Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Naomi Wolf’

On a recent trip to D. C., I was out to dinner with some long-lost family friends and their very accomplished, 20-something daughter who’d just moved to the city after earning her Masters of Public Administration and subsequently landing a seriously fat job working for the government, something she’s always wanted to do. She’d come directly to dinner from the office — never mind that it was, in fact, a Saturday. She was tired, but lit up whenever she got to talking about what was going on at work. But the second she left the table, her parents expressed more than a little bit of worry: How will she ever meet anyone when she’s working so hard? A standard parental concern, of course, but she seemed pretty happy with her new gig. A gig which, it bears repeating, is seriously impressive — and one she’d worked really hard to score.

I have another friend, a single 30-something living a life in New York City that Carrie Bradshaw would have envied. I’ve known her and her family for years, and her mom always says, Oh, but I think deep down she really just wants to be a stay-at-home mom.

Then: lunch last week, with yet another friend. Young, super educated and very successful. Not that into kids, but considering freezing her eggs. (To the tune of somewhere around $12,000.)

And finally: just today I got an email from another friend — a journalist whose job has taken her around the world. In fact, she and her husband just returned from a year in Africa, an adventure they’d deemed too amazing to pass up. And they were right. Now that they’re back, though, they’re thinking baby thoughts. As in, at 36 years old, it’s now or… well, maybe never — which means not just baby thoughts, but thoughts about boarding the infertility express. (To the tune around $12,000… a round.)

All of which has me wondering: These are all women — happy women — who have experienced some seriously amazing accomplishments, women who are living lives they are pretty happy to be living. And yet, the perception is that there’s no way they could be really happy unless they have a man on their arm and a baby on their hip. Not to say there’s anything wrong with a man or a baby — on the contrary! — but these women are happy today. So why the constant focus on what’s “missing”?

The conspiracy theorist in me sees a touch of The Beauty Myth-variety dynamics at play. Here’s a bit of what Naomi Wolf wrote in the 1991 book:

The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us.

Consider: Recent years have seen major changes in women’s position in society (we’re now the majority of the workforce, earning more degrees, and an increasing number of wives are the main breadwinner in a marriage) and in our behavior around marriage and motherhood (age of first marriage and first child are rising, and numbers of women who’ve chosen to be child-free are steadily on the uptick, as well).

And… backlash!

Recent years also have seen an explosion in what might be described as a fetishization of these traditional female roles. Bump watches abound, and weddings have gone off the reservation. (After yesterday’s announcement that they’re getting divorced, Kim Kardashian’s $10 million dollar wedding on Aug. 20 to NBA star Kris Humphries breaks down to $138,888 a day. That must have been one hell of a cake.) Professional “glamour” maternity photos are becoming as ubiquitous as the professional engagement portrait.

I’m not saying that we don’t — or shouldn’t — want love and marriage and a baby carriage. But if we don’t, the cultural forces at work sure do their best to change our minds.

We have more choices than ever before, and we’ve been told we can have it all. But, instead of fully enjoying what we do have, how often are we worrying over how we’re going to get the parts we don’t? And — worse! — when we’re not worrying over how we’re going to get the parts we don’t have yet, how much time are we forced to spend explaining that, no, we really are quite happy… time that could be spent, you know, actually being happy?

Read Full Post »

This Saturday is my birthday. And while I’ve never been one to turn down a celebration–whether said celebration takes the form of wine, food (specifically the three-course tasting menu at Julienne), or a jump out of a perfectly good airplane–the past couple of years have seen me less and less inclined to announce my birthday. Or, more to the point, my age.

I’ve always looked young, and enjoyed the look of surprise when I’d cop to my age or present an overzealous bartender with my I.D. I never thought numbers would get me down: I’m too evolved for that kind of backwards nonsense! But last year, that number o’ mine hit me like a ton of bricks. It occurred to me that it sounded old. I sounded old.

Shouldn’t I be ashamed of my age? Shouldn’t I be trying to hide it? To defy it? To plump it, color it, tighten it, smooth it?

A lifetime steeped in this culture has me thinking that I should. And yet, those feelings don’t quite fit. I don’t feel irrelevant, invisible, or particularly in need of fixing… But, on a bad day, the crows feet around my eyes make me think not of all the smiles that made them, but that I should feel badly about my age (and maybe start a Retin-A regimen… or start sleeping upside-down to prevent the sag… oh dear gawd, what if things start to sag??), even while the other half of me calls out those thoughts as bullshit. (I’m a Gemini: the twins. I have lots of conversations with myselves.)

So. What gives?

Pondering the true culprits behind the knot that arose in my stomach whenever I considered The Number, a beautiful stroke of serendipity (aka Twitter) delivered to me “A Wrinkle in Time”–Beauty Myth author Naomi Wolf’s recent take on the aging myth. Wolf kicks it off with an anecdote about a guy her age–late 40s–who showed up at a party with a 20-something woman on his arm and, in so doing, became an object of not envy nor admiration, but of…pity. Zut alors! What’s this? And Wolf doesn’t stop there:

I had thought that getting older would be harder. The common cultural script tells us that women lose value as they age and that men will trade in their counterparts for younger versions (because, of course, that would be trading up). Middle-aged women are supposed to face the loss of their youthful selves with grief and anguish.

I look around at the magnetic and dynamic women my own age, I look at my own life, and instead that script seems more like a convenient fiction–designed, as so many aspects of ‘the beauty myth’ are, to make women feel less powerful; in this case, just when their power, magnetism and sexuality are at their height.

