Saturday, November 20, 2010

There are two kinds of women on the planet.

This is going to be one of those posts that could get me in trouble. And while I welcome – and cherish – all comments, tonight’s little rant is mostly directed at the women reading this, women who may decide never to stop back here, and never comment, again. But I hope that’s not the case because you often prop me up and keep me from teetering right off the edge. (And for the men who read this, and the men who comment: you are some of my favorite people ever, even if we've never met.)

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a theme keep resurfacing in my life and today, a woman I work with synthesized the whole thing in one succinct statement. As we caught each other up on the details of our lives, she explained some of her attitudes and behavior by saying, “You know I’m really gay man inside, right?”

Now, before anyone gets offended, this was in no way a slight to men or women, gay or straight. I knew exactly what she meant. She described herself as someone (in her case, at least partially) driven by testosterone, who is attracted to others mostly driven by testosterone. Put another way, she meant exactly the same thing another friend of mine and I said to each other earlier this week. We were discussing our (admittedly perhaps, harsh) approach to a business challenge and I said something like, “I must have misplaced my estrogen somewhere along the line.” She totally understood what I meant.

Let me sum up here: sometimes I feel like I’m SO not a girl. I don’t understand how women tick, and I don’t mean that in a nasty, catty way. To coin a phrase, some of my best friends are women. It’s just that often, I watch other women, or listen to them, and realize that I’m about seven lifetimes away from doing or saying anything like that. What follows is a partial list of stuff I don’t seem to have a natural affinity toward doing, any inclination to do, or any real interest in pursuing:

Decorations: The one and only time I decorate our home is at Christmastime, and I do have to admit I go a little crazy there. But when my boys were younger, I tried to be a good mom and celebrate holidays in a ‘mother of small children’ kind of way but even I can admit it was half-hearted, if that. (Quarter-hearted?) Suffice it to say I never put out flags of any kinds, or valentine hearts or shamrocks or gourds or turkeys or pilgrims. On or about October 29 each year, I’d unpack a few pumpkins and skeletons from a box tucked away in our storage area and scatter them around. Sometime every spring I’d find some bunnies and eggs, just in time for Easter Sunday. That was it. Absolutely it.

That’s kind of pathetic; you don’t have to tell me that. Put it this way: walk into our house on February 14 and take a good look around. I guarantee you it will look exactly the same if walk in again on July 4.

Thing is: I love to see a beautifully decorated room. I love to walk into someone’s home and see that she’s taken some time to welcome a season or a holiday and has shown it in her surroundings. So what’s with me? How did I not learn this?

Decorations, part 2: sweaters. There are two kinds of women in the world: women who own holiday sweaters and women who don’t. This isn’t a judgment; just an observation. You won’t be surprised to learn I don’t own a holiday sweater of any kind. I don’t know why, exactly. I don’t dislike them, and in fact felt a little out of place NOT wearing one while my boys were younger. Seemed like every woman I ran into at various school events had the season cheerfully displayed on her sweater (some more, err, cheerfully than others but let’s leave that discussion aside for now.)

And yet – never bought one. Never wore one. How did I not learn how to do this? How is this not a natural part of my middle-class American Mom DNA?

Supplies: First aid, snacks, wipes, and various other small miracles women pull out of their purses on a daily basis. I never carried a small bottle of Tylenol, a pack of Band-Aids, tissues, or a small scissors on me to be prepared for possible small emergencies. (Still don’t, to this day.) I never carried a tiny container of goldfish snacks for the boys; I never had a damp washcloth in a Ziploc bag to wipe sticky hands or faces.

I love that some women can reach into their bags and practically stitch up a minor injury or splint a fractured finger on the fly should it be required. They always carry treats, comforting little extras of all kinds and always enough for everyone. Amazing. Admirable. And absolutely foreign to me.

And speaking of their bags, I never quite got that memo, either. I went through a brief purse phase when I was in my twenties, and I sort of outgrew it. Purses haven’t meant much to me since, although I have purse envy quite often. Women always have better, nicer, cooler, more stylish purses than I. And I never really seem to do much about that.

Okay, I think you’re getting the picture here, right?

My point is that given my interactions with the women I mentioned earlier, maybe I’m not such a freak. Maybe there are more of me out there than I think. (Maybe not.) Then again, it’s probably not an accident I would connect with women friends who are simpatico with my point of view.

