Thursday, October 15, 2009

Your own woman

It seems to me I spent years, maybe decades, of my life learning to have goals, even dreams. Now I am having to undo them. My fortune, mis- or good, to come of age during the birth and growth of self-help and therapy and feminism. To say nothing of the sixties. All that took me from being a pretty well-trained fifties girl to . . . oh, let's pass over the convolutions of the decades, it all took me to being a fairly free thinker. I see by Wikipedia that that term is fraught with historical meaning, so I'll say, I have ended up being someone who thinks for herself.

I always did have an element of that in me. I remember when we went in, one by one, to get our school pictures taken in sixth grade, the photographer got me on the stool and then - did he actually duck behind a big black thing? - asked, "Do you like apple pie?"

"Well," I started to say, "I like cherry pie better." I was making an error I was to make often throughout my life of assuming that someone meant what they said, not understanding the cultural context. We were not there for conversation. I was supposed to say, "Yes!" and smile real big for the picture (the only shot that would be taken in those pre-digital days). Instead we have a picture of me with my head cocked, disagreeing. Thinking for myself.

Thinking for yourself is absolutely worth it. I can hardly get back to the girl I was when I started college, a girl who believed whatever I was supposed to believe (though what with Freud and Madalyn Murray O'Hare on the scene it was getting hard to know what you were supposed to believe). Mostly, I consented to what authorities said, I suppose everyone starts out that way. It was very difficult for me to wrap my mind around the idea that Huck Finn was an unreliable narrator - yes, he said he was no good, but I was supposed to see for myself that he was good. What? In every book I'd ever read, you were supposed to believe the book.

The American books I read were titled You Can Do It! A new version of this myth appeared in my mailbox today, O, Oprah's Magazine, to which I subscribed in a misguided moment. I should not pay even a paltry $10 a year for anyone to put all these ads in my mailbox, and ads that smell, at that, smell of "fragrances" designed by women who are celebrated for being celebrated.

If I had a mind to do research, I would count the number of times the word "beauty" appears in this issue. This is not about your John Keats' beauty, your Moonlight Sonata beauty, but about the kind of beauty that is in the eye of a man who beholds a woman - woman as a visual object. A very young object of desire.

I don't mind this so much in Seventeen magazine, whatever today's equivalent is. It seems to me very natural that creatures of mating age seek to adorn themselves and attract the opposite sex. And it makes a certain kind of sense that older creatures who subscribe to Oprah and may be unmated but wish to mate again, would try to look desirable. Yet, there's just something wrong about devoting a huge, slick magazine to it. Birds act like this, but we humans have big brains; we could mate with a little more thought than that. We could even have other concerns in our lives besides mating; even women could.

Oprah's magazine, like Oprah, actually seems to think it is all about women's strength and accomplishment. And of course, it has an article now and then along those lines, reminding me of Playboy Magazine, the mainstream source of pornography back when pornography was illegal. Then, otherwise respectable men claimed in public that they read it for the interviews. And maybe women actually believe they read O to be encouraged to be independent, self-sufficient. Some thank Oprah for that, in the brief letters to the editor.

I have many variations on this topic of women as commodity, some of which I spin as I watch the evening news, an archaic habit Tom and I cling to, like some useless old ego. Dr. Nancy Snyderman, I point out to Tom, there's a woman who is dressed professionally - never shows cleavage on the evening news. You'd think the other women could figure that out, that you can't be a cute little sex object and a respected professional. Not only do you not get on the Supreme Court by displaying your cleavage, it would probably mitigate against it. I hope so, anyway.

Remember the line from the film, Working Girl? "You want a serious job, you have to have serious hair." With this Melanie Griffith cut off her long hair and magically emerged with a great-looking NY City haircut that would have cost at least $500, and that was then. Some fairy tales die hard.
[image: My grandson Otto with a Devil Duck on the screened porch - image totally unrelated to contents because I couldn't come up with a good image.]

1 comment:

  1. I finally -- recently-- just let my own Oprah subscription lapse. It was guilty-pleasure bathtub-reading. I wish you could post your sixth grade picture. What a great story!