Friday, November 28, 2014

Be More Better!

“I no longer have patience for certain things, not because I’ve become arrogant, but simply because I reached a point in my life where I do not want to waste more time with what displeases me or hurts me. I have no patience for cynicism, excessive criticism and demands of any nature. I lost the will to please those who do not like me, to love those who do not love me and to smile at those who do not want to smile at me.
I no longer spend a single minute on those who lie or want to manipulate. I decided not to coexist anymore with pretense, hypocrisy, dishonesty and cheap praise. I do not tolerate selective erudition nor academic arrogance. I do not adjust either to popular gossiping. I hate conflict and comparisons. I believe in a world of opposites and that’s why I avoid people with rigid and inflexible personalities. In friendship I dislike the lack of loyalty and betrayal. I do not get along with those who do not know how to give a compliment or a word of encouragement. Exaggerations bore me and I have difficulty accepting those who do not like animals. And on top of everything I have no patience for anyone who does not deserve my patience.”

This is the latest "older women who have learned shit" quote I've seen going around. It's been attributed, apparently falsely, to Meryl Streep, but it hardly matters. It's pretty typical. "I'm a woman in her 40s, 50s or 60s, and I've learned that I'm too nice and other people suck."

From the time I was very young, I had a sinking suspicion that I was really meant to be middle-aged. This used to bother me, but I've learned it's a blessing. I am convinced that my best days are not behind me. Now I almost wish I'd always had a sinking suspicion I was meant to be 92. But I think this is better, because you never know. 

When David Rakoff articulated the way I felt about the whole thing, I almost cried with relief. But mostly I almost cried because David Rakoff had died, at the age of 47, having only just reached what he thought would be his perfect age. I never had an exact number in mind like he did, so I'll just take comfort in knowing I'm getting there, and I may live to see my entire heyday. 

I'm a bit younger than most older women who have learned things, so I suppose I could still get to the point where I believe all I need to know is that I'm better than everyone else. For now, I've learned some things, and most of them have nothing to do with other people wanting to take me down. While I am indeed less of a pleaser than I used to be, the fact that I once was can't be blamed on those I aimed to please. They're on their journey, I'm on mine, and as another old Facebook saying goes, everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. 

Now that I've reached my late 30s, I'm probably not as "nice" as I was when I was younger, but that works out for everyone, because I'm kinder. I'm more forgiving and less inclined to gossip. A natural grudge-holder, nursing a grudge is now a halfhearted endeavor at best. I accept other people for who they are, and know they're doing their best. I rarely ask "why me," having come to truly accept that the question is as futile as it is self-centered and clueless. 

I know when I'm upset with someone, it's often about me, and the best way to handle that is to own my issues. Being nasty and rude is a poor imitation of strength, and I'll tell you what - strength? I have it. Did I always have it, without realizing it? Or is it a recent development? Don't know, don't care. I don't think I even knew I wanted it until the day I realized it was there. What I do know is, strength rarely looks defensive or unkind. When I'm acting that way, it's coming from a place of weakness. Strength is empathy, understanding, and, most (and, for me, most difficult) of all, patience. 

I started my 30s feeling happy with my husband and children, but not much else. I didn't feel I had close friends. Although I was just finishing grad school, I thought I'd never find my career or my passion. I'd wasted every advantage I'd been given, and now it was too late. But this decade has been the best one. Everything I thought I didn't have has grown up around me, and I hardly even had to try. 

I know I've made a million mistakes, and while I'm not one to say I have no regrets, I can honestly tell myself I have always, every day, done the best I could. I can be sad I didn't have the (usually internal) resources I needed to do things differently, but I can't be angry, because I would have had to be someone else for my past to have been dramatically different than it was. I'm making mistakes now, and I believe in my heart that Old Erin will extend me the same understanding I have for Young Erin, even if Young Erin did me many a disservice, and I'm doing the same to Old Erin. 

ADD. I have it. It sucks. There are things that, as a reasonably intelligent, able-bodied woman, I "should" be able to do, yet some of these things fall outside of my skill set. The fact that others may not understand or believe this bothers me, but I've learned that if I know in my heart I can't do something, it's better not to pretend I can. Don't make commitments I can't keep, even if the person who wants me to make said commitment will never believe it's a can't rather than a won't. It will be better for everyone in the long run. As much as I might like to make other people happy by saying "yes," only I know exactly how much follow through and organization I'm capable of. If I'm not positive I can do it, I won't pretend I can. It's not about setting boundaries, it's about knowing my limitations. I'm disorganized, and I can be unreliable. Although it turns out, my limitations are not as many and massive as I once believed they were.

Maybe you've seen me fail at any of the things I'm claiming I've learned. In my defense, I'm not even 38 years old. Very young to have learned much of anything. I'm working on it. 

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Ruining It For the Rest of Us

These are my new shoes. They're surprisingly comfortable. By which I mean, they're more comfortable than they look. I thought I wouldn't be able to walk in them, but I can, and easily. But let's be clear. Surprisingly comfortable does not equal comfortable. 

