You might not be beautiful and other things I want to say to the ladies in my life

I've been thinking about being a lady in this world today. Usually I think and write in this blog about being a woman specifically in relation to the sexual culture, but I want to broaden out a bit today because you know what? If the state of womanness during sex is such a hot mess; if we can live in this world fully knowing how women's bodies orgasm, yet ignore that reality at every turn - in our media, our education, and our actual sexual activity - then imagine what other non-sexual aspects of womanness we are treating with similar disrespect and disregard. So, I thought I'd approach the topic in terms of the 3 most common things I seem to hear us woman say to each other to build each other up; that we're beautiful, strong and can do anything we set our minds to.

I love these words in so many ways. I love the immense support I see women giving other women. I love women feeling strong and beautiful and full of possibility. However, I think these words, in many ways, are us ladies making the best of our situation, which is lovely, really, but I want to look at the gritty nasty center of these words and how they speak to the shitty realities of being a woman that we don't usually have time or energy to focus on. I want to do this because I think it's so important to acknowledge among friends, that sometimes things aren't so good. I think speaking truths about hurtful forces in our lives lessens the power of those forces, and I think we need to step outside our day to day lives from time to time in order to see how we might change our world for the better.

So this is for you, my ladies.

My mom and sis and me (2 of the many important ladies in my life. I'd love to add more, but I don't feel right putting all their faces up on my lady-gasm blog)

Dear ladies in my life,

You are all different parts of me. Some of you have helped shape me my whole life. Some of us helped shape each other as we grew into women. Some of you have been important parts of my adult life, some my childhood, and some of you I don’t see all that often and maybe we’re not even particularly close, but you have imprinted on me in some way that feels important. You are fellow scientists, writers, artists, activists, bloggers. You ran for office. You have advocated and volunteered to make your community a better place though boards and charities and organizations. You did all you could to raise people who would give more to this world than they took. You are doing the hard, slow work of parenting as we speak. You educate yourself in both traditional and nontraditional ways and you work. You build, create, innovate, cooperate, communicate, educate, and move. You work.

Some of you were brought into this world with more than others. More emotional support, more money and things, more people around you, more kindness and understanding, more education, more beauty, more positivity, and more sense of normalcy and comfort. Some of you with less. Some were born to the words, “It’s a girl” and others to “It’s a boy.” Some to more medical attention in their lives and some to very little. We are women, but we are all quite different. Our varied experiences gave us differing abilities to soak in, bounce off, embrace and ignore each little thing - the good, the bad and the downright ugly - that our culture insinuates about women. So, although in some ways it’s hard to relate to each other when it comes to our feeling about what it means to walk this world as ladies, I also know we share so much and sometimes it's hard to recognize that inside the nitty gritty of our own lives.

It’s easy to rally with each other around the uniquely exciting and bright parts that our world’s understanding of femininity allows us; the ability to cry, hug and create intimacy in platonic relationships without feeling scared of how you will be perceived, the assurance that nurturing and caregiving for our friends and families is valuable and important work, the acceptance of our prerogative to primp and sparkle and have style, the comfort in knowing that women are traditionally strong in our endurance of pain and in our ability to move through adversity and just get on with it. We can and should be excited that femininity allows and applauds these things. They are good things – not just for us but for all people to have.

It’s also easy to rally around our accomplishments - our shared history of obtaining certain legal rights and certain expectations of respect and fairness. We have come a long way in a short amount of time. It’s not really a matter of if we continue to make progress. It’s inevitable. The gendered stereotypes that held our mothers to restricted life experiences also held men to restricted life experiences, and humans don’t do well with restrictions. I believe the real question is how fast and which changes come first.

It's harder to rally around the uniquely shitty and limiting parts that our world’s understanding of femininity forces upon us, and sometimes even harder to admit to ourselves that we are affected by these forces.  And, I’m not talking about these forces affecting women of the past. I’m talking about us now, living our lives day to day. I think it's important to take a minute and consider what our shared situation of being women might bring to our lives now, the nitty gritty stuff of living as a woman; the stuff that often feels like it’s just part of life, but is actually just part of being a woman in this world, and a part that isn’t necessary or inevitable. It’s the invisible things men don’t have to endure – or at least not to the degree that we do.

I think it's actually hard not only to accept these things about being a woman, but even to see them at all. They are tangled in our shared humanity and have always been there, so it's hard to discern our personal situations and struggles from the shared struggles of womanhood. We often default to assuming our personal failings are to blame for things that actually have more to do with our situation as women. This is certainly true when it comes to orgasm. So, we need to talk with each other in utterly real ways from time to time to even begin to recognize these shared experiences. This was how the feminist movement of the 60's and 70's moved us forward. Women all over the country took part in Consciousness Raising groups where they talked honestly about their lives, and in doing so began to see what kinds of problems out there were common to being a woman and needed to be addressed through feminist activism.

The truth is that the unnecessarily hard parts about being a woman in this world don’t always come from people being outwardly sexist. It also comes from inside us and from inside the people we hold most dear. It comes from a culture that has evolved to accommodate men’s needs more than women’s and to expect different things from men and women. It doesn’t mean that all men or even most men are sexist assholes that disregard women (I mean clearly there are some that do, but mostly not). But it does mean that we all drag some of that culture around with us.

