25 February 2010

Your Vagina Needs Improvement

Georgia O'Keef, Jack-In-The-Pulpit No. IV, 1930.

So, being funemployed also involves a lot of downtime during which I surf the internet between job searching and such. I came across this monstrosity (semi-NSFW) just a few moments ago and had to write about it. My vagina doesn't need any bling, thanks.

Our current sexual-without-sex culture for women and girls is making bananas. BANANAS (no puns, please). Young women are constantly barraged with messages that imply our genitals need improvement. We are told to shave, wax, pluck, tweak, douche, hell even get plastic surgery (images NSWF), in the attempt to do what, exactly? I can't figure it out.

I admit, I groom. I mean, it's not like I want to be strolling the beach with hairs just trying to break free from my bikini bottoms like a meth-freak trying to escape rehab. That said, I'm tired of being told my vagina isn't good enough. I'm tired of being told what is sexy and what is not. And I'm damned tired of seeing Paris Hilton's (and other such young ladies') equipment strewn all over the internet.

And really, what a woman chooses to do with her nether regions is her business. If she waxes it all off, or if she's got a Joy Of Sex style bush happening, or anything in between, that's her deal. I don't think that a grown woman without any pubic hair is revolting (I don't want to hear any squeals about pedophilia), nor do I think a lot of hair is unpleasant. Why? Because it's her choice. Get it?

I am, however tired of the porno-chic, the hairless, glittery aesthetic that has invaded what it means to be female. No, we are not defined by our vaginas, or how intact our hymens may or may not be, but it's the idea that we have as a culture ever-narrowed what is attractive in a woman to the point that we're all supposed to look like... what? Hugh Hefner's girlfriends? Barbie (again?!) or a Bratz doll? Certainly, the definitions of beauty are ever-changing. Botticelli liked big butts as much as Sir Mix-A-Lot. But we've been on a very specific trajectory for some time now. Don't believe me? Just look at the most recent issue of Vanity Fair, their "Young Hollywood" issue. I hate to sound overly critical or cynical, but who are these young women? And can you tell them apart? I have a difficult time doing so. Mannequins and marionettes? I'll stop while I'm ahead. And because I've totally gotten off topic. Whoops.

Our culture is a confused one. Caught between the capitalist mantra that "sex sells" and the puritanical ideals that women should save themselves for marriage while men should "sew their wild oats" before settling down, Americans (particularly young American women) often try to express sex without ever owning it. This isn't their fault, it's simply that popular culture keeps telling girls to use sex, to be sex, but never the reality that they are more than sex, and that they should understand that being sexual and being sexy are different things. Look at the pop tarts we churn out: Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus (a fifteen-year-old pole dancing? REALLY?), etc. And the inevitable falls from grace they experience? Part of the package. They are presented as virgin-whores, and once the luster wears off, what are they? Just whores? I don't think this is, in a word, fair. Lady Gaga, on the other hand, OWNS her sexuality. She's sexual, powerful, and unapologetic. I'm not really a fan of her music (though it is damned infectious to the unsuspecting listener), but I am a fan of her persona. If she were to flash her lady bits at a camera, it would not be because she's trying to get some tabloid gossip going. It'd probably be because she's a big fan of her own vagina. And she should be. So should we all.

We try so hard to reach mainly unattainable pinnacles of beauty, definitions dictated to us by god knows what media machine. I don't want to be told my vagina isn't pretty enough, or sparkly enough, or what have you, too. The only person who has to be happy with my vagina, my body, or anything else about my looks is me. Don't tell me that my vagina should smell like a fucking spring meadow. I don't think anyone should douche (it's quite bad for you healthwise), and I also don't like thinking that if it does smell like a spring meadow, are there little rabbits and butterflies and meadow-creatures hanging out in there, too? This is just one peripheral issue I have with our constant reminders that our vaginas need improvement.

Last I checked, my vagina was just fine, thank you.

