You tell me to write more like a man. More direct, you say. Just say what you mean.
Right, because James Joyce, one of the greatest writers of all time, was so direct and straightforward. Because Shakespeare never bounced around a clever phrase. Because Beckett’s profound absurdism always made sense. Because e.e. cummings, that batty, brilliant maniac, didn’t revolutionize poetry by talking in some beautiful spirals.
Because the men I’ve dated were always direct and straightforward.
“How are you feeling?” “Unh, fine, I don’t know.”
I think what you’re trying to tell me is not, write more like a man, but just, learn how to write better.
And I agree. Better is always better.
But I’m not trying to be like you.
I don’t really want your hat. I’ve got enough silly ones of my own.
You ask me one time, early on, if I can cook.*
You sigh and your eyes drop in disappointment when I tell you I never learned to cook any better than heating up single mom TV dinners or bicycling to McDonald’s. Because it’s cultural, you know, and if you need me to spell it out for you, we didn’t have a mom who had time or money to cook every night for us. She was always working.
And though I’m learning the sweet formulas of the oven now, I think I need to make an announcement: gourmet cooking ability (or sewing or decorating or folding laundry precisely) is not something every woman is just magically born with, like perfect pitch or green eyes, especially not working class women, who sell their labor for their children’s futures and sacrifice their own dreams – it may be a long time overdue, but thank you, Mom. (Side note: my intuition is something I was born with, and that is rarely as recognized.)
I’m pretty sure at that moment you downgraded me from “potential life partner” to just “girlfriend who can’t cook,” but hey, I know for a fact you wouldn’t know a wrench from a radiator under the hood of a car if we were to be stuck out somewhere treacherous like… San Bernadino, and fixing that motor meant the difference between eating dinner that night or becoming dinner for the hill people (Beverly Hills boys – different hill people – don’t learn how to be mechanics).
Is every man supposed to be born with engine lights going off in their brains?
Can we please let go of the advertisements?
When dreadlocks aspire to be a blonde curl, my kinky hair weeps at the pressure of a straightening iron.
Though I’ve tried, I can’t aspire to be more like a man.
It’s as ridiculous as aspiring to be more like a manatee, and I have a special fondness for those cuddly paddlers. Sure, I can incorporate some external qualities and blend the colors into my own skin, in fact it’s healthy to choose your pallette – I could be more assertive, more focused, more self-important, or more likely to be mistaken for a mermaid by sea-drunk ocean crossers. But more like a man or a manatee – I don’t think so. I’ll be more like whatever I feel like, how about that, sailor?
(P.S. Disclaimer: Please don’t mistake me, I support transsexuals in their quest for identity – honeymuscles, you can go ahead and fully aspire to be more like a man… not trying to put my foot in any mouths here.)
But you know, there’s a reason why movies like The Last Samurai star Tom Cruise, why Pocahontas is beautiful in the Disney cartoon, why Jesus is a white dude. We all want to see ourselves reflected everywhere we can, and project ourselves out onto others – won’t that mean I’m important and alive and real? It’s a lot easier than attempting to step into another person’s bones to see what connects us, what funky cool mosaics can be cut from the cloth of our differences, or what lies truly underneath.
It made me laugh – ha ha! – when my 6 foot 2, light-skinned, muscle-builder of a man buddy became offended (hashtag #perfectexample) by me saying in a Tweet (please excuse the punctuation-less Tweet-speak):**
@fancifulnance: “Men have never been my role models. Lovers, teachers, friends, but it is woman who liberates woman. She who I aspire to.”
@manfriend: “kind of think you are retarded now”
@fancifulnance: “what makes that retarded?”
@manfriend: “likewise, cause your comments stem from feminist ignorance. You know there is a level playing field of capability.”
@fancifulnance: “I can’t relate to being a man so I can’t aspire to be like one. Appreciate but not aspire, so not a role model. So defensive”
@manfriend: “whatevah you got to do woo woman”
It may seem like a somewhat disjointed conversation, but we are dealing in 140 characters or less here, and I’m not posting this to attack my said man friend, but just to point out how common it is for a man to respond negatively when a woman proposes any sort of self-empowerment. (Would a white woman be offended by a black woman saying, I love all my white friends but it is my black sisters who teach me how to be in my own skin? Would a businessman be offended by an artist saying, I know I need agents in my life, but it’s other artists who inspire my work?)
Notice that my original comment lacked any outright attack on the legitimacy of “manhood,” or any sort of disempowerment of men, yet he attacks me for being an ignorant feminist. It was a clearly positive revelation I had just had – it does me more good to look to the leaders of my station in life (in this case, strong women) than to look to leaders whom I don’t necessarily see myself in (close-minded men), and in fact historically have tried to keep my voice silent through backwards berating, doubting my abilities, callous comments, irrational accusations, sexual harassment, blatant objectification and not-funny sexist jokes.