So true. But the thing is, we can’t really recognize the script as bullshit until we’re actually old enough to know better. Which means that, even when we’re younger–at our alleged ‘prime’–we’re being made to feel less powerful, because somewhere in the back of our minds, we believe that our expiration date is approaching. And, to quote, well, myself, when it comes to our choices, everything becomes that much more stressful, that much more loaded, when played out against the backdrop of a ticking clock. As women, the message we’re fed is clear: Time is short, so you better choose wisely! You’re only going to be relevant for so long! And what’s most unfair about that message is that, by and large, we aren’t aware of the bullshit quotient until later. How could we be?

Here’s a bit more from Wolf:

The fear of aging was certainly bad when I was 26. When “The Beauty Myth” was published, girls were still learning that they would, like hothouse flowers, bloom briefly in their late teens to mid-20s. After that? Well, it was a steady decline, as the power we derived from our physical appearance dwindled. Our only hope to hang on to an increasingly precarious sexuality and sense of self-esteem lay in magical potions and powders, or perhaps in the surgeon’s hands. Older women were encouraged to see their younger counterparts as threats and usurpers, and young women were expected to see the women who should have been their mentors as faded has-beens, harbingers of their own future decay.

I personally expected that when I entered the middle of my life, I would start to mourn my youthful physical self and that, even though I had thought long and hard about the dangers of the beauty myth, I would feel a sense of existential loss of self when my appearance began to change.

But I am coming out with this and hope that many midlife women will join me: Those pangs of loss have largely not happened. Not for me and not for the women I know and admire.

No? I wondered. NO, she said again.

At midlife, the social ‘script’ insists that we’re supposed to adopt a rueful tone–Oh, that first crow’s foot, that first strand of gray. It’s simply more acceptable for women to be self-deprecating about the signs of aging. But when was the last time you heard an older woman say, in public–‘Actually, getting older is more than tolerable–it’s great!’ Let alone: ‘I really like it.’

So, at the risk of sounding socially incorrect, I am going to deviate from that script, and I invite all women of a certain age to join me. A great many of us don’t feel particularly wistful or rueful about our earlier physical selves. A great many of us really like where we are.

I like where I am.

…To anxious young women, I want to say what I wish more older women had said to my generation: Relax, enjoy the journey and do not worry about the future. There are no wicked witches. It is all good. Really, really good.

And it only gets better.

And that may be the antidote: to tell our younger sisters early and often that we’re doing just fine. As for me, come Saturday, the only magical potion I’ll be partaking of will be of the Syrah family, to toast my 36 years.


Share

var a2a_config = a2a_config || {};
a2a_config.linkurl = “http://undecidedthebook.wordpress.com/2011/06/07/the-birthday-myth/”;

Read Full Post »

When everything is on the menu, it takes an awful lot of willpower to say, you know, I’m not really that hungry. Even if you’re really not that hungry. Even if, in fact, you’re stuffed.

This being the season of the cocktail party, I’m unable to think in anything other than food metaphors, but, in this post, which concerns a recent piece by journalist/author Naomi Wolf–she of The Beauty Myth fame–I think an appetizer allegory works. The piece, entitled “The Achievement Myth,” launches with what has now become the de rigeur bashing of Marcus Buckingham’s take on the study The Paradox of Women’s Declining Happiness, emphasizing that, rather than describing themselves as unhappy:

…the women had told the researchers whom Buckingham cited that they were ‘not satisfied’ with many areas of their lives. If Western women have learned anything in the past 40 years, it is how to be unsatisfied with the status quo.

And thank god for that. Thanks to the women who gave voice to their dissatisfaction and drove the changes of those years, we’re free to seek out better: we no longer have to settle for unsatisfying jobs, bosses, or sex lives. And, as Wolf points out, we’ve gotten pretty darn good at pinpointing our dissatisfaction, and, from there, setting our sights on greener pastures. But the lure of better, the implicit promise of better, well, that’s where it gets tricky. Here’s a little more from Wolf:

But the downside of this aspirational language and philosophy can be a perpetual, personal restlessness. Many men and women in the rest of the world–especially in the developing world–observe this in us and are ambivalent about it.

Indeed, the definition of Western feminism as “always more” has led to a paradox. Our girls and young women are unable to relax. New data in the West reveal that we have not necessarily raised a generation of daughters who are exuding self-respect and self-esteem. We are raising a generation of girls who are extremely hard on themselves–who set their own personal standards incredibly, even punishingly high–and who don’t give themselves a chance to rest and think, “that’s enough.”

Enough. It’s a simple concept–and yet utterly foreign. This is the home of the All You Can Eat Buffet, after all. And when you’re told you can Have It All, well, to settle for anything short of that is… to settle. To turn in your plate before sampling the goods at every station is to miss out on your money’s worth.

Wolf suggests we’d be wise to redefine our definition of success beyond the professional and the external, to include

other forms of achievement, such as caring for elderly parents, being a nurturing member of the community, or–how very un-Western!–attaining a certain inner wisdom, insight, or peace.

…Should Western feminism deepen its definition of a successful woman’s life, so that more than credentials can demonstrate well-made choices? I believe the time is right to do so. As markets collapse, unemployment skyrockets, and the foundations of our institutions shift in seismic ways, this could be a moment of great opportunity for women and those for whom they care.

It certainly could be. And while I am in no position to demonstrate how to walk the line between satisfaction and settling, maybe we could take a lesson from the buffet line. That maybe it’s worth setting the same sort of goal in life as we do in the dining room: like the kind of awareness that allows us pass up the mini-quiches we kind of like so we’ll have room to really enjoy the crab cakes we adore, that places us fully in the moment of bliss that is a mouthful of warm brie rather than the distracted did-I-really-just-eat-14-cheese-puffs? variety blackout, that empowers us to skip the eggnog everyone else tries to shove down our throats but that we actually cannot stand, the kind of consciousness that allows us to recognize the spot where we’re full–and to actually stop there and enjoy the fullness.

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 230 other followers