23 February 2010

God Save Us From Perfect People

OR "I'm an Old Sour Puss Who Has Too Much Time to Think"

(My apologies for my absence to the four of you who read this!)

So I'm sitting on the couch with Greg watching the Olympics. Some 17 year-old American ice dancer is making herself dizzy right now. I didn't pay attention to her name (Rachel somethingorother Flatt, maybe?).

What I did pay attention to was the set-up that NBC provided for us. This lovely young lady is blonde (of course), blue-eyed (duh), and skating since the age of ... I think it was in utero. She's an honor student, senior in high school, and attending Stamford in the fall.

Gag me. All I can do is quote Elizabeth Taylor. "The problem with people who have no vices is that you can be pretty sure they have some pretty annoying virtues."

I suppose part of this is envy, as I sit on my couch at 26, having gained weight over the winter and course of a new relationship, unemployed, and clumsier than a new-born fawn. The other part is just my brain going, "seriously? SERIOUSLY? This is bullshit. At least Lindsey Vonn seems like she'd have a beer with me." I am quick to admit when I feel a bit o' the old green monster (and not the one at Fenway); however, I just wonder so much about this girl, the pressure we put on children and teens, and what the results of all that will be.

As George Carlin said shortly before his untimely and much mourned death, we have become a nation of child-worshippers. I agree, yet not in the way that we cater to every whim our progeny seem to produce (though many do), but because as a society, we seem to set out to create perfect little machines who have ice skating and violin on Mondays, German and tennis on Tuesdays, Mandarin and art on Wednesdays... BLAH BLAH BLAH. And what isn't over-scheduled or wrung out of the poor kids' energies is left in front of television or Xbox or some such. No wonder teen pregnancies and drug abuse are on the rise. They've got to be bored and desperate to break free.

I can't remember the last time I saw children playing outside. And it's snowy! You'd expect to see some sledding, snowball fights, or at least the odd snowman.

All of this makes me think of the (former) coworker of mine I overheard one day whining about her own lack of life. I shall repost my facebook-related rant now.

This is what I heard:
"ZOMG! I over-extended my kids... and then myself! WTF? How did this happen? All of a sudden, I'm a mother of THREE! It's like babies magically appeared in my life and grew up! I never knew it would be this much work! OMG! It's like I have TWO CAREEEEEEEEEERS. It's like, maybe, I married a guy who thinks child-rearing is woman's work, but that's OKAY because he makes SO MUCH money so I can send my kids to violin, and soccer, and kickboxing, and horseback riding, and sculpting, and catechism, and underwater fucking basket weaving but it's like it's MY LIFE now. I don't know if I'm okay with that. ALL YOUR SYMPATHIES ARE BELONG TO ME. FEEL SORRY FOR ME FOR MAKING RIDICULOUS CHOICES AND LETTING MY KIDS RUN MY LIIIIIIIIIIIIIIFE.
It's okay, though, because after they've successfully been over-scheduled for their entire childhoods and adolescence, I'll be able to start in on obsessing over being a helicopter parent for the rest of my children's lives. I can yell at their college professors and potential employers for not appreciating the UNIQUE AND SPECIAL SNOWFLAKES THAT MY BABIES ARE. Or at least, they might be, if I had gotten to know them as people rather than just assigning them pseudo-personalities by way of the millions of activities I help perpetuate in their over-crammed daily lives."

My point? Those of us who do not yet have, or may never have, offspring are not interested. But I think it's more than that. It's the perversion of the so-called American Dream nonsense. It's the middle-class curse to keep pushing only to find that we are all, ultimately, human. And no amount of shoving your kids into little shapes is going to change that they will, someday (hopefully!), become their own persons. And if not? Well, I do hope they enjoy the same ticky tacky boxes that their parents built and created to be their own prisons. Am I above it? Am I beyond it? I have no idea. I'm not ready for any of it yet, and may never be.

