I love being a woman. In fact, given the choice between being male or female, I would choose to be a woman, every time. Even with all the bullshit that comes along with being female–the lower pay, the pressure to conform to traditional societal standards (getting married, having kids, being a “good” wife), the hormones, and of course the added stress of being judged for our exteriors rather than our interiors–all of that shit considered, I still love being a woman.
That being said, I was never one of those little girls who played with Barbies, or dreamed of marrying Prince Charming, content to spend the rest of my days raising his spawn–if I disliked anything more than a Barbie doll, it was a fairy tale. My favorite things to do were wreak havoc on my Big Wheel, tear up the streets with my Evil Knievel action figure, and beat up boys on the playground. My dream was to be Stevie Nicks when I grew up.
While I came to the realization, sometime in my early teens, that there could and would be only one Stevie, I still have no issue going toe-to-toe with a man. I may have taken my fight off the playground, but I have no problem with an occasional verbal joust. Men, in fact, do not intimidate me; if any gender does, it’s women. Women can be fierce.
Our fierceness knows many roles–loyal protector, friend, vicious adversary, foe. Either way, women have the capacity to be each other’s biggest champions or our worst nightmares. We can raise each other up or tear each other down, sometimes doing both simultaneously. But if you are lucky like me, you have a few solid women in your arsenal who are willing to go to battle for you, even when they are not asked to. Men can be great friends; but as a woman, there is nothing better than having strong, supportive women in your corner.
Growing up with an assigned gender in this world, we become immune to the subtle ways in which we are programmed; and it seems natural, until one day something happens, and we are like, “Holy fuck, that’s total bullshit.”
Recently, my friend Matt, a gifted photographer, came over to my house to do a photo shoot. We have known each other forever, and when he is behind the lens I trust him completely. We spent the night experimenting with different shots, and in the end we were left with one photo that was particularly beautiful.
When Matt asked if it was okay for him to post it, I found myself pausing to contemplate the question. I knew the typical response from men would be positive (they are fairly predictable when it comes to visuals), but what I was really concerned about was how it would be perceived by other women. Would they think I was being an “attention whore?” Was the photo too “sexy?” I wondered if this picture would somehow hurt my credibility–my credibility as a writer, an activist, a person–and then I found myself asking if this was something men ever had to deal with.
Finally, it dawned on me that this was just another one of those shitty double standards girls have been indoctrinated into accepting since our childhoods. We’re either “good girls” or “bad girls,” with no in-betweens. We could not possibly be sexy and good; OR, if we are being overtly sexy, it must be for some sort of male attention or personal gain. Finally, if we choose to show our sexual side, there must be something inherently lacking within us.
I am not delusional enough to say that positive responses to a beautiful photo mean nothing to me, that it does not do something for my ego; but I am fully aware that there is a level of artistry, of work, that went into achieving that photo that goes well beyond what people see. Matt toiling over the ideal lighting, the right angle, the perfect moment to take the shot–those are things that are not depicted within the frame.
I also must tell you that on any given day, I do not look like that picture. So if you see it and believe that is how I look when I am walking around the house, you will be horribly disappointed. It’s unrealistic. It’s a moment captured in time, when all of the things were in our favor. There have been plenty of images Matt has taken of me over the years in which they were clearly not. We do not post those.
And yet, still I wonder–do men ever have this dilemma? Do they spend time worrying about a simple picture, and the fact that their entire reputation could hinge on it? This is not a rhetorical question. I legitimately want to know. I am by no means saying men don’t have their own gender-role issues to contend with, but I can only speak for my own. Women are still fighting a very real war that has not only been waged on our sexuality, but on our ownership of it as well.
My husband and I sometimes joke about our equally colorful pasts, but while he rattles off his conquests without a hint of shame, that old familiar feeling of guilt usually clouds my memories. There had been numerous times (more often than I’d like to admit) when my “reputation” among my peers eclipsed me, while his never did. For him, for boys, such behavior is totally acceptable.
This is not to say that there were not some “endeavors” that took place in our younger years that we both wish we could take back, but there is only one of us who has had to live with the stigma of “bad” decisions. We are fifty-plus years post-sexual revolution, and yet still light years away from sexual equality.
Sadly, for many of us, the shame that we were taught to feel about our bodies and sexuality has already taken root. While I try to beat my shame back with the same gusto I once used to beat up the boys on the playground, I still find myself questioning my own morality from time to time. Who knew that one benign photo could be the catalyst for so many thoughts and 1,128 words?
It is my hope that the archaic social construct that dictates “Good girls don’t <insert word here>” will one day be a thing of the past. I’d like to see a world where a girl will never have to ponder such silliness, where she will be free to express all of who she is, because she is beautiful, and complicated, and so much more than just one “thing.”
Author: Cynthia Tarana is a heavily tattooed Ex-Con with no college education and very bad punctuation. She currently lives on Long Island, NY where she pays extremely high taxes, likes to drink, rage against the machine and shop at the GAP.
Contact Cynthia at email@example.com
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Photo Credit: Matt Farrara