"I tried to be a girl who likes to be used. But I'm too good for that, there's a mind under this hat," Laura Marling sings in the ballad above, from her 2010 album I Speak Because I Can.
I recently watched the film Far from the Madding Crowd, a 19th century narrative of a woman who inherits a farm, and wishes to remain the mistress alone of this farm--without master, without husband. I was struck by the extreme difficulties the protagonist Ms. Everdene encountered as she strived to remain independent. Just about every man met her with the assumption that Ms. Everdene was incomplete without a master, or waiting around for a husband, and so aimed to fix this area of perceived lacking.
Part of what I found to be so compelling about this film was its relevance today, nearly two centuries later. When it comes to social justice for women, the progress has been immense, and yet there is still room to further our forward movement. Women can be independent today, but there remains a sort of swimming up stream with her solitude. A man alone is a bachelor and a businessman. A woman alone is... what is she? Rejected? Widowed? Waiting? Peculiar at best. More commonly, woman is at the side of man, or grouped together with other women for the purpose of serving man.
This summer, I've been largely on my own. Sure, lots of family and new faces in the Bay Area, but on a day-to-day basis, I'm typically flying solo. The weird thing is, I'm not lonely. I don't feel a loss that can sometimes accompany distance. Instead, I feel space, lots of room to breathe and reflect. I feel expansion. Anything and everything I do, I am doing because I want to. I am the decider. No one to please, no one to impress. I flow from hikes in the Petaluma hills to writing in coffee shops to vinyasa yoga classes to outings into San Francisco. I eat when I am hungry. It's as simple as that. And so, over the past couple of months, I have had the liberating opportunity to reject this role of fitting in nicely and quietly to a pre-designated mold of sidekick, of cheerleader, of the assumed other where many a woman finds herself without choice. This summer, I've been largely on my own.
With this liberty in mind, I revisit a photoshoot I conducted earlier this year with some lady-friends from college, where we brainstormed all of the limiting representations of women in the media, and then set fire to these. We literally bought gasoline and watched them burn, in an effort to say we are more than this.
I speak because I can.
We are surrounded by degrading and inaccurate representations of what it means to be a woman. Why not set fire to these? We are not barbies. We are more than appearance.
Too many advertisements reduce women to appetite satiation. Why not set fire to these? We are not objects of sexual desire. We are more than what our bodies have to offer.
As young girls, we thought of ourselves as either "girly" or not, either frilly dress-wearing or a tomboy. Somehow we equated girlishness to femininity. We know better now. To be a girl cannot be condensed to lace hats and bows. We are far beyond the color pink.
This is the single story of the woman, the superlative: she comes to fruition in romantic relationships, with Prince Charming, red roses, etc. etc. But this is not the reality. ALL relationships are to be celebrated. We are more than a status, and valued far beyond our romances.
We cannot afford to allow the airbrushed image of beauty to sit on the pedestal as an ideal. We don't have that kind of time. The feminine allure is too real for imaginary supremes.
The appropriate aspirations for women: assistants, first ladies, second-bests. But supporting roles cannot contain us. We are not cheerleaders. We are role models and leaders, irreplaceable and unstoppable.