Okay, so this post really doesn't have anything to do with the lovely Miss Rachel Flatt. She's very talented and pretty and obviously smart, and I do wish her well. But was most of her life spent on ice skates because she loved it, or because she was good at it, or because her parents pushed her to excel? All? None? Something else? Did she have a childhood playing in muck in the backyard at all? I use her as a primitive, rough archetype, really. She's perfect. (At least from what I know, admittedly.) Is our culture still so strange and perverse that we're still trying to raise Barbies and Kens? (I know Barbie was an ice-skater and a doctor in her lifetime!)

And what of those of us who aren't hard plastic, aren't white, aren't sexless? Why are we still told that we're wrong? And why are we told, especially we women, that unless we achieve and conform and perfect, this from such a young age?

When I was 17, I was riding around with friends, skipping stones on ponds, smoking cigarettes, eating chocolate, cursing, and trying to decide who I wanted to be for the next fifteen minutes. Sure, I participated in certain structured activities, but I was still a teenager. I got in trouble, I ran amok, I did mildly illegal things from time to time. I kissed boys, I drank beer, but I was still a kid. Did Rachel ever get that chance? Did she herself choose not to flounder and grow and discover for herself in childhood, or was the choice made for her?

Granted, I'm sure she will grow up to cure cancer or solve global warming or whatever it is that perfect people do. But her own abilities won't stop today's or tomorrow's parents from forcing a two-year-old to put on ice-skates, or a teenager to continue playing baseball because dad never made it to the majors.

Photo from this blog of Chinese Olympic fan Meing Jie (c. 2008).

08 February 2010

"Use Your Head For More Than A Hat Rack"

I am a raging feminist. By "raging" I don't mean I'm out for blood, or that I hate men (most of my best friends happen to be male, as a matter of fact). I mean raging in a way that highlights the need for feminism. The sad necessity of the idea. Feminism is such a necessary movement because women in the United States still make 75% of what men take home, because women around the world are subject to abuses and violence at the hands of men and their governments, and because until all humans have equal rights, human and civil, we all suffer. Sometimes, I do rage, and I am angry. I'm angry because it has been so ingrained in so many women worldwide that they are less - powerless, meaningless, useless - that they never discover what amazing people they are as individuals and as a whole. What would happen if all those women subjected to these lessenings (yeah, I made that word up) finally said "enough"? I can tell you one thing, reproductive rights issues would no longer be up for debate. But I digress.

The real point of this post is about one of the places where my feminism comes from: my father, Greg. Not to minimize the impact of my mother by any means, she is the kindest most generous woman I know, but I think my father helped mold me into the feminist I am more than anyone else in my life. And he summed it up in a simple cliche to me just this afternoon, "use your head for more than a hat rack."

My father had simple, direct expectations for my older brother and me growing up. That we are polite, that we are kind, and that we think for ourselves. Never once did my father tell me I couldn't do something, or wasn't allowed to participate in an activity because of my sex. In fact, he was inclined to let me try anything that piqued my interest. Since our early childhoods, if my father was tinkering with the hot water heater, changing the oil in the car, or building some contraption for the family cat to climb, my brother and I were invariably by his side. We have held flashlights, learned the difference between socket sizes, and kept steady grips on wrenches for as long as I can remember. I knew the difference between a Philips head and flathead screwdriver easily before I could read, and I never hesitate to pick up a hammer or power tool if the occasion calls for it. These anecdotes only serve to show that my father never differentiated between my brother and me. Sure, Colin was bigger than I, so sometimes he was just plain stronger and needed to do certain things, but my help was always required as well. Though to be fair, my father always said we helped best when we did what he said... (and we did).

When my dad gave my nine-year old brother a compound bow for his birthday, I was allowed to share it (my brother was less than thrilled). When my father (inexplicably) bought a pellet gun, I was expected to learn how to shoot it, and damned if I didn't love it, even at the age of eight. I was allowed and expected to do anything my older brother did. But my life as a budding feminist wasn't about just violating gender stereotypes and expectations. My father, simply put, just expected me to be my own person.

