I’ve never been much of a girly girl.
I rarely wear makeup or get my nails done. Most days I forget to brush my hair. Waxing any body part seems like a torture designed for others braver than I am.
Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate girly things. Like clothes, for instance. I love clothes. Love. Them. Especially when I was a lawyer and had extra cash. Guess where it all went? Not to vacations or nice cars or nice houses.
I spent my extra cash on clothes. And shoes.
God, the shoes.
I wasn’t exactly Carrie Bradshaw about shoes, but, lordy, did I identify with the moment she realized that she’d spent all of her money on shoes.
When I was an entertainment lawyer, I used to budget for the Barney’s Warehouse Sale. It took place for a solid week in a hangar at the Santa Monica Airport. Racks and racks of clothes and shoes and accessories that changed daily.
Everyone in the entertainment industry showed up, entertainment lawyers like me, agents, development execs, assistants, production people, we all lined up and flipped through designer suits, tuxedos, evening dresses, coats and purses and jewelry and belts. Everyone wanted a deal.
There were no dressing rooms, so I would strip down to my bra and panties–or a catsuit, if I remembered to wear one–and try things on in the aisles.
Modesty and I are only glancingly acquainted.[bctt tweet=”Modesty and I are only glancingly acquainted. #amwriting”]
I once found an Isaac Mizrahi black evening gown marked down from $3,000 to $300. It was backless, sleeveless. Classic. I grabbed it, glanced around the aisle, and stripped down to my panties, bra stuffed in my purse, so I could don the dress and get the full backless effect.
Modesty, I laugh in your blushing face. Buck up and get some balls.
That same shopping trip, I also bought a raw silk, chocolate-brown Calvin Klein pants suit, along with deliciously sensible brown Oxfords. A steal at $600. (My Barney’s Sale budget was big.) The pants suit was severely cut, boxy and mannish and gorgeous.
I loved it even more than the dress. I wore it more. It made me feel more feminine, as if I was secure enough in who I was to dress any way I wanted; as if I didn’t need to dress like a girly girl to be feminine.
I rejoiced in the more “masculine” side of myself, the side that could roll out of bed on the weekends and show up to brunch scrub faced, wearing clogs and ripped jeans. The side that loved to sweat, that would weight train for two hours in the morning and take a spinning class in the afternoon.
I felt free to mix it up back then. Sometimes when I went to work I wore makeup and flirty dresses with spiky heels that hobbled my gate to a mincing crawl. Sometimes I wore my boxy suit with a bare face and hair pinned up with a pencil.
Always, I felt like a girl. Not a girly girl, but my kind of girl. A girl who changed things up, who could be different kinds of feminine, who could rejoice in being a woman on all different levels.[bctt tweet=”Always, I felt like a girl. Not a girly girl, but my kind of girl, who changed things up…”]
Now that I teach and write and spend most of my time in my head, my fashion ship has sailed. Jeans and a t-shirt with a sweater from Ross thrown over it, well, that’s my basic uniform.
I don’t get to change it up as much. I don’t always feel feminine. In fact, I often feel invisible. I’m older now, and older women slowly disappear, no matter how feminine they strive to appear.
Despite feeling invisible at times, I still rejoice in being a woman. I still rejoice in dressing up and dressing down. I don’t define myself through ultra-femininity. I can identify with my feminine side and my masculine side.
As much as I love men, as much as I adore my brother, my husband, my son, my father, I identify most closely with women. I understand their thoughts, their motivations, their desires, their yearnings. It’s not that I like every woman I meet. It’s that I understand them. I can put myself in their shoes and imagine their perspective. I can absorb their experiences and channel them into a character with whom I intimately identify.
Not so much with men.
Men often feel like a completely different species to me. Something mysterious and other. I’m so used to viewing the world through my own feminized perspective that it’s difficult to imagine what it would be like to walk down a dark, empty street unconcerned about whether someone might be following me, someone who could easily overpower me. Someone intent on hurting me.
But it’s not just a lack of understanding. I find myself pigeonholing men, assuming their views, their yearnings, their desires and opinions are usually the opposite of mine.
Which is mortifying. I’m a writer, for God’s sake. I’m supposed to be able to put myself into any character’s perspective.
And yet, when it comes to men, I hesitate to write from their perspective.
Having a son has made me better able to understand men. When my kid shares his struggles with friends, his triumphs and accomplishments, when I watch how he absolutely must throw himself into aggressive games of Nerf war and basketball and wrestling, I see how the testosterone is building up in him and will eventually thrust him into puberty and transform him into a man who perceives the world differently in some ways than I do. But I also see a person whose emotional sensitivity and perceptions are every bit as intimate and observant and real as mine.
And yet I still hesitate to write from the male perspective. I still don’t feel qualified to presume how men think or talk or perceive the world. Which is a bad thing. Men are not a separate species. They are different from women, yes, but each woman is also different from the next one. That doesn’t make me feel as if I can’t write about a woman who isn’t me. So why do I feel that way about writing from a male point of view?
I need to practice putting myself in a man’s shoes. I need to expand my horizons, not just as a writer but also as a human being, by trying to imagine myself in a man’s position instead of writing off that man’s perspective as something privileged and other simply because he has a dick that automatically garners him more respect and authority in our male-dominated society. For me to do so is as sexist and presumptuous as any man who looks at me and sees a twat with tits and nothing more.
Practice empathy. Practice perspective. That’s my new assignment for the year. It’ll make me a better person, and a much better writer.
For this exercise, examine the picture above. Notice how the rider could be anyone, male, female, young, old.
Then write two complete short short stories (each under 1,000 words) in response to the following prompt:
“If anyone could break him, I could.”
Allow yourself 20 minutes to write each story.
Start that first 20 minute timer. Ready, set, write!
A modified version of this post appears as “Girly Girl: The Challenge of Channeling Men” on draft: a blog of process [marginalia].
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