intention of spiking it like a pixie cut, but I wound up not putting any products in it and letting it dry flat like a boy's. Every day, I wore jeans with a t-shirt and a button-up shirt over it. I always wore necklaces, and although they weren't particularly feminine, they were the only visible clue on my pre-pubescent body to my true gender. I insisted upon being called "Sonny" and went through variations like "Sunny," "Sonni," and "Sunni" (all of which, contrary to popular belief, are derivative of my real name, by the way.) I wanted to be a boy so badly. I went so far as to "come out" and tell a few of my friends I was bisexual. I've since come to the conclusion that I'm just a boring old hetero. I remember most vividly walking in a line from my Social Studies class to the library behind the great and powerful Cutest Boy In The Class and trying to imitate the way he walked. I thought, "Even the most attractive girls don't have a walk like that. They can't swagger. They can’t move with that kind of power." Now, in retrospect, I see that that's what it was all about. I didn't want to have to grow up to be a woman. I didn't want to have to grow up to be powerless.

Women have, obviously, made a lot of progress since the days of yore. We can own land. We can vote. We have the right NOT to be beaten by our husbands - even if they do use a switch smaller than their thumbs. We're well on our way to breaking that glass ceiling and closing the 25% pay gap. I certainly appreciate these things, and I would never intentionally belittle the sacrifices my foremothers made so that I could go to college and use contraceptives. But, to be honest, I'm a little down about this whole feminism thing. I don't feel equal. I know that I have better grades and am smarter than most males - and that I have a better chance at getting into a good school and getting a good job than most males - but I don't feel equal.

Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm imagining things. Maybe I'm imagining the fact that even though I am older and more mature and smarter and higher up on the "social ladder" (if you believe in that sort of thing) than a given freshman boy, he's talking down to me. Maybe it's because he's literally talking down to me; I'm very physically small. I don't think it's that, though. I think that, deep down, even with all the progress that we've made, men and women both feel that they are on different levels, and those levels are not equal.

In most major literary works, women are not people in the sense that men are people. Women are mothers - slaves and caretakers. Women are virgins - unattainable, unreachable, and holy. Women are whores - dumb and evil. Women rarely share the existential crises that the male heroes have. We're literary tools. We're the artifices of people.

Maybe it is a physical thing. I had a date a few weeks ago. Yes, I was amazed, too. I don't normally have that much contact with members of the opposite sex, and I usually feel remarkably uncomfortable around boys. Maybe it's because I don't have any brothers - or a father, to speak of - but I just have a lot of difficulty making male friends. I really liked this boy, though. I really liked him. So after a month or so of drooling at him from across the band room, I finally got up to courage to ask him out for dinner. Just a date, you know? Just an opportunity for one intelligent, dynamic person to talk to and be impressed by another. We did go out for dinner. It was great. We talked and talked and talked for nearly four hours, the waitress all the while hovering about and implying that it was time for us to leave. We shared stories from our childhoods. I got a number of embarrassing stories about his twin sister, one of my best friends. We talked about our plans for our futures. We went back to my house and watched a movie. He had to be home by midnight, so I walked him to my door, but something happened. I stood in the doorway between my living room and the little galley kitchen, watching him walk toward the door, and I got scared. I almost never see males in my home. He's not all that big – my guess would be 5' 10" or 11", maybe 180ish pounds – but in the tiny pink kitchen my mother and I, who are both five feet tall, share, he looked monstrous. He filled up the whole room. I was intimidated. He didn't kiss me before he left. He told me a few days later that he "didn't want a relationship right now."

I don't know if there's any correlation between my choking on fear and my unexpected rejection, but there's certainly something to be said about the fact that after talking for hours with a boy whom I respect very much and who, I believe, respects me, I can still suddenly become intimidated with his size. He wasn't threatening me. He was just too big to be in my kitchen. I felt as if my home were being invaded. It's possible that size is the root of the disparity between men and women. A woman - even if she is strong and intelligent, even if she is a Queen, even if she is Superwoman, even if she is whatever else women tell themselves they are to stave off depression - is going to get scared, at least subconsciously, and freeze up when she is around a man. It won't be noticeable. Well, it won't be noticeable in most cases. I'm sure there are women out there who are openly afraid of men, who scream and run to protect their virtue, but those women are the minority. Most women will do their best to remain calm, but there will be a change. Maybe she'll become a little more demure, letting the males in the room do the talking. I have the opposite problem. I become chatty and childlike. I once had a boyfriend who actually asked me not to talk so much when I was around his friends. Incidentally, I didn't even have the self-respect to dump him; he wound up dumping me. That's why I prefer to be around my female friends most of the time. I don't have to get nervous. I don't have to worry about losing my dignity. I act my age when I'm around girls, but I usually can't when I'm around boys. They're so big. I feel like I'm with my grandpa. "No, Grandpa, I don't have a boyfriend. (giggle) I have a band concert next week. Would you come? Please, please, please? Oh, thank you. I love you, Grandpa."