It could also be that because I’ve been in the workplace for more than thirty years, I’ve lost touch with some of the softer sides of womanhood. The sides that celebrate things like valentine hearts and purses with a million cool little sections to hold dozens of cool little things. The sides that remember that Halloween comes every year at the end of October and any thinking about the costumes the kids would wear to go trick-or-treating should probably take place earlier than the afternoon of October 30.

So is there a conclusion here? Can I really just fall back on my “I blame Gloria” catch-all explanation for everything I find confounding and mildly disturbing about the reality of womanhood these days?

Why yes; yes, I think I can. Somewhere along the line, Gloria and her cohorts planted some kind of seed in at least some of us, a seed that grew into a veritable garden of overcompensating for our gender – as if that were a hindrance - and trying too hard to be “neutral.” At this point in my life, I can’t tell how much of this is me and how much of it is her. And it’s kind of pissing me off to tell you the truth.

But I don’t think I’m entirely a lost cause. I still totally have faith in my shoe-of-the-month club concept, for example. And I have, right now, at least eight kinds of black slacks hanging in my closet because you can never stop shopping for the perfect black slacks. Let’s not even get into my Colin Firth issues.

My real question is: how did I get to be a certain age and still have so many doubts? Are we all kind of faking it – the confidence, the stiff upper lip, the Helen-Reddy-ness of it all? Maybe some of us don’t. I’d love to meet the woman who doesn’t. She would be formidable and fierce and fabulous.

Maybe we all go on ‘girl weekends’ or ‘girl getaways’ and ‘girls night’s out’ or ‘in’ so we can reassure each other that we’re not insane. That taking divergent paths toward womanhood doesn’t mean we’ve traveled on parallel paths that never intersect. Not at all. Sometimes I feel like we’re just a nation of Kate’s and Allie’s, trying to figure out the next steps as we enter the last 30 or 40 years of our lives. And if that’s the case, it feels good to have all kinds of companions along the way.


Anonymous said...

You sound pretty normal, actually. You have more company than you think. But I think there are THREE kinds of women, not two. Many women - myself included - who are career-driven, and hardened a bit to the work world, still have a softer side. And we actually like it. We like Christmas books, although we don't wear Christmas sweaters. We organize get- togethers, buy tons of gifts for every occasion (actually we buy ahead and have them already wrapped), we decorate for holidays, bake, cook, and truly enjoy it. AND we do it when we get home from 10 hours at the office where we have done multiple projects. AND we don't pat ourselves on the back for it, OR bitch about doing it.
We are prepared for any eventuality, although the gluten free snacks, or benadryl, or hacksaw, or garlic powder might come out of a backpack, rather than a purse. But maybe a purse - and maybe even a designer one. We also change tires, mow the lawn, raise money for charity, and watch football and drink beer on Sundays. I grew up in the 60's - was told I could do it all and have it all - and I have, and I do.
From your past few columns, you sound uptight, and a bit angry really. Proud of your hard edge, and a bit down on people with a softer side. Like they're sappy and pathetic. Maybe the negativism is a defense mechanism because of feeling guilty that you're not particularly interested in "women things." That's fine - you're entitled to feel that way.
But you should know that one actually CAN have it both ways - success in the work world (without wearing power suits and heels) and genuine pleasure at putting out holiday decorations, and enjoying drinks with the "girls". We have the testosterone, but also the estrogen, and we know how to juggle both. You might consider writing a column on why your tough chick lifestyle seems to make you come across as unhappy and cynical.
One other thing - you say "slacks" - like the "perfect black slacks." How old are you? Nobody has said "slacks" in 30 years!
By the way, I have not met you, but I think I would like you. And I like your columns, and your "rants." But I guess my "hard edge" comes out in the form of being the devil's advocate. So I had to tell you people can have it both ways. And we like it. There is room for us to peacefully co-exist without judging each other. ( HAHA -or is that what I just did? Can you tell I do columns too?)
Happy holiday season!

renee said...

Thank you for the feedback on the column and - this may surprise you - I think I'd like you too.

First - I'm 51. And what do you call them if they're not slacks?!? Pants? Trousers? ;/

I don't really think of myself as uptight or a bit angry but maybe I am. I appreciate your take on the message and my writing. In my one bit of defense, I'd say the sentimental side I have - which is huge but largely invisible to anyone who doesn't know me well or catch me during a moment right here on the blog - is evident in a number of posts over the years. (Nearly all of them are about my boys.)