Neither of my parents fostered little-girl dreams of marriage (though I'm sure they would have if I hadn't been intent on following my big brother to the ends of the earth at the time). My dress-up clothes for pretending were far less Pretty Princess than wild animals. My father never said, "you're beautiful" more than "you're smart." My room was equal parts Barbies and He-Man figurines. I was given books before baby dolls, and allowed to color with the entire 64 different crayons (not just the pink and purple ones). It wasn't ever really about feminism; it was about personhood and autonomy. If I wanted to spit, I spat. 

I was expected to flex my brains as much as I could, not because I am necessarily innately intelligent, but because my parents both knew that a strong mind provides an individual with the necessary tools to succeed and become and better person. To succeed in whatever field I chose (or am yet to choose), and be happy doing so, is my parents' only wish for me, and likewise for my brother.

I've never cultivated a "typically" female love for shopping (I do love quirky shoes, though). In fact, there is no experience I like less than shopping - for anything. This is undoubtedly my father's doing. Shopping with him is like trying to reign in a bull in a china shop. It's an unpleasant, furious flurry of activity that usually ends with him staring at his receipt angrily, trying to figure out if he 1) forgot to buy something, 2) left a purchase at the register, or 3) somehow got hosed. It's entertaining as long as you don't have to experience it first hand.

But more than my fathers' quirks, or his insistence that we all try whatever tickled our fancy, whether looking at my split ends under a microscope when I was 12 or breaking open geodes in the backyard, it was his devotion to my brother and me that made us who we are, even if we could not be two more different people. He took and interest in us as people from the first moment (or thereabouts).

My father was never good with children (he still isn't. I'm waiting with bated breath for the first grandkid! heh). Certainly, he loved us, but wasn't exactly a cuddly individual. He doesn't coddle children. He's not hug-inclined. If you are bleeding, get a Band-Aid and move along. Scrapes heal, cuts mend. I was watching Monty Python and The Marx Brothers by the age of two. I had memorized "The Lumberjack Song" by six, and "Sit On My Face" by nine, though it was several years later that I realized what I had been singing about (in class no less) for lo these many years. Looking back now, I have a mixed sense of amusement and embarrassment when I think of that, and my naiveté. I suppose my father wasn't willing to explain everything to me.

But because he looked at us like our own little people from the moment we were mobile, he shared with us what made him who he is (Monty Python inappropriateness aside). He taught me how to draw and paint. He shared his sense of humor, his unyielding curiosity, and his not-inconsiderable thirst for knowledge with me. And because of those things, because of his tacit openness, I knew that regardless of who I was or who I became, I was worthwhile, and I was smart, and I could do anything I put my mind to.

My father helped me become a feminist not because he told me that women should be treated as men's equals, but because he lived it. He taught me these things by example. And while I watch other young women my age recoil at the word "feminist," I embrace it. It is part of who I am, but it does not define me. Only I can do that. My father made that clear years ago. Thanks, Dad.

05 February 2010

Hotdamn! I'm 26!

So goes life... That is to say, I turned 26 on February 2. Shit piss and corruption, as Greg would say.
I don't know why I have such a problem with the number 26, but it's much, much more depressing than 25. Perhaps it is because I'm having serious flashbacks to 16 year-old Courtney who was totally, 100% sure that 26 year-old Courtney would have a semi-glamorous (heroin problem), totally rock 'n' roll (living in a studio), fantastically foreign (Newark) life.

