I’m a girl*. In my earliest days, I was a girl* who liked sports and led my t-ball team to victory. In elementary school, I was a girl* who played on the boys’ team for Boys vs. Girls (a game that has no rules, no points and no victories, except for the effective destruction of Intragender Relations). In middle school, I was a girl* who turned in homework assignments unceremoniously scribbled on pieces of trash I found in my room. In high school, I was a girl* who would rather cuddle with her best friend on prom night than attend an after party with her date (a quirk that would explain itself in a few years time). In college, I was a girl* who eschewed sororities and dating, and pursued a brief and embarrassing comedy career. All the while I was a girl* who wore the same jeans everyday, relentlessly pursued athleticism and couldn’t care less about boys, hair or make up.
You see what I’m getting at here. I’m not your typical girl. But with about 3.5 billion girls worldwide, is there really such a thing as a typical girl? The answer, of course, is no, but growing up, it seemed crucial to both find the key to womanhood, and to traipse through the neighborhood yelling, “I have the key, you stupid hoes. Bow to your woman leader!”
In the early days (she said in a voice worthy of narrating a biblical epic), my mother would plead with me, “be a lady,” or, sometimes, “you’re dressed like a 12 year old boy,” an especially hurtful comment for a girl on the eve of her 18th birthday. With a carrot and a switch she attempted to guide me toward her model of being a woman. At a certain point, I became very good at identifying how I was supposed to act and dress, but I had the energy to fulfill that expectation approximately 10 percent of the time. I thought, perhaps, that as I matured, so would my feminine instinct. I assumed that one day I would be able to wake up, snooze twice, and allow my lifeless form to guide me to the closet, grabbing an outfit that just so totally works.
Recall the old American legend:
A man gets a strange visitor from a land unknown. The visitor has brought with him the traditional meal of his people. He invites the man to try the dish. The man refuses, insists he does not like that food. Finally, after many days of the visitor’s pestering, the man tries the dish. He turns to the visitor and finally confesses, “I do like green eggs and ham. I do like it, Sam I Am.” Powerful stuff.
Anyway, I assume that was how my mother intended my transition to model womanhood. One day, I would just turn to her in a department store and say, “I love this bag from Louis Vuitton. I do, I do, mom, oh mom!” Thankfully, the day never came, saving me from a lifetime of materialism and slant rhyming. I continued to go through my young adult life doe-eyed and panicked, overwhelmed by just how many layers of the Feminine Mystique were still mysterious to me.
Other layers included flirting, lady business and lady business. The former lady business being the general confusion I had about the gender pay gap – a frustration that wouldn’t truly take form in my life until I finally figured out my place in womanhood. The latter was, indeed, a reference to female genitalia.
Let me tell you something, having one (a, erm, vagina), does not entitle you to understanding anything about how they work. One would ordinarily rely on an older female figure for mentorship and, frankly practical, information, but recall that I was raised (or intended to be raised) as a lady.
When I was 11, this is what I knew to be true about S-E-X: A Mommy and Daddy get married and even though they have probably slept in the same bed before, for some reason the magic of marriage turns the bed into a baby making machine and eventually a mommy gets pregnant. When I got a little older and saw my Sims have sex a few times, by which I mean, after forcing my Sims to woohoo frequently with their husbands, wives, and unsuspecting neighbors, I figured out that something about the marital bed involved the particular rubbing of bodies. Then the magic of marriage made a baby possible.
You may be wondering, “how did you account for unwed mothers?” I shall respond as my 11 year old self would: “What is an unwed mother?” You can probably imagine that I lived in a world that was, at least on the surface, devoid of pregnant teens.
“But didn’t you watch television?” To which I respond, “Kindly save your questions for later”
I can’t tell you how my complete ignorance could have developed (definitely because of my non-communicative parents), but I can tell you it did. And I can also tell you that no one’s jaw dropped lower than mine when, in sixth grade health class, we were told that sex involved a penis going inside a vagina.
“What?!” I yelled quite loudly. It was the sound one makes only in moments of true surprise, expecting an echo of “whats” instead of the deafening silence I encountered. I looked around in disbelief hoping to share a moment of bewilderment with my classmates. Nothing. Apparently everyone had already received this information (from their appropriately communicative parents). I looked at my best friend, betrayed. I wanted to hold my mechanical pencil to her neck shouting, “Who are you working with? Who told you?”
Not only was sex a mystery, even the basic mechanics of a vagina were a mystery. I wet the bed late into my adolescence. Way, way too late. One time I wet the bed at a friend’s house. I was nine. I got out of my sleeping bag, couldn’t see anything, didn’t know where the bathroom was and proceeded to simultaneously cry and pee where I stood. My friend gave a very sleepy and apathetic “okay,” when I told her between sobs of breath that I was peeing. Though the suffering of the moment was slightly quelled by her disinterest, when her mother asked us over pancakes if she heard correctly that someone had been crying, I was forced to confess in the sobering light of day that it was I who was crying. And I had been crying because I wet the floor. This was not the only time I peed on a bedroom floor, but thankfully, it was the only time the bedroom floor was not my own.
This is all to say that when I woke up one morning to damp drawers that had a dark, angry, sinful color to them, I assumed that, at eleven, my body was attempting to scare me into compliance. Later on in the day, when I went to the bathroom (in the toilet, like I was supposed to) and found, once again, that I had left an unnatural hue behind, I called my mother in for counsel.
The conversation went something like, “oh my,” or “well well,” or “ho hum,” “wing ding,” “beep boop.” I don’t remember the point at which my mother went from being a human to being a robot, but as I had hardly figured out baby creation, I was, and am, in no position to understand technical advancements in artificial intelligence.
At one point or another, I officially stopped trying to do womanhood right.