So, I’d like to start a discussion and hope you continue it with those closest to you. I’m going to do that by focusing on 3 things we ladies like to say to each other; that we’re strong and beautiful and capable of anything. I really want to say that to you all, because it’s nice and true in a way, but it also is not completely true or maybe it's more true of humanity than just women, or maybe it's true but not in the way we tend to speak about it. I don't know, but it's not the whole story about women, and it's not what I want to say to you all.

Maybe women feel like we're so strong because life forces us to be strong in ways it does not for men.
Strength comes in all kinds of packages. Sometimes it’s sudden and life dependent. Sometimes it’s short term and all consuming. Sometimes it’s constant and under the surface. Sometimes it takes everything we have to give. We, all people, possess potential for all these strengths, and if you ever really need it, you will dig in and find enough of it somewhere because that is what people do.

But I also want to say that maybe we talk about strength in women so much because women so often are in that position where we are forced to find it. Not necessarily in heroic spurts but in constant subtle ways throughout our lives. Maybe the amount of strength women must conjure into everyday things is more than for men because our culture evolved with male comfort in mind more so than female comfort.

Maybe every time you choose an outfit to leave in, you have to muster a bit of fortitude about your outward appearance; about what it does and does not say about you; about how people will react to you; about the aching sadness so deeply ingrained in all of us that we do not fit within the sliver of acceptable appearance afforded women.

Maybe every time you decide to go on a date or go somewhere alone, you have to overcome all those voices inside you fueled by years of hearing how vulnerable women are and centuries of men feeling like they can prey on women without consequence, and decide to take the risk anyway.

Maybe being the ‘first’ to do a job or to be in the minority population at a job takes a ton more umph to get there, stay there, and fit in than it does for those who’ve watched people like themselves do the job for years before they join and get to be with mostly people like themselves while doing the job.

Maybe we’ve been trained in ways boys were not to notice and accommodate and feel responsible for others, and so we are more often in the position of taking on the everyday drudge of putting others’ emotional comfort and well-being in front of your own,

And Maybe all that takes some endurant strength,

And Maybe women tend to bear this burden far more than the husbands, boyfriends, fathers, brothers and male co-workers in their lives.

Maybe we mostly don’t even notice that we are gathering strength for these things because we just do it. We just get on with our lives, but maybe it’s more draining than we realize, and maybe the next generation of men and women deserve better. So, maybe we should try an recognize this and acknowledge it more openly.

Maybe you're not actually beautiful and maybe that matters too much
I don’t want to tell you that you are all beautiful either. You probably look fine – and a bit better than that if you put work into it. What I want to say is that looking fine is, well, fine, and that we don’t all have the power of great beauty just like we don’t all have the power of great athleticism or great artistry.

It’s fine. You're fine, and I wish beauty wasn't so important that we feel we need to make sure every woman thinks she's beautiful.

I also want to say that I know it’s also in many ways not fine; that the pressure to look a certain way is so very heavy and the repercussions for not doing so are sometimes so severe and painful that the question of a woman’s beauty is not something to be sloughed off so simply. I also want to say that although this affects all women, even the most supermodelly among us, some of us get harshly confronted with their beauty-standard inadequacies more than others, and it sucks, and it starts to scar and twist us in a variety of ways from a very young age. And it’s not just men or ‘others’ or ‘culture’ that make it this way. Just because we are women doesn’t make us immune to the hatefulness toward women’s appearance we see all around us growing up. We often become the aggressors to other women (and certainly to ourselves), sometimes in silence and sometimes out loud and sometimes even with what we feel is good intent.

There is no easy answer to this, but I can tell you that although all people battle with this, women take the bulk of the hit, and you’re allowed to be sad and mad and hurt by this, but please don’t ignore it. We can’t change something we refuse to see clearly.

Maybe you can't actually do anything you set your mind to...at least not in the same way men can
I would also love to tell you you’re capable of doing anything you set your mind to, and you are. But, I think we should be real with each other about the obstacles. People still use gender stereotypes to box men and women into ways of being and jobs to do. This affects how easy it is to do things we might want to do. It just does, and although you can do whatever you want, you might have to bust shit up on your way there. It might be hard.

Let me just use female orgasm as an example. Yeah, you are fully capable of having an orgasm when you have sex with a man, but you're probably going to have to bust some shit up first...like:

It seems on paper like the ability for a woman to have an orgasm while having sex with her male partner should be just as natural as can be, but it’s not. It’s really not. Although women’s bodies are capable of orgasming as quickly easily and reliably as men’s they often don’t in a partnered sexual situation, and it’s due to the ways of the world, not biology, or personal problems or bad communication. It's because the culture is BS for lady-gasms and needs to be changed...we just don't notice how BS it is most of the time, because we just think it's the way things are and get on with our lives.

So if something as natural as our ability to have an orgasm when we have sex with a partner has been so strongly and deeply impeded by the sprawling roots of our male-centered history and norms of our still very gendered society, then imagine how problematic other things like stepping into a male dominated profession, or maneuvering a home life with non-gender-traditional roles, or creating gender progressive policy and laws might be.

So talk to each other, honestly. You deserve to see when your problems are not just yours and yours alone. You deserve to grieve together when your precious reserves of human strength are wasted on everyday bullshit to a degree that men's, in general, are not. You deserve to investigate with each other how your beauty, or lack thereof, defines and traps you in ways it does not for men. You deserve to understand the reality of the subtle and rarely discussed hurdles that await you as you seek to do or be things outside the norm in our male centered, gender-role obsessed world.

Women, like all humans, are survivors, but we need each other to not just survive, but to grow and change and make the world better.

Love to you all,

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