Sugar and spice, errything nice, you know the drill. Sure do, ma'am! I grew up in the '80s in the deep South, where the presence of a slip under your dress and a bow in your hair still doubled as legal proof of your virginity. And yet, no one seemed to mind if you wore really dark hose with clear, open-toed jelly shoes. In the winter. As long as you were smiling!
This was back when being told to smile, or hearing that you sure do look prettier when you do, was more common than a prayer before a pep rally. Waiting patiently for a sweaty hyena to make the first move was an art form, and anyone bold enough to move freely about the cabin toward a member of the opposite sex was a real risk-taker, or, you know, what you might call a raunchy whore. (No one calls anyone raunchy anymore, which is kind of a shame, especially because where I'm from, it was pronounced "rownchy," usually by girls with very big hair wearing lace-up leather pants and smoking Virginia Slims.)
If being a respectable lady back then was more about what you didn't do, now it doesn't seem to matter what you do do. Sex tape, centerfold, indiscriminate handjobs, sexy fast food commercial where you eat a big sloppy hamburger as if it's a dick — none of these things will prevent you from being considered appropriately feminine, or even respectable. I would call this progress, but I'm too busy trying to get hamburger dick out of my hair.
But really, I've had the good fortune of coming of age with lace-up leather-pants feminism in the water, witnessed a blossoming pro-sex movement, watched a generation of women become frighteningly comfortable with their sexuality — even if the whole Girls Gone Wild, body shots, faux bisexual light show and its ilk continues to endure a kind of cringe-inducingly rownchy adolescence. I think that was redundant.
But perhaps more importantly, I've seen modern women reject and reconfigure all manner of notions about what women are "supposed" to be, including ideas about marriage and families and jobs and jelly shoes, and this is all a good thing. The sky's the limit! Anything goes! Hamburger Dicks for President!
But how come none of this seems to make it any easier to actually raise a sweet little baby daughter? I dig all the new lady supreme stuff, but I don't know how you get from point a: 2 years old, to point b: lead singer for the next Le Tigre, or whatever mix of cool talent, confidence and a little bit of punk-rock system-challenging makes for an A-plus broad in 15 to 20 years. Tellingly, I actually searched Google for the phrase "admirable young woman" to see what came up as a modern example, but Google replied, "Did you mean: adorable young woman?" Touché Google, touché.
I just want to encourage my daughter's pride in her gender without laying the groundwork for a lifelong of indentured servitude to it. Because being a woman is great, as long as you're not all caught up in the bullshit of being a woman ™. You know what I mean, right? There's women, and there are people who wear a bunch of fucking makeup.
Maybe it's because I've just never been that good at lady stuff. I'm not much of a shopper and don't like staring in a mirror for the full amount of time it allegedly takes to prime, pamper and perfume. So I guess I always come out half done, with half the face I'm supposed to have, or, with still too much of my first face and not enough of my culturally encouraged second face. I just get bored spending too much time "getting ready." Ready for what, anyway? Life? Second-face prospects? Seems to me it's all happening with or without the eyebrow gel. I have no idea how to explain this to my daughter.
I also have no intention of trying to make my daughter in mine own not-that-interested-in-this-stuff image, but I'm not gonna go smothering her with the usual indoctrination to be constantly pleasing and open either. I will invite the pink vampire into my home, but it will not run the laser hair removal show. I won't discount the lady rites of passage. I also won't overemphasize her looks or ability to sweep a floor. But she should know how to stand up for herself, pick up after herself and present herself, and being that she is a female, that may or may not mean slapping on a second face.
(Speaking of second faces, in the 7th grade my friend and I used to joke that it would be hilarious if, when the wind blew really hard that it would peel off your makeup face, which could then fly off into the breeze and plant itself on the person behind you, leaving them with your eye shadow, blush and lipstick. I still dream that makeup one day becomes as easy as this kind of pick 'n' peel application — that we may literally get up and sticker on our faces on in two seconds. Just think! You could be all these different people, but with more free time. Megan Fox face one day, smoked trout the next [same diff?]. Could anything be more fun, while doubling as a direct illustration of the smoke and mirrors that so-called femininity requires?)
Maybe that's the ticket: Telling her to just please ignore all the shit she's going to hear about how to be a lady, and just focus on being an interesting, good and cool person, and to view the rest of it as the equivalent of an amusing app you can download for fun -not the cornerstone of an actual identity. I know it's not what the hamburger jelly shoes people had in mind, but it'll just have to do in a pinch.
Tracy Moore is a writer in Los Angeles whose first face is not bad, but whose second face is objectively DEVASTATING.
Image by Jim Cooke.