As you may have heard, I'm a W-O-M-A-N.
Enough of a woman to be very concerned with the current state of womanhood, and enough of a feminist to have majored in Women's Studies in college. (Although enough of a skeptic to be so woozy about the current state of feminism that I neglect to mention what my college major actually WAS in that biographical information in the sidebar to your right.)
And my thoughts about the current state of womanhood? They come down to. . .
. . .ugggggggggggghhhhhhh.
One of my favorite activities recently has been to sit down and watch The Bachelor with one of my lady friends (who are all [you will be completely unsurprised to learn] smart, weird, and beautiful).
I watch that show because one of my favorite genres of things is those that address the question, "How Do _______ People Fall In Love". (Fill in the blank with various things and it's the basis of a good deal of culture!)
In The Bachelor's case it's "How Do Super Mainstream Normal White People Fall In Love". I mean that show has the white-breadiest vision of romance you EVER saw. There ain't hardly a shot wherein you cannot find at LEAST one candelabra and at LEAST one red rose.
And so it's fricking enjoyable! I read somewhere very recently that reality TV is the art of putting people in manufactured situations and documenting their authentic emotions. The Bachelor does that very well.
Part of what makes it fascinating is that the women in the show are so aggressively normal: Catherine, 26, Graphic Designer, Seattle WA; Lyndsey, 24, Substitute Teacher, Fort Leonard MO; these words will pop up under her face at least three times per episode. They are supposed to be like women you know, which is why it's so weirdly compellingly schadenfreude-y to watch them do insane and cheesy things like just happen across an interesting ethnic festival as they browse a flea market in the beautiful capital of this obscure tropical destination*.
*This message brought to you by The Tourism Ministry Of This Obscure Tropical Destination. I told you this shit was white bread.
But what's particularly compelling about THIS season of The Bachelor is that the beast has finally become self-aware.
So these totally normal women (Lesley M, 25, Political Consultant, Washington DC; Desiree, 26, Bridal Stylist, Los Angeles CA) are still saying things that make you roll your eyes, but they are saying them like this:
"I would always be sitting at home watching and I'd be thinking, 'how could you let this happen to you??' but now I am here and I don't understand why but this is happening to me! I am in love with Seeeeeeeeeeeeeean and I can't wait for our one-on-one date swimming with the dolphins and drinking enormous glasses of white wine!"
And you know what? I find that charming and relatable. I'm not going to get caught up in thoughts like "well I would NEVER go on The Bachelor so I can't believe SHE did and SHE DESERVES ALL THE HEARTBREAK SHE'S GOING TO GET!". (Which I have to admit is I think in some ways the underpinning of The Bachelor. One of the underpinnings anyway. An underpinning I prefer to avoid because it seems pretty jagged and rusty, metaphorically speaking.
But their hearts almost always will get broken. That's just the odds of the show.)
I think my ability to empathize with the contestants on The Bachelor simply comes from my ability to empathize with other women. A quality I am extraordinarily grateful to have because of how much it truly makes my life better, but that I also think is not exactly nurtured among women right now.
(And yes, I do think that at the end of day it's important to boil it down further to "empathize with other people" and "not exactly nurtured among women or men right now", but it's not quite the end of the day and I am talking about only women.)
I could get into all the ways that I think a) it's important to acknowledge that media has a huge impact on our collective psychology, b) that media is also a barometer for our collective psychology, and c) that depictions of women in the media of our day are extremely fucked up.
And not just unilaterally fucked up but also mixed up. Like "Oh isn't Mad Men such an interesting show about the terrible lives of women in the 1960s, glad we got all that figured out! Coming up next: Curvaceous Mad Men star Christina Hendricks shows off her new engagement ring on the red carpet!"
Or "Sheeeeeee's wearing a bow in her hair! Sheeeeeeeeee's got kittens printed on her knee socks! Sheeeeeeeee's talking about how she can't make macaroni and cheese without burning down her house! It's The New Girl You're Supposed to Look Up to!"
It's a pretty clear illustration of how it's very difficult to feed any human concept into the media machine without it coming out the other side as a grotesque cariacature of itself. (This is where I also note that I have no issue with the show Mad Men myself and am an avid fan. It's the media coverage of Mad Men that gets me down.)"Women have gained several tangible important civil rights since the 1960s" becomes "Women had terrible lives 60 years ago without exception and now without exception everything is all better". "It's okay for a woman to be imperfect and not 100% in control of her life!" becomes "The more quirkily incompetent you are at everything, the more attractive you are!".
It's frustrating that these are the end concepts I see around me, but also encouraging because I do feel that those original thoughts have a lot to them. So we are still getting weird views about women, but at least they reflect something sympathetic to the general cause.
And what's the general cause, for women? I'd put it like this:
- Women helping other women in a real and kind way.
- The acknowledgment that we didn't solve all of the world's problems between the years 1960 and 1980.
- Encouragement for women to define themselves by themselves and not by either other people (husband, children) or by arbitrary milestone concepts (marriage, babies)
This is much too big a topic to address in a single blog post, and I have to get going to my second viewing of The Bachelor: Sean Tells All, but I'd like to also connect it to music because that is also something that my blog is about.
And so I thought I'd tell you the song I am listening to right now this very minute as I write this post, which is sung by a woman who has been defining herself by herself since she descended to this planet in a shower of purple glitter (I have to assume she was not born in the traditional way):
It always comes back to Cher.
The song: Cher, "Just Like Jesse James"; 1989