What being a woman means to me: A Writing Challenge

A friend issued a writing challenge, asking to answer the following three questions. Below is my entry.


(1) What does being a woman mean to you?

I realized right away that the way I wanted to answer this question was to start highlighting the many incongruities with the concept of “womanhood” and what womanhood actually means to me. In other words, it was going to be an essay about what it doesn’t mean to be a woman.

It doesn’t mean I like shopping, or babies, or makeup, or that I have a vagina. Being a woman has nothing to do with my anatomy or my hobbies or my sexuality or my talents.

So I spent a few minutes trying to figure out what it does mean.

I think that being a woman means learning to adapt to a world that insists on making decisions for you. It tries, at first, to make you believe that this is the world you want to live in – because “decisions are difficult, and women are weak, or emotional, or incapable – and as a woman, it is a relief to be given all the answers.”

And when, as a woman, you begin to question that – because, at one point – we begin to question that, you face the many ways that the world continues to manipulate you into staying inside the nice, comfortable box they have designed for you.

I think that being a woman means learning to adapt to being consistently underestimated. Some adapt quietly, some react with defiance – but regardless, it is a fact of life for a woman.

I think that being a woman means absolutely nothing, because “woman” is a socially constructed label.

Being a woman means that I am a person.

And being a person carries far more relevance in my world than being a woman.

(2) What about being a woman do you want or would you impart to your own daughter by the time she reaches adulthood?

Were I to have children, I would want them – regardless of gender – to understand