In all seriousness, I did think that 26 year-old me would have her shit together. After all, I'm still unemployed (though this may change soon!) and living at home. I feel like I've thoroughly disappointed my old self (or my young self, as the case may be) and that I should be doing more to please her. Like dying my hair purple again with Manic Panic that I bought from Hot Topic for $12.99. Or piercing my own nipples with a darning needle, an ice cube, and some rubbing alcohol again. Or something rebellious and badass. I am planning on having a good time tonight. I've gathered some very fantastic and much-loved friends to hit up the B&G Bar and Lounge in South Windsor. Perhaps Connecticut's finest drinking establishment (rivaled only by The Free Spirit), I'm excited for an evening of dive-bar-based entertainment and good company at the Barf & Gag. All are welcome, and we'll be convening at the strangely bowling alley-scented watering hole around 9.

One thing I sincerely hope my former self is good with is all my lovely friends. I do have a bunch of truly great friends that I wouldn't trade my lack of heroin addiction for. Honestly, my current hang-up on heroin aside, my friends are amazing, interesting, bizarre people who are all totally different from one another that I'm sometimes entertained simply by the spectrum of folks I've managed to gather around me. I'm excited for introductions tonight, many have never met, and I hope sixteen-year-old Courtney has a good time, too. Purple hair or no.

What would I think of me, though? Honestly, I'm a little heavier than I was at 16, have considerably longer hair, and much bigger boobs, but other than that, I think I still look like me. Would I have recognized myself walking down the street? And what the fuck happened to my shared dream of starting an all-chick punk band called The Lost Boys who would act like the Libertines (c. 2001) and have vocabularies that would make Lenny Bruce blush? I hate to say it, but when I was 16, I was damn sure that 26 was middle aged. I'm in a sad state according to younger me. Living at home, still unsure of what I'm going to do with myself, and not even married to one of The Strokes! Ugh. The shame of it all.

But when I boil it down, the decade that has come and gone is worse than a blur. It's like watching blood go down the drain when you nick your ankle shaving. "Whoops, there it... went," you think, trying to stem the flow. I have a poor memory for events and people, anyway. Random, useless, and obscure facts, I'm all over like white on rice. But the meaningful events? The people who should have always occupied more of my mind? I have vague recollections. I keep hoping that, like my grandmother, I will achieve a maximum capacity memory when older and fill in the gaps. (Then again, I think she made most of it up. In fact, she once told me she did.) At any rate, while I unconditionally adore all of those around me, I have trouble placing memories on a timeline, or separating one experience from a million others. It has been a fruitful, often exciting, sometimes sad, rarely average decade, and if you asked me to repeat experiences, I'd be at a loss. I've been to many parts of Europe, graduated high school and college, lived in London, fallen in and out of love, gotten my MA, seen musicians and artists, spoken with personal heroes, laughed loads, and gotten (and lost) my first "real" job. I was an archery instructor at a day camp, I kissed girls and boys alike, picked up the pieces of friends' broken hearts, and let my shatter in front of them. I've lost three grandparents, two dogs, and four cats. I got a tattoo, regretted it, and loved it again. I went on accidental dates, and finally let go of old prejudices enough to start dating a guy I find fantastic. I've discovered things that I didn't know were possible in myself and others, and I've learned that not everyone finds me as engaging as I find myself. (That's sometimes a tough discovery...)

I never kept a journal or diary (at least not for more than one or two entries), but friends, like Tanya, did. Her logs of our high-jinx are both unbelievable, entertaining, and like those of a million other teenagers. I'm glad she's got them for all of us to relive, particularly given my lack of memory.

All the same, I doubt my sixteen year old self would approve. Why didn't I stay in London, where I was happiest? Why didn't I travel more when I had the money? And why, for the love of GOD, am I still not married to a member of The Strokes? I feel like Courtney at 16 was considerably cooler, much more hardened to the world, and a complete idiot. Who wasn't an idiot at 16? I do, on some level, kind of hate myself because she sooooo would not have hung out with me. Then again, it'd be pretty creepy if I were socializing with 16 year-olds at my age.

Artwork from NatalieDee.com. She's the bee's knees.