Then again, maybe it's not just size. It could be that women are just genetically inferior to men. As much as I would love to say that all behavior and psychology is just conditioned into us by society, I'm not sure that's true. I have a good friend with some severe psychological problems, and he recently began seeking help in earnest. He spent the first nineteen years of his life in deep emotional anguish, thinking that life was nothing but pain and confusion, thinking that was how life was supposed to be. Lately, though, he has been on a carefully designed regimen of medication, and he is feeling wonderful. Okay, maybe not wonderful, but his brain is working in a completely different way than it used to. He said that it was nice to know that things can be different from how they used to be, but that it's a little scary to think about how easily the mind is influenced. All of our thoughts, all of our emotions, everything we think makes us 'us' is nothing but a series of chemical reactions that can be altered with medicine. So perhaps women never 'learned' to be submissive; perhaps it's part of the chemical makeup of our brains.

Dear reader, what would you do (assuming you are female - if not, pretend) if science were to prove, as irrefutably as science can prove anything, that the social position of women is not just an archaic social convention but is actually determined by our chemistry? What would you do if you learned that no matter how intelligent you are, no matter how hard you work, you can never achieve the same kind of consciousness, the same kind of grace and power and beauty, that a man could? What could you possibly do with yourself?

It would have to be a world-wide effort, the response to this knowledge. If we are to prevent a degeneration into the dark ages where women were nothing but domestic slaves and baby machines, we, as a race, would have to redefine our ideas about the worth of an individual. Generally, worth is dependant upon things like ability, intelligence, wealth, and social status. That really shouldn't be. Women, even if we were 'inferior,' would still deserve the respect and dignity that we currently have (if not more). So we need to rethink who does and doesn't deserve respect. As the daughter of a special education teacher, I've seen different ideas about this. I think the prevailing attitude, even if it's not often voiced, is that retarded people aren't really worth much. I'd have to disagree with that. Life in any form has an inherent worth, and while it's all well and good to be a big pompous intellectual, it doesn't lend any more weight to one's life. I don't quite understand when life became all about being 'better' than others. I don't quite understand exactly what it is that makes humans 'better' than other animals. Yes, we're more advanced, but life isn't just about intelligence, and if it is found that men are more intelligent than women, I would have to deal with this knowledge by reminding myself of that.

Fortunately, it doesn't look like I’ll have to do that. The prevailing trend seems to be toward women surpassing men; men are becoming complacent, and women are aching to prove themselves. And, given this situation, I'm going to continue advocating a progressive attitude toward women. I was watching Dateline: NBC the other day with my mother, and there was a report on the Gadget Show in Las Vegas. There were laptops and MP3 players - things that anyone could use - but for some reason a young, blonde, female reporter came on and said something like, "But in the past, one of the key audiences that hasn't been targeted enough is the female audience. So this year, GE came out with it's new high-tech oven." I was offended. Even though I recognize that there are hormones and deep-seated instincts that cause women to want to nest and feed their young, I was still offended. Even though I intend to have children and cook dinner for them as often as possible, I was still offended. Why? Because even though I have the natural desires and instincts of any woman to be a broody hen, I am still a freaking person. I'm not a baby machine. I could use a laptop and MP3 player just as well as any man could. The attitude reflected in that report is the one that keeps women down. We just can't marry the image of woman as the wife and mother to the image of woman as a dignified and whole person. But, let me tell you, we have to recognize that those two images are one and the same. If the species is to continue its progress and growth, we have to. Women cannot continue to think of themselves as the lesser gender. This is our world, too.

posted at 6:04 PM by Alison


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