One of the courses I randomly took was Children's Literature. Some friends from my program thoroughly enjoyed children's literature and would often refer to books from their childhood as "high-art" books. As I had never read most of them growing up, I felt left out, and like I would gain something from reading them even as an adult. And so, I took a Children's Lit class hoping to gain a better childhood... It didn't change what happened to me as a child, but it did help me understand my world at the time. For my first example, let's take Little Red Riding Hood, a classic fairy-tale derived from the oral Story of a Grandmother:
There was once a woman who had some bread, and she said to her daughter: "You are going to carry a hot loaf and a bottle of milk to your grandmother."
The little girl departed. At the crossroads she met the bzou, who said to her: "Where are you going?
I'm taking a hot loaf and a bottle of milk to my grandmother."
"What road are you taking," said the bzou, "the Needles Road or the Pins Road?"...
Thus began my own journey to Grandmother's House...
The most popular (and feminist) analysis of this oral tale revolves around these two paths. It is assumed that this path represents a woman's maturity. During the popularity of this tale, it was customary for young women to spend a year working for a seamstress. Although cloaked as a year of apprenticeship, the intention was more for refining one's self, or "maturing." Just another name for a Quarter Life Crisis? Of course, if it were a real apprenticeship, the woman would find herself sewing clothes for the rest of her life, which always sounds like a dream come true! If the woman was business oriented, of course, this would have been. And, during this time, "business oriented" meant that you would spend the rest of your life as a spinster. This time of "maturing" is represented by the path of the Pins, objects the young women would spend their time collecting as apprentices. The other path, that of Needles, is suggestive of Prostitution. In many European areas, during the height of this tale's popularity, prostitutes would wear a needle on their blouse to indicate their profession.
Despite the last hundred and fifty years, I have found that these two paths for women have not changed that much. We may be able to run companies, fly planes, stay at home with our children, or choose whatever career we want, but we still have to fit in one of two sexual categories: spinster or prostitute.
So, what's wrong with being a spinster?
Hmmm...now, let me think:
- The occasional case of the Lonelies: a dipildating disorder often accompanied with depression, the drinking of red wine, alone, in your apartment, while searching through the most recent on-line dating service to catch your attention.
- The constant feeling of inadequacy because you don't begin every story with "we," "my boyfriend says," or "while waiting for ____ to get home..."
- Quietly grinding your teeth in agony when people laugh at the movie, "40-Year-Old Virgin" as you fear you may awkwardly become one.
- Having new friends look at you in awe when you reveal your curse of singledom since "You're so outgoing! How did that happen?"
- Feeling ridiculous about beginning every story with "my cat," although he's the only male who has the capacity to love you (...because you feed him and he has to).
- Cheating at the "Have You Ever" game so that people don't realize you really are that innocent...and still being the most sober person at the end of the night...
- And above all that, despite the short flings you've had with random men over the years, a friend mistakes you for a lesbian and you begin to believe that's why your relationships have never lasted longer than a month... You then begin to regale her with tales of your most recent heterosexual "conquests."
What's wrong with being a slut?
- Winning the "Have You Ever" drinking game...even by ignoring the few items brought up because "what you don't remember, didn't really happen."
- The nickname of "BJ" for all the work you do in the men's washroom...and never being able to wear pigtails again.
- Having the condom fall out in the hostel's communal washroom and trying to remember the man's first name, let alone hoping to find his phone number.
- Your best friend from high school looks you up on Facebook after spotting you on the latest edition of "Girls Gone Wild."
- Being drugged by a friend of a friend because you wore a mini-skirt to the party when everybody else was wearing jeans. Believing that you deserved it: "It's not rape if you giggle..."
- Knowing that the scariest thing to come from a one-night-stand is not a pregnancy, but allowing your coworkers to believe that's why you need to leave before the clinic closes for the night...
Being A Slut Is Not That Bad...
Have you ever watched Sex and The City (SATC)? If not...well, do me a favour and watch an episode of it. Here you will find the BEST example of a sexually confident woman, Samantha Jones. And, despite Ariel Levy's rant against Girls Gone Wild, this ideal of a sexual confident woman existed BEFORE the show gained its notoriety for allowing women to expose their bare chests in order to win a free T-shirt. In fact, I have a memory from grade school (of all places) where we discussed the loss of one's "V-card" based on how an older girl walked. Later, I would realize that losing one's virginity does not change one's posture. Being confident with one's body, on the other hand, does. Are the two intrinsically linked?
Being A Spinster Ain't That Bad Either...
No. Confidence is superfluous to sexual activity...or maybe that's the other way around. Just think about those women you know who are so very focused on their careers. Climbing to the top of the company has had NOTHING to do with their level of sexual activity. That's right - smart women don't have to sleep their way to the top. And that young woman "saving herself" for marriage has some of the most amazing confidence I've seen in somebody that young! People mock them, people judge them, but spinsters by choice are the most wonderful peopl I know...if only because they never seem to get all wrapped up in this whole concept of the two different paths laid out in front of us.
A few weeks ago, on a similarly sunny afternoon, I found myself reading old women's magazines in a library I used to frequent during the beginning of this Crisis. I'm not even sure what it was I was looking for, but what I found was one of the most helpful articles I have ever found in a women's magazine. And I've read a lot of magazines since university - specifically searching for the kind of inspiration and confidence that this article was able to provide me.
The writer went through her own journey through the troublesome "single" twenties...and thirties. Her embarassment came from always having to tell new dates how long her last serious relationship had been, rather than the non-existence of one. She went through stacks of books on "how to catch 'the one,'" be the "perfect girlfriend," or even just how to "pick up men." All of them said the same thing: change yourself - be perfect - and he'll find you. "Bullpucky!" she said. Many of her friends in relationships were complete and utter messes, yet they'd found somebody to spend the rest of their disastrous lives with. How? She realized they had just been lucky. It had been magic that finally worked for her friends...not some miracel book, cream, or a set of rules that they had followed...
So, she waited. She focussed on her career, and her life, and may not have made herself "perfect," but was happy enough with who she was, as most women in their forties finally become. And then "magic" happened. She started dating a divorcee who eventually asked the inevitable question, "how long since your last long-term relationship?" Her response of the last fifteen years of dating disasters did not scare this "magical" man awy... "Hmmm, their bad luck, I guess, and my good luck..."
And Other Fairy Tales We Create For Ourselves....
So, it's not the girls of the 21st century who need the fairy tale stories anymore, but the single women. Here we are in a society where the average age of one's first marriage is 27 and we begin to worry about getting there by 19. We need all the stories of "magic" to get us through those next eight to twenty years if we have any hope of remaining sane throughout it all...
We're not alone, though. I realize that this whole discussion of heterosexual dating choices has been entirely based on the woman's perspective, but men struggle with it, too. And that's the real aftermath of the sexual revolution. We've gotten the vote, we've gotten the position of CEO, and then we threw out the wolf with the big bad heart ("all the more to love you with, my dear") just to avoid ever having to walk down those two paths again.
Maybe that's why I have such a problem with "progress"...