As I continue to work on things away from this blog (which is a collection of Free-Time/Casual Online Writing, Remarks, And Notes By ME Whelan) and continue to figure out what goes and what stays of my existing online-writing, the de-emphasizing of one or another continues as well....

Monday, September 26, 2011

Live and Learn

Having hit my teen years and early adulthood in a time when the idea that girls/women could want "more than just being a wife and mother" had largely taken hold among a lot of young women of my generation, I'd like to say that in a "Post-June-Cleaver" era I came of age at one of the best times in history (and America's history).  I'm not sure that's true, by any means; because women born around the time that I was did not inherit a society that had particularly (or completely) embraced the concept of "women as equal".

For women my age there was still a lot of over-coming to be done.  On the other hand, women of my age (then and now) hadn't come of age in a time when some things could just be taken for granted by women.

In any case, I hit my late teen years and early adulthood, looked around, and saw that so many of the women who had contributed to big strides being made on behalf of women were "the kind of women" many people often associate/associated with Feminism, which is/was the "typical, stereotypical" feminist who saw wearing make-up and a bra as sign of male oppression, and who had learned that trying to communicate in a softer, "feminine", voice amounted to nobody's paying much attention to what was being said.  Much of what was being said was important and correct.  One problem was, however, that with that "important and correct" stuff that was being said often came messages that weren't quite as correct.

In any case, having grown up in the smaller world of my childhood family (and parents), in which it had seemed pretty much taken for granted that girls could "be anything they wanted to be"; but also having grown up in the larger world in which girls (and particularly girl students) weren't particularly of the sex known for being encouraged to achieve; I had to sort my way through the vast mix of messages being sent to young women (and society in general), and figure out what seemed right to me.

At the time, I considered the very vocal and well known feminists (many of whom seemed to have an aversion to "anything at all feminine", and many of whom seemed to eschewing make-up, wearing things like flannel shirts, and not "getting into" hair-styles that would, to them, indicate yet more that women were the "victims of male oppression" if/when they even tried to look their most attractive.

As much as I very much agreed with a lot of "main thinking" of vocal feminists (at least when it came to women's rights, women's equality, and the fact that women had certainly been opporessed throughout history), something I saw as being misguided was the belief that the woman who simply wanted to look her prettiest when she looked in the mirror did so because she wanted to attract men.  My thinking at the time was that most "normal" people (women or men) generally liked to like what they saw in the mirror, and that it was perfectly normal (and common) for women to want to look their most attractive and yet have that aim without particularly be interested in whether they attracted men (or even just one man) or not.

My thinking back then was that I didn't (or shouldn't) have to reject anything associated with being a woman and/or with femininity out of the belief that "all things feminine" (or at least associated with women) necessarily had to be the evil plot of men who were out to keep women oppressed (consciously, sub-consciously, orchestrated, conspired on, or otherwise).  After several years of paying attention to some of the messages that were being sent (and some of the things that were out-and-out being stated), I arrived at the thinking that I shouldn't have to be "a fake man" (in other words, refuse to be/do anything that men werent/didn't do) in order to be taken seriously.  To me, it wasn't "feminism" to tell women that the only way to be taken seriously was to try to be like men.  My thinking was that I would wear my make-up, try to have a hairstyle that would make me look my most attractive, and keep wearing the feminine-looking skirts that I was happy to be able to wear once I was out of high-school and no longer worried about what was cool or not to cool to wear.

At the time, my thinking was that I was sure of myself as far as my own strength and intelligence went.  I thought of myself as "representing my own sex", and my plan was that "the world will figure out that someone who looks, sounds, and moves the way I do can be someone who should be taken seriously."   In spite of very much sharing so many of the aims and beliefs of The Women's Movement, my aim was to be strong enough to enjoy and respect my own femininity and "show people" that women didn't have to give up looking, acting, or being feminine in order to be people who could/should be taken seriously.  To me, trying to act like men wasn't the way to "honor" femininity.   I knew I risked having a lot of people think I was the "old-fashioned-thinking" kind of woman.  I had to make peace with that.  After all, I had a voice and some perfectly fine verbal skills.  I knew I couldn't change the world all by myself, but I figured that in my own circles I might eventually be able to get a few people to realize that women who looked and acted like I did (and it wasn't that I went around wearing ruffles and pink ribbons, by any means, because I dressed much the same as a lot of other young women did) could certainly be worthy of the kind of respect that a lot of grown men had come by without even trying.

Sitting here today, a few decades later, I like that I was that sure of myself back then; and I really like that I didn't buy the lines about rejecting everything associated with being a woman and, instead, only embracing things traditionally associated with men.  The thing is, though, that sitting here today, I can see now that my belief that I didn't/shouldn't have to give up, or reject, all-things-feminine in order to be taken seriously was a belief that (while, I think, still correct in its own way) was, in a lot of ways, misguided.  Well, it wasn't misguided when it comes to whether or not women should have to be "fake men" in order to be taken seriously.  What was misguided was my belief that by remaining my old, feminine, self would allow me to "show people" that someone like me could be strong, smart, and very self-reliant.

Four decades of an adult life as a woman who thought she could "show people" that solid, "un-emotional", ideas and strong constitution could be expressed in a softer, higher, voice has shown me that even forty years of society's changing attitudes, policies, and laws has not amount the kind of changes that women need in their day-to-day dealings with other people and the world in general.

In other words, forty years ago I believed I could "show people" that someone didn't need to look, sound, or act like a man in order to be worthy of being taken seriously and being equally respected as a capable human being.  I was wrong.  The fact is feminism didn't even seem to recognize that women like me existed, so a lot of women like me were completely abandoned by it.  The "anti-Feminist" type of women certainly haven't been on the side of women like me.  So, I've been much felt like the proverbial "man-without-a-country" (or maybe it would be more accurate to say "woman without the back-up of one or another stereotypical group").

On the one hand, I don't for a moment regret that I've approached my adult life in the way that I have.  On the other hand (and as someone who hates to admit it but must - even needs to - if she's honest), I'm sitting here and looking at decades of one form of subtle (and often no-so-subtle) oppression in my life or another, and feeling both saddened and amazed that in all this time so little remains understood, discussed, and addressed when it comes to women and the ways (intentional and unintentional) they so often remain so far from free of oppression and/or prejudice.

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