Embracing Our Feminine Whys

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This is Simone de Beauvoir. I spent a lot of time reading her stuff as a grad student. Some of it was brilliant, and some of it made me wrinkle my forehead. I also read a whole bunch of stuff put out by the critics of her time, and the forehead wrinkling became jaw dropping, and nail biting, followed by muttering bad words under my breath. What struck me wasn’t the fact that they questioned her philosophy (that’s supposed to happen), but rather that so many of them couldn’t get over the fact that she was female, and a famous thinker’s girlfriend. The very fact that she was a thinker in her own right seemed to not only offend them, but outright baffle them.

Okay, I was reading her work, and the work of her “trolls”, with the bias of someone born decades later. Things had changed, right? Sure. Except they hadn’t. Not that much. As it turns out, they still haven’t, and while I don’t get regular strips taken off me like Simone did, far too often I come across a comment for my own work that begins with “This woman…” as if my being female needs to be declared in advance of any critique of my ideas. I still run into too many people who think that a bad day can be turned around with a pedicure and good cry. I still hear about women who are feted because they are “fabulous women” in this industry or that career field.

Say whatever you like about Simone de Beauvoir, but she never, ever gave up on women as thinkers- not female thinkers, just thinkers. She admonished the patriarchy for practicing bad faith when it came to females, blaming nature for inequality. She also slapped womankind on the wrist for buying into all that rubbish, for not embracing their freedom to think, for feeding a system that not only held them back but required that they hold others back as well. She expected and demanded more from both women and men. I do too.

It’s 2017, and it’s International Women’s Day, and if we’re hoping to level the playing field, the one that should have been leveled a long time ago, we need to start embracing women as thinkers. Logic and reason will be on our side if we (and by “we”, I mean all points on the gender spectrum) decide to use them. In short, I think we’re still in the “that woman” frame of mind because we’re still prone to knee-jerk reactions instead of using our “Why?” “Why?” is the great leveler of playing fields. It’s one-size-fits-all, and can be worn to any occasion. It’s intersectional, multicultural, age-agnostic, and as far as three-letter words go, it accomplishes a whole hell of a lot. We can use it for ourselves, and we can use it on behalf of those who aren’t allowed to use it.

And no, I’m not suggesting being feminine is a bad thing. There are plenty of positive qualities associated with being a woman, and anyone who thinks being female (or male, or gender neutral) isn’t a part of who they are is kidding themselves. Be nurturing, be kind, be sensitive. It’s all great. But also be critical and discerning. Be curious and reflective and outspoken. We should all be on a mission to make asking “Why?” as quintessentially “girly” as shoe shopping or pink cake pops.

So stick “Why?” on your Pinterest board. Write it on the mirror in lipstick, or text it to your girlfriends with coordinating emojiis. Make it part of a collage or get it tattooed on your shoulder. Bedazzle it on your purse. And for the sake of all that’s good, ask it. A lot.

 

The New Normal

“Normal”, I have a bone to pick with you. Sure, you’re popular. You get invited places, and people nod their recognition when you’re thrown into conversation, usually with other popular words like “nice”. For a long time, you made people feel safe and comfortable. You were a quick, effective bandaid to throw on awkwardness and fear. Like your friend “nice”, however, you’re starting to mean less and less, becoming a shiny, candy coating with no chocolate inside.

I’ll be blunt with you, “normal”. I’d like you stricken from the record, taken out of rotation. Here’s why:

  • We’re currently up to over 7 billion on this particular planet, and that’s just humans, the ones that are still alive. Logistically speaking, a word like “normal” seems really stupid. Trying to get that many organisms to conform, to be normal, is the most vivid example of herding cats I can think of. We’re a busy planet, and I think our time could be better spent doing other things.
  • Can I be blunt with you, “normal”? You’re a judgy, cliquy snob. You act like you’re all about collecting us into a group, but really you only serve to exclude. As I said a minute ago, there are an awful lot of us, and when, inevitably, one or more of us don’t fit into your confines, we’re made to feel like crap. You’re a jerk, a creep, a standard that’s just as damaging as it is unattainable.
  • You don’t serve any common good, not anymore, anyway. When we’re in a pickle (and we seem to be in a few of them at the moment), you don’t help. Einstein once said something clever about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, and when we insist on being “normal”, we do just that. We’re at a point in our history when we need as much not-normal as we can get, people who are willing to run screaming from you and try something different, think of something new.

So, I think we’re done with you, “normal”. It’s time to give you your walking papers.

But what do we replace you with? I’m going to be optimistic and hope that whoever invented you in the first place did so in the spirit of bringing people together, of highlighting what we have (or hope to have) in common. A little unity isn’t always a bad thing, right? After all, no one wants to have “abnormal” associated with them either. “Abnormal” is the stuff of funky moles and e-coli counts in scummy swimming pools. Being different has some nasty connotations.

Could we just simply learn to use you, “normal”, a lot more sparingly, for things like seasonal temperatures, or radiation levels, stuff from which it’s actually bad to deviate? Can you keep your big nose out of things like gender roles, career choices and population demographics? Is it possible to utter your name without making someone feel like they don’t belong? Can we be factual about our differences without getting judgmental?

What if we replaced you, “normal”, with “shared”? Would that leave room for us to feel connected to one another without expecting us to be the same? Could we use “shared” for little, but important things, and still have a whole spectrum of stuff that can be different? Could we celebrate the things we have in common without making them mandatory, and without stigmatizing those who, for whatever reason, don’t share them?