Everything is going to be great!
Don’t you just hate it when someone says that? They’re cheap words that come in handy when we’re psyching up ourselves–or someone else–for a march into the unknown, but really. Who do we think we’re fooling? We can’t know the future. And everything can’t always be great. So why do we even bother? I myself would much prefer a “Holy Crap!” a “Good luck,” or even a nice, honest “Yeah, you might be screwed.”
Rachel Shukert, the author of a new book called–ahem–“Everything Is Going To Be Great,” is clearly of the same school of thought. In a piece on The Wall Street Journal‘s Web site posted yesterday, Shukert proclaims herself thrilled at Jezebel’s early review of the book, in which writer Anna North declared:
Everything… does something unfortunately rare in women’s writing: celebrating mistakes.
Shukert says her mom’s reaction was somewhat different, unable to understand why her daughter would want to publish an account of her drunken escapades, her sexually and romantically unconventional (and frequently disastrous) shenanigans. Of her mom’s perspective, Shukert writes:
The girls of my generation were raised to be perfect. Our high-achieving baby-boomer mothers had labored mightily to raise us in a world where our potential would be unfettered. We were supposed to grow up to be physicists and judges and CEOs. Failing grades, ill-advised sexual encounters, or as I did, running penniless to Europe for two years to get away from an expectation of success no less restrictive than one of Betty Draper’s iron girdles (not to mention falling into a painful and destructive relationship with a man who already had a girlfriend): these were more than simply personal failings. These were an affront to the sisterhood, all the battles that had been waged a generation ago in our name. If we screwed up, we were letting the team down.
That is a lot of pressure. And, Shukert argues, it’s not only the judgment from those we’re close to that’s so oppressive, it’s our culture too. Bad girls are vilified; good girls are ridiculed, caricatured as crazy perfectionists–until they’re toppled from their thrones, which is generally met with nothing less than popular glee. This is why, Shukert says, in Eat, Pray, Love Elizabeth Gilbert fell into a familiar trap, compelled to present herself in such an exacting way: self-deprecating to a (well-documented) fault on the one hand; yet–according to Shukert anyway–happy to leave out the real, unflattering details about the demise of her marriage on the other. But really, who could blame her?
Gilbert exchanged honesty for likability, and now she’s being played by Julia Roberts in a movie. It’s a canny trade-off, but it’s one I wish she hadn’t had to make.
Jezebel’s North would say that such reticence to let our flawed, freak flag fly has to do with the fact that, while men can chalk up screw-ups of all shapes and sizes as growing experiences, women aren’t given the same sort of latitude, perhaps for the very reasons Shukert alluded to above–a man is just a man; where a woman is representing the whole damn team:
Near the end of the book, when Shukert is grieving over her breakup with her boyfriend who already has a girlfriend, she tells her friend, “maybe I don’t deserve better. Maybe this is exactly what I deserve.” The friend counters that she’s not a bad person — “you’re just messy.” And indeed, lots and lots of women lead messy lives — but we’re still not supposed to. In a piece called “Screwing Up” at The Good Men Project, Tom Matlack asked men to share their biggest mistakes. They range from the silly — “Drinking a third martini. Then talking.” — to the serious — “Having a child before I was married or ready to have kids.” But regardless of the severity of their mistakes, many of the men think of them as learning experiences. Too often, women are expected to learn without screwing up, to accept restrictions put in place for our own good… rather than finding our own way. And while the latter may be more dangerous, it’s also more exciting — and perhaps more likely to lead to a big and satisfying life. Women may not need to be told that everything is going to be great — Shukert’s title is largely tongue-in-cheek anyway. But we may need to hear that even if we fuck up from time to time, we can still be great people.
We do need to hear it, early and often. As Shukert writes,
Women are constantly judged, so we reflexively judge each other. We’re too fat or too thin; too sexy or not sexy enough; too uptight or too lazy; too feminist or not feminist enough. But in our hypercritical judgment, we miss the entire point of feminism, which was not to transform us all into high-achieving super-beings (or sympathetic victims), but about the universal recognition of the fact that women are as fully human as men…
We are none of us perfect. And that’s what makes us great.
Or, as Wavy Gravy said, “We’re all just bozos on the bus, so we might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.” And guess what? The ride will likely be smooth and bumpy, uncomfortable and thrilling. And boring and beautiful and exciting and awful and nauseating and inspiring. Much like life–and the people who live it. (And much like a night that involves talking after three martinis.) And if we could all learn to cut ourselves–and each other–a little bit of slack, everything will be… exactly what it will be. And that is pretty great.