I couldn’t tell you when it started, and I probably won’t be around to tell you when it ends, but I can tell you its really shaped the woman I have grown up to be. For as long as I can remember I have had the idea of womanhood, ladylike behaviors and femaleness instilled in me. You never realize as a child, and sometimes not even as a teenager or an adult. Our behaviors, attitudes, and feelings are all shaped by this “reality” that we, as young girls, are going to grow up and become women – our gender is socialized to fit this mold. But what is a woman? Why do all us girls end up at this ending point of her – the epitome of femaleness?
My mother used to tell me “beauty is pain” when I would cry over my pierced ears or complain over how my tight shoes hurt my toes. She would look at me with a sense of disgust when I went to leave the house in sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt – a look I admit is gross, but not for the same reasons she thought – the same way she looks at me with genuine surprise when I have makeup on. She was, and continues to, try to teach me and my sister the proper ways in which women act in society. She never leaves the house in her pajamas, and will do her makeup while driving if she’s late. At home, she is the opposite – slobby (in her own depiction of herself) and not put together. In this I learned the greatest thing I know about being a woman in public, something I have only recently realized to ring true in my own life; that it is an act. That ideal woman I mentioned earlier? She’s a fabricated creature – yet lives on.
Maybe we get our ears pierced because we want them to be, and we wear stilettos because they are beautiful shoes and make our legs look great, and maybe we paint our faces with makeup everyday because we enjoy it. All of this is true, for me at least (and I’m sure a lot more of us), but the truth of it is, it is all a big charade – a way for us as women to feel good about ourselves, look good, and to be “presentable” (another word my lovely mother has instilled in my brain) for the world outside of the comforts of our home.
I don’t go to class in sweats, and I never leave the house without a coat of mascara. I wear high heels because they are beautiful and make me taller, and I stand differently around guys I think are cute. All of this is fine and good for me as an individual (what’s wrong with being a better version of yourself?), but it’s a fake showing on behalf of me to be the ideal woman I see in my mind. My gender is so morphed into society’s depictions of the accurate female I can no longer differentiate between what is socialized and what is not. I see my best self as poised, pretty, clean and put together. I follow through with the actions that get me there – these things I somehow know will make me a lady. I see these things because my mother taught me what it was to be these things – and how if I was them I would always be fine.
I know some people find problems in all this – I stated above that I thought it was fake –but I don’t see them as the biggest battle. Maybe womanhood is defined by gender socialization through images in the media and instilled into little girls by their family, but is that really that detrimental? Is it really that bad to aspire to be sincere, or poised or elegant – or whatever else it is that classifies that ideal woman? I think these are all good things, and I don’t see a person (male or female) being worse off by carrying some of these characteristics in any situation. I know that some people grow to resent the image of an ideal woman – and I know a lot of people identify with different variations of their own depictions of that. My question lies in how, and why, we got this notion of being a woman – and why, despite feminist movements, liberation and education of all, mothers still want the best for their daughters, and that best is somehow associated with the ideal woman.