Being Female

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Catchfire Catchfire's picture
Being Female

When I think about being female I think about being loved. What I mean by that: I have a little exercise I do when I present my work or speak publicly or even write (like this). In order to build up my courage I try to imagine myself deeply loved. Because there are men whose lives I’ve avidly followed—out of admiration for their work or their “way.” Paolo Pasolini always comes to mind. I love his work, his films, his poetry, his writings on film and literature, his life, all of it, even his death. How did he do it—make such amazing work and stand up so boldly as a queer and a Marxist in a Catholic country in the face of so much (as his violent death proved) hate. I have one clear answer. He was loved. Pasolini’s mother was wild about him. We joke about this syndrome—Oh she was an Italian mother, but she could just have well been a Jewish mother, an Irish mother, an African-American one. A mother loves her son. And so does a country. And that is much to count on. So I try to conjure that for myself particularly when I’m writing or saying something that seems both vulnerable and important so I don’t have to be defending myself so hard. I try and act like its mine. The culture. That I’m its beloved son. It’s not an impossible conceit. But it’s hard. Because a woman, reflexively, often feels unloved. When I saw the recent Vida pie charts that showed how low the numbers are of female writers getting reviewed in the mainstream press I just wasn’t surprised at all though I did cringe. When you see your oldest fears reflected back at you in the hard bright light of day it doesn’t feel good. Because a woman is someone who grew up observing that a whole lot more was being imagined by everyone for her brother and the boys around her in school. If she’s a talented artist she’s told that she could probably teach art to children when she grows up and then she hears the boy who’s good in art get told by the same teacher that one day he could grow up to be a commercial artist. The adult doing the talking in these kinds of exchanges is most often female. And the woman who is still a child begins to wonder if her childhood is already gone because she has been already replaced in the future by a woman who will be teaching children like herself. And will she tell them that they too will not so much fail but vanish before their lives can even begin.

Brilliant, gripping piece by Eileen Myles in The Awl.

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Timebandit Timebandit's picture

Thanks, Catchfire, I can't say I enjoyed the article, but I did appreciate it. I think the idea of feeling "unloved" is accurate and would hit raw nerves in a lot of women.  What Myles describes is an ongoing chafe in my relationship with my mother that we've been battling out over 40+ years.  An affirmation might be a good way to describe it.

While I'm not a poet, I do write - and it's true that recognition for women writers in my area is sparse compared to men, and that if you look at women in the role of director or DOP, there are so very, very few.  And those out there are less celebrated and sought out.  The Golden Boy (and every few years there's a new one) seems to have to be a boy, whether there are more talented women working at the same time.  Editors, though - lots more women than in other roles.  But it's a more hidden job, a less recognized one. 

And I've been thinking about this without quite defining it in the past week - I had an incident with a colleague where nasty names and comments were thrown, and I don't doubt for a minute that, had I been male, such things would never have been said.  Even the expectations that caused the incident would have been entirely different.  While part of me simply acknowledges that it comes with the territory, and that I chose this work, it still makes me tired sometimes.

Red Tory Tea Girl

Timebandit wrote:

I had an incident with a colleague where nasty names and comments were thrown, and I don't doubt for a minute that, had I been male, such things would never have been said.

At my last job, which ended for reasons I am legally barred from disclosing... $_$ I went in short order from being gendered male, to being gendered one-or-the-other to being gendered female.

The major difference in how customers that I was unable to serve treated me was as follows:

Perceived as Boy: "Where's your manager?!" "I'm sorry, I'm the only one here at this hour." "Can't you help me out buddy/man?" "I'm sorry, no." "Fat pr**k/f**k!" *storms out*

Perceived as Butch Girl" "Where's your manager?!" "I'm sorry, I'm the only one here at this hour." "Can't you help me out dear/sweetie?" "I'm sorry, no." "Fat b***h/c**t!" *storms out*

The insults and patronizing language seemed to be in rough proportion to the customer base, though the occasional tirade about my lack of sexual desirability was from opposite gender-presenting people, regardless of gender.

Now, of course, your mileage may vary, but it did help me become aware that gendered insults are like gendered greetings quite often. Just a result of a binaristic society... I got equal vitriol for being equally officious.

PS: I didn't mention that during that ambiguous phase many (presumably) cis women felt entitled to inquire as to my gender, sexual orientation, and cis/trans status.

I didn't even change my clothing in this situation, just how my body presented... so there's every possibility that, if you are presenting differently, such things will still be said. Corporate structures will always view you as interchangable and your needs at best a significant inconvenience. I worked in a mostly-female, ethnically diverse environment. Supervisor shopping was, invariably, everyone's biggest complaint. Not dismissing your claim, but often there are other intersections of privilege, and for that matter non-unidirectional relationships, that are present when someone devalues you.

So there's a good chance you're right, but by all means, doubt for a minute. I like doubt.