Thing is: I do enjoy my work; I do enjoy decorating (Christmas only but still) and I do enjoy drinks with the girls. You mentioned all those things as a kind of conclusion about 'having it all.'

I guess so. It's as good a measure of anything as specious as the idea of "having it all" could possibly mean.

I don't think that means I'm proud of being 'edgy' or disparaging of anyone who cries when she watches "Christmas Shoes." Believe me, I am the Queen of Sappy but I seem to hold it in check somehow. Those kinds of feelings about many different things are always - constantly - irrevocably - mixed with a very, very formidable pragmatic, logical, dispassionate streak.

That's the part of me that makes me feel so out of touch sometimes.
I wish I could give in more fully to the kinds of things I "think" women very naturally think and do.

All of this may have done nothing but muddy the message even more. (I know; it's a gift. Only I could post a comment less cogent than the original post.)

Thank you again for your thoughtful reply. And for the vote of normalcy. I'll take it.
Happy holidays to you, too!

renee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

The simple fact is, Renee, that we can't "have it all," your first commenter notwithstanding (I really have to question how much enjoyment she gets out of life. The "do-it-all" people I've met tend to approach things with a machine-like drive that seems from the outside to take any kind of joy out of what should be a fun task). I think that is where so much of our generational angst comes from -- male or female.

We were told all our lives that we could have it all, but when reality steps in then something suffers -- we sacrifice family time for career or a career for family. Women were told they should be stronger, more aggressive, more opportunistic and men were told they should be softer, more emotional and more approachable. It may work for some, but not for all. We can't all be everything. And we shouldn't try. Baskin-Robbins has 33 flavors because some people want more than vanilla and chocolate. We need different flavors of people, too, because that's what makes life interesting.

So let the decorators decorate, the executives execute and players play. The rest of us -- the overwhelming majority -- will muddle on trying to do our best for those who mean the most to us. We'll deal with our doubts by pushing ahead with what we think is best, at the time. At the end of the day we just have to look back and know that we did our best. And if anyone has a problem with that, then it's their problem, not ours.

One Guy's Perspective

P.S. If you think being a woman who is not into decorating is looked on as strange, try being a guy who really isn't into sports.

renee said...

Thank you for weighing in with an interesting perspective, Anon/O.G.P.

I hope you don't take this the wrong way but it cheered me up enormously to hear that men struggle with this stuff, too. And that trying to balance life doesn't quite work out the way Iron John seemed to tell you it would.

Your phrase - 'know that we did our best' - caught me off guard to some extent. It gets thrown around quite a bit (I've said it scores of times, especially to the boys) and never really considered what I meant by that. For some reason, it jumped out to me today.

This time, instead of focusing on the "best" part, I thought about the "our" part. In other words, my best is mine alone. My dad used to say it to us when we were little and I think he understood the personal nature of the statement, not the "achievement" part of it.

Thanks for prompting a nice memory for me. And thank you again for weighing in with thoughtful feedback on the post.

Richard said...

Lots of anonymous comments on this one, Renee. But I am willing to come out now as a man who's a gay woman inside. [Or maybe it's a gay man - I'm not sure], and I don't care who knows.

I watch NO sports, either on TV or by going to sporting events. Once I went with a group to an Iron Pigs game, but only made it to the 6th inning. I listen to Opera, even my wife hates that. I love "chick flicks" - give my Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn any day.

I will be totally lost on Thanksgiving. Sitting around with the guys, belching and watching football is not much to be thankful for. The women really don't want me around. I guess it's Chutes & Ladders with the nieces and nephews again.

renee said...

Richard! I salute you for your honesty and love that you copped to your true nature.

What do you think; a 12-step program for people like us?

"Hi, I'm Renee."
"Hi Renee."
"I don't own a holiday sweater...."

"Hi, I'm Richard."
"Hi Richard."
"I love opera and chick flicks."

Ongoing support to 'fess up to the entire world - that's what we need.

Thanks, as always, for your feedback here!

herehegoes said...

its different and a good one Renee

renee said...

HHG: Thanks - hope you'll return to the blog from time to time.

Sincerely - thank you for the (succinct!) feedback.