I heard Tina Fey on Fresh Air today. She was talking about a scene where her character Liz tries to convince a new writer, Abby, that she doesn’t have to use a baby voice to get ahead. “You can drop the sexy baby act. And you can use your real voice.”
“This is my real voice, and I this isn’t an act. I am sexy, baby. Get used to it.”
Tina goes on to to say, “That, to me, was what the story was about, that it’s just such a tangled-up issue, the way women present themselves. Whether or not they choose to, you know, as I say, put their thumbs in their panties on the cover of Maxim. And the way women judge each other back and forth for it. It’s a complicated issue…”
She also mentioned the difficult reaction Olivia Munn had received for having sexy publicity photos taken for her work on The Daily Show. “If she were kind of an aggressive, kind of heavier girl with a, you know, Le Tigre mustache, posing in her underpants, people would be like : That’s amazing, good for you. But because she is very beautiful, people are like : That’s — you’re using that. It’s just a mess. We can’t figure it out.”
This isn’t new. I’ve heard women complain for years about how their harshest critics are other women. My most recent ex-wife is beautiful in a striking way, and more than once I’ve overheard her friends swear at her under their breath when she walks in the room before giving her a warm welcome.
Books have been written, studies commissioned, classes taught to explain this Janusian behavior in women. From the idea that some women have more testosterone, which makes them more accepted by men and less tolerant of a domestic life — and which makes them loathed by all the women who have more estrogen — to the notion that the feminist revolution wasn’t powerful enough to remain vital among women over time, which reminds me of college lectures about how the Mexican Revolution petered out as it hit the jungles south of Oaxaca. What is in those jungles that makes it so hard for the ideals of feminism to take hold ? Shoe trees ? Rivers full of skinny water ? I never really bought these explanations, but I didn’t have one of my own that was any better.
But then the other day I was catching up with a friend who is a terrific writer and a new mom. She was telling me about a younger male coworker who hits on her and who she believes needs help for his sexual “addiction”. “It’s revolting. He always talks about ‘banging’ chicks. I always feel so bad for the girl in that equation.”
Absentmindedly, I said something like, “Unless she likes it, of course.”
“Nonsense. Any woman who claims to enjoy sex without having the goal of falling love is delusional and I can guarantee you she was molested.”
I was pretty taken aback by that. There wasn’t much use in arguing the point since I’m not a woman and couldn’t prove to her satisfaction that’s so wrong it’s comical. But later that nigh it struck me how often my women friends explain their feelings about a subject by speaking for all women.
“Hey do you want to go with me to the gun range and shoot some rounds,” I asked one of my women friends. She had never done it before and had no interest, which was fine, but instead of saying no, she said, “I’m a girl. Girls don’t shoot guns for fun, David. That’s a part of the man-penis-industrial complex,” which I have to admit is a great line.
Of course women shoot. Even some of her friends shoot, but she doesn’t really acknowledge that, or she’ll make a qualification like, “Of course Katrina has a gun. She was carjacked when she first moved to LA.” But that is an exception that proves her rule. I could explain that the shooting range is packed with women on their lunch break who like to let off a little steam, that shooting a pistol is actually therapeutic and relaxing. But there is no use in saying anything like that because there is nothing a man can say to convince a woman she doesn’t speak for all women.
When Oskar was a baby, I often took him with me on errands around town. I can’t remember how many times I was stopped in the market or at the car wash by women who were convinced I was holding him wrong or had swaddled him incorrectly. “How do you know?” I learned to ask, after hearing something like that more than a dozen times.
“It’s a woman thing. We just know,” they’d say. Never mind that I’ve been a father three times and have changed countless diapers, can swaddle in my sleep, and know how my sons like to be held so that they are calm and comfortable. Never mind that I know many women who would find holding an infant to be nerve wracking and unpleasant.
I think why “it’s a complicated issue” for women like Tina Fey is that women tend to assume all women are the same as they are.
Men don’t do that. A man will criticize other men, but not because they aren’t like him. Instead, he’ll do it because he has an idea how all men should behave, including himself ; more often than not, he’s hiding the fact that he isn’t living up that that ideal. We aren’t surprised that the secretly gay Republican Congressman is a man or that the abusive meth addict Priest is a man, because men are Janusian in a whole different way.
What’s wrong with men is probably far more toxic and dangerous than what’s wrong with women, but the fix is the same. Stop thinking we know anything about anybody else other than our own self. And even then don’t be too sure.