Not to say there aren’t a great deal of men I respect, in fact there are – some of my most enlightening professors have been men (though why did I feel so timid trying to talk ideas with them?), some of the greatest thinkers and philosophers and peace leaders in history have been men (though where were the women’s names?), and some of my very best friends are men. Just like the artist needs the businessman and vice versa, I love and appreciate and admire many men in my life, but I, personally, have got to love my womanness first. I feel this disclaimer shouldn’t be necessary but I know it is:
Lifting myself up as a woman, embracing my femininity, accepting all my assets and flaws, and living simply the way my internal compass tells me to be as a woman DOES NOT emasculate anyone.
The real emasculation occurs when a man isn’t comfortable enough with himself, or how he interacts with women, and he responds negatively and defensively to try and throw the attack back on the object of his discomfort. A woman asserting herself makes a lot of men seriously, seriously uncomfortable. Like, sitting in the dentist chair looking at the drill and blaming the dentist for all the times he never flossed kind of uncomfortable.
I’ve found it especially true when that assertiveness appears unexpectedly, like in the form of me, a generally good-spirited, warm, agreeable and understanding, totally non-threatening, non-violent sort of person. But hey buddy, step on my toes and I will not just stand there.
The thing is, I understand why my Twitter friend was offended – he perceived that I was attempting to strip him of his power because he feeds off of the weaknesses of others. A vocal woman who happens also to be clever may seem like a big, fat threat to a small mind.
Yet, no one seems to be offended by Shakespeare.
“To thine own self be true.”
We are in a very exciting time when women are to themselves being truer than ever before. When the culmination of the last century of feminism is starting to take root in the brainstems of even the most dull, when women are joining together and starting to realize that something’s been missing for a really long time, and even if we can’t language it out exactly to the tee right now, we know we’re continuing along a path that history has been carving for us all along, and it feels right where we are going.
Racial integration didn’t just happen overnight, rather it took a mass movement to shift the consciousness of the population politically and ideologically, and many, many years for it to be normal for all races to sit at the same table in a restaurant. The same thing is happening right now for women, fueled by the writings and actions of female leaders before us, as we take these rising, resonating voices to the White House and beyond.
I, personally, want to be recognized as the owner of my own body, as a valued part of society in both the public and private spheres, and as a keeper of my own wisdom. It’s a labyrinthine time we’re living in, and there are dots connecting many circles.
This year was a very tumultuous year for women in politics in the U.S. (and of course, various parts of the world experienced major uprisings from and for women), but the issues that are being raised – rape, abortion, birth control, pay discrepancies, and in other parts of the world, basic rights like voting and driving – are actually doing something amazing right now. They’re forcing the woman’s voice to the forefront of the world stage, and the shift is pulling. It’s pulling and pulling, and there’s no going against this tide. Whether you believe in energy work or the pattern of the universe or the Mayan calendar or not, we are entering a feminine age. I will be happy to expound on that later, maybe when the ideas form, but for now it’s enough to say, embrace the change.
Women, straight women, bisexual women and lesbians alike, it’s time to realize what power we have. I know you feel it. Whether you admit it or not, some great internal mechanism is clanging in our ears, in our bones, in our thighs and it’s all we can do not to just rip our heads back and cackle. Our great-grandmothers are laughing with us. Simone DeBeauvoir, Mary Wollstonecraft, Kate Chopin, Sylvia Plath, Rosa Parks, Virgina Woolf and all the other tide-driven women before us are letting out a relieved guffaw. Their work will not die.
It’s understandable that there’s still some good breeding in some of us – still some desire to be a lady, to sit quietly and smile and be chosen like a budding rose. The change won’t be sudden, but I aspire to make close frenemies with those desires, and I aspire to let them expire.
I aspire to be a lot of things: a great writer, a productive activist, a strong community leader, an enlightened spirit and a positive role model. But to ask me to aspire to be more like a man, to ask me to write more like a man, well, honey, I’m just simply not going to.
Write better? Write more honestly, more vibrantly, more wholeheartedly? Yes, that I can try to do. I’ve been gathering up around me all my feminist poetry, all my female philosophers’ essays, all my sea-tasting foremothers’ words to cradle me to sleep at night so that in the morning some brilliant new piece of the puzzle may emerge.
I’m making love to the lightning bolts of feminine wisdom, I’m playing hopscotch with my mother’s tears, I’m throwing rocks ahead at the path that seems to be leading to our collective awakening.
And the more I wake up, the more it seems I have to say.
Men—I’m not asking to stamp out your voice. I’m just asking you to make way for mine. ‘Cause it is a-headed your way and it is whistling like a jailbird stepping out, finally, freely into the light.
*I’m great friends with this man now, and he is one of the most inspiring figures in my life, so there is no mean sentiment here.
**No offense intended here either; these are words lifted from the public domain of Twitter, and Twitter man friend, if you read this, though that was nearly the last I heard from you, I would be happy if you were to correct me in your line of thinking :-}