Life as an Extreme Sport

the feminist romanticization of womanhood

At the height of the Vietnam era, the women’s liberation movement and the antiwar movement were cross-pollinating, forming hybrid ideologies. The idea that grew from this period and gained ascendancy in popular media representations of feminism and “women’s lib” – the version fo the feminist zeitgeist I saw on TV as a girl – was that women were natural pacifists. If women had been running the world, the argument went, the war would never have happened. In [Gloria] Steinem’s formulation, women “communicate,” while men “subjugate.”
-Emily White, Fast Girls: Teenage Tribes and the Myth of the Slut

Although Emily White writes of a childhood slightly before mine, I too grew up with the ever-present notion that women were the caring nurturers, who, if they could have control of the world and its power structures, would instantly create a peaceful utopia full of flowers and fawns. I actually believed it, too, until ten or eleven, at which point I made a serious, moral transgression against women that tipped me into the category of the “other.” What did I do? I hit puberty earlier than most girls. By the time I was twelve, I had the body of a mature woman – full hips, breasts, curves in all the right places. And by becoming different, by needing a full bra and underwire when classmates were in padded training bras, I became the subject of debate, conversation, ridicule. I was the sexualized, terrifying self they could see in themselves, a shadow made light and visible. And more to the point, I was a threat.

Emily White goes on to talk about the creation of the high school slut, a label I “missed” out on, largely I believe by virtue of leaving high school early. It was only through luck, or perhaps naivete on my part, that I wasn’t so labeled at the junior high level. Naivete because I’m not certain if there was that label to begin with, or if I just wasn’t aware of it – certainly the name calling that focused on my anatomical bits existed, but we were all somewhat in the dark and mystified by the concept of sex. It was still urges and longings that were unexpressed and perhaps unexpressable.

Still, it was this era, this age of pre-high school, ending of childhood and entering adolescence that shattered my innocence about women. Women were not kind, nurturing, peaceful souls. They were vicious, backstabbing, violent and cruel, willing to throw you to the wolves and torn apart if you looked different, dressed different, acted different. To have your own body betray you to these supposedly compassionate and caring people, to leave you subject to their cruel ministrations… it was the ultimate in betrayal, on a level of self and of society.

I remember writing, once, in tears for having been called some cruel name or other, that if these were the peaceful women who could bring us utopia, just let the men keep power – it wasn’t nearly so hard to deal with.