A week or so ago, I posted this picture on Facebook, asking if they looked like stripper shoes. Today at church, my friend Susie asked me if those were the shoes, and I told her they were

While agreeing they were fabulous, she whispered, somewhat skeptically, "So...are those post-feminist?" 

I was glad she asked, because I'm not being sarcastic in the least when I say I had wanted to have this discussion with someone. Not over the shoes, per se, but in general. 

"No," I whispered back, "they aren't feminist."

"I was thinking, post-feminist, or sexism?" 

"Sexism," I answered confidently. It's probably technically a matter of opinion, but I know where I fall. 

"But you're participating in it!" she argued. Not angry, just a bit perplexed. 

"Yes," I answered. She looked at me quizzically. 

Unfortunately, it was the middle of the service, not a good time to talk. 

"I definitely want to have this conversation with you," I told her, "so let's catch each other when we can." 

There is no need for anyone to say she did anything wrong. I wasn't bothered by what she asked, did not feel judged in the least, agree with her 100%, and our Unitarian Universalist church was exactly the right place to do it. If I'd had enough time to formulate my thoughts, I could have explained it to her quite succinctly. 

"I'm wrong." 

Doing whatever the hell you want is not feminism. Feminism is a movement - it's about lifting up a group of people. Decisions that align with a movement aren't about doing what you feel like, not even necessarily about what's best for you at any given moment. By wearing uncomfortable, impractical shoes, I'm not doing myself or anyone else any favors. I'm creating both short and long term problems for myself, and I'm creating just a little bit of pressure on other women to do the same. 

I wear these shoes because I think they're fun. Fun looking, not fun like shoes with trampolines at the bottom would be. Like makeup, shaving my legs, and probably some other things I'm too brainwashed to notice, I do it because I think it makes me look better. If I lived on a desert island and had never been exposed to mainstream media, and you approached me with these shoes and suggested I wear them, I'm pretty sure I'd think you were out of your damn mind. 

Is it unfeminist to want to look good? I'll just say it - kind of. Men want to be attractive, but don't spend the time, money, or energy women do on it. They don't wear shoes that aren't actually much good for walking. "Attractive" is fine, if it means clean, healthy, and not stinky. The effort women put into it, the physical and psychological damage we subject ourselves to? The level of importance we place on it? It's sexist. It just is. 

I'd suggest most women make some concessions to the patriarchal system we're a part of, and when we do, we are both victims and perpetrators. I get to pick out my own shoes, and nobody has tried to say I can't. However, over the last ten or twenty years, third wave feminism has created an environment that allows me to get self-righteous if anyone even dares to question. But just because you can doesn't mean you should. 

In an attempt to have it both ways, women often argue vehemently in favor of things that would make any feminist from, say, the beginning of time until 1990 roll over in their grave, or, if they're alive, vomit. We have to stop subjecting each other to manipulations like this or this. Yeah, I think Elizabeth Wurtzel is a particularly loathsome individual. 

Occasionally, I'll hear women say they do these things "for themselves." "It just so happens that the things I want to do for myself and all my aesthetic preferences mesh exactly with what I've been told to like and want and think are attractive!" A) You might not want to take so much pride in that, and B) No. 

I wear makeup, which is, in my mind, possibly the most fucked up of all my choices, because it means I hand my money over to a corporation that absolutely, inarguably relies on women being insecure. I think it's fun, but again, context. I live here and now. I believe certain things because I'm supposed to. 

There are some concessions I've opted out of. When that gets hard, I'm somewhat resentful of the women who conceded. So, by the same logic, the woman who doesn't want to wear makeup to her job interview, but is afraid she won't be hired if she doesn't, has every right to resent me. Because what I've done isn't cool, and it isn't nice. 

I'm a mother. Literally, yes, but also figuratively. Not to be too grandiose - it's not personal. Other people influence me, and I influence other people. I can say I shouldn't have to worry about it all I want, but that won't make it any less true. As feminists, as women, as members of the human race, as earthlings, as sentient beings, we owe each other. 

So, without further ado...

Stuff I Do That's Bullshit

  1. Wear makeup.
  2. Shave my legs.
  3. Shave my armpits.
  4. Wear uncomfortable shoes. 
  5. Exercise I don't like (a gray area, since there's a health element, but that's not really my motivation). 
There's more, but it gets more volatile. I don't want to lose any friends over it, and I truly believe that if I listed some of it, no matter how carefully I tried to explain, I would. I've also chosen not to do some things I think are sexist bullshit, but for obvious reasons, that's even more of a "don't go there." So maybe I should add at least one more thing to my list: 

    6. Be a coward. 

The very least I can do here is not twist us all up in mental gymnastics by explaining why trying to make myself acceptable for men/society/male society is empowering. It might sometimes feel empowering, but it's not. I'm not going to pretend all my choices are feminist just because they're being made by a woman. I'm just going to have to admit that sometimes, being a feminist isn't my top priority. Even when it probably should be. If you question me, you are right.