Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bad Feminist

When the Matron was but a Wee Lass, she discovered Helen Reddy. Friends, she wore that record down to the grooves: I am Woman! Hear me roar!

Wee Lass instantly understood herself to be a Feminist. Her 9 year old self knew no contradiction, stood certain. Inequity reigned. The world needed changing.

How strong an ideologue?

Here's how Young Maiden cast her first vote for President of the United States of America:

When she entered graduate school, Young Maiden signed on for a Ph.D. that included a minor in Feminist Studies. She was a bad ass, black-leather clad feminista. The big bad boys of the Academy? The white male cannon? Young Maiden had a few things to shake up.

But along the way she experienced puzzling contradictions -- subtleties that still nag at the now older and wiser Matron.

Young Maiden remember vividly taking her fine, young and lithe self out of a cracking 1976 Century Buick to pump gas at a self-serve station. It was raining. Things were messy. There was muck and mud on the car. Ick!

Suddenly, a man about her age raced out of the gas station, jumped over cars and beat his chest: Don't sully thy silken hand! Let me do the dirty work!

She did. She remembers understanding that this was wrong. Unfeminist. The young man wiping her windows smiled and preened.

Young Maiden also remembers the philosophical agony she suffered over this:

She needed to hate the whole event. Actually, you couldn't ask for anything worse! A Princess, for God's sake. Virginity being the big ticket into the Royal Family! Young Maiden found every offense in her feminist playbook.

But she set an alarm in order to get up and witness the big event. Tears betrayed her. Weren't those flower girls cute? And that dress!

Young Maiden just hated herself sometimes.

When Flashdance rocked the country, she penned missives--feminist treatises disguised as Letters to the Editor of college newspaper -- about the ridiculous current construction of femininity as this:

Terrible movie! A crime! The ballerina wannabe welder?

And she bought herself leg warmers. And when Jennifer Beals realizes the patriarchal little girl dream of getting the boy AND being a ballerina, Young Maiden's heart swelled with joy.

These contradictions endure.

The Matron can wipe up mouse poop from under the sink. But her fingers cannot touch the poison. This is John's job.

She can mop the floor but . . .wait: is there actual oil in cars? And the blue stuff that squirts onto the windshield and makes it all clean? How does that get in there?

The worst? The Matron has noticed the shift in the Male Gaze, the evil entity she has been fighting for a lifetime.

She no longer inspires car vaults or cat calls. She understands that this is a good thing. Liberating. But.

Yesterday, the Matron stopped at a full service gas station. The van's windows were caked with muck. She was tired. Actually, her head was about to explode because she's too busy, but that's tomorrow's post.

The twenty-something attendant came out and started pumping the gas. And then he leaned against the pump, took out a magazine and started reading.

The Matron got out and wiped her own windows.

She understood that she had entered the gray world women go when they are not young and pretty. Invisibility.

She resigned herself to the new missives she would pen, treatises that unpack the underpinnings of this particular sexist state.

But later, at the grocery store as the Matron rolled down the aisles, she was subject to something she hadn't experienced in a good long while: a man checked her out.

And, she once again gave herself a thorough scolding because: this attention made her happy.

She is not yet invisible. At least not to men pushing fifty.

Contradiction? This state endures.


Lisa Wheeler Milton said...

I'm home again with a sick girl; maybe we will bust out some Reddy.

We all face those dilemmas - the desire to be taken seriously, and sometimes, the desire to be taken care of.

I still think you are one bad ass feminista.

Suburban Correspondent said...

Guys in their fifties are looking sort of attractive to me now - so gentlemanly, so chivalrous, you know?

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Feminism is a funny thing--in most cases it does not completely obliterate human nature!

She She said...

Matron, how do I love this post? Let me count the ways... Fabulous.

I think about this a lot, how women our age tend to go invisible (even though we're busier & more productive than we've ever been!) until we're "wise old crones".

If you really want to feel the "real chill out", check out Gwendolyn Brooks's poem on the subject.

Anonymous said...

You crack me up. I confess I didn't cringe at all watching the royal wedding, perhaps I didn't make the connections between that and "Free to Be You & Me" and the Tonka trucks my mother gave me for Christmas. I saved all my rage for high school and beyond.

Liv said...

you rock. getting checked out always feels good.

Karen Jensen said...

One late evening in December, I had a flat tire. I so let that nice man who offered change my tire.

And there's the gaze and the gaze, darlin. Sometimes it's not opressive at all.

Tootsie Farklepants said...

I don't think you're contradictory at all. We like to have equal opportunities but we also still like to be treated like a lady.

Heather said...

Wait...there are still full service stations?

Anonymous said...

I love how you write.

I must confess that I need some guidance in feminist issues. I don't find myself bothered but most things, either way. I guess I;m a peopleist.

Beth said...

You're not a bad feminist. You're a woman who lives with the contractions of being female in this society. We all do it.
And when those "looks" stop? Ouch. That will hurt - but we'll learn to live with that, too.
Great, honest post.

Karen said...

I've been having these bad feminist feelings too. I'm a stay-at-home mom...but I believe a woman should have a career. I depend on a man for the roof over my head...but I believe all women should be able to take care of themselves. On and on, I could go.

Oh well. (I know, profound.)

And I cried buckets over that wedding.

Angie said...

The never-ending questions of the female mind......I've felt every single thing you described. We wonder why our husbands shake their heads at us and walk away? There is no making sense of us.....and that's why they love us, we keep them guessing.

Anonymous said...

When you get this figured out-clue me in. It's not that I miss the wolf whistles and the compulsion to cover everything up. But boy-being invisible sucks, too.

Mrs. G. said...

I clean bathrooms and Mr. G. kills spiders-I can't think about this too much or I get pissed. I am scared of spiders.

Bonnie said...

It is my right AS A WOMAN to be contradictory! You see - I get to have it all... :)

Irene said...

I am married to an emancipated man, yet he has all the chivalry of a medieval knight. I like that very much and let myself indulge in it. We are a modern fairytale together, yet we are middle aged.

I am so happy that I don't get cat calls and other sorts of male interest. I feel very liberated from it. Mostly nobody seems to care anymore, I am just an ordinary woman and I like that just fine, finally.

Don Mills Diva said...

I loved this post. I love male attention, alwways have but I still consider myself a strong feminist. Contradiction? Maybe, but it's a fact.

Jocelyn said...

The contradictions are what make you so likable.

Today, a beefy and bearded 55-year-old guy checked me out. I ran with the feeling.

katydidnot said...

full service gas station is my nirvana.

Anonymous said...

It's the gaze that triggers a world that has given us three beautiful children and lifted YOUR eyes from your book. Luv u hunny

JCK said...

I bow down to you on this one. You not only captured the conflict within us, but did it in a creative, funny way. Kudos!! Bravo!

K. said...

I've always thought that, at least for me, equality meant that I had just as much value as the man next to me, even if my strengths were different from his. After all, I don't expect to be an incredible cook just because my friend Jacqui is, or to have the gift for playing the flute that she does.

But I went through the same struggles as some have mentioned here, when I first became a stay at home mom. Then I thought that feminists have battled for my right to choose a career, and this is the one I choose. I'm grateful for that choice.

Lovely and thought-provoking post. Thanks.

Laura/CenterDownHome said...

I'm with Irene. :)
I'm so comfortable here on the other side of the age that attracted the Male Gaze, the cat call, the leer. Like, if a stranger is nice to me, I don't suspect his motives. I'm more trusting here in Invisible Mommy land. I like men more when they are just people, not someone to check me out. I don't miss the days of my Power over men at all.

The sweet (mentally-handicapped) bag boy at our local grocery told me recently "You get more beautiful each time I see you". I'll be 50 this year. That made me smile all day. He was trying to be nice. Nice is good. More real.

laurie said...

ah, helen reddy. i loved that song, too.

i live by contradictions! in our house, i do all the snow shoveling, and doug does all the grocery shopping. it just sort of evolved that way.

i never got into the Princess Diana stuff, but flashdance? boy howdy, that was the funniest movie i ever saw. i remember laughing so hard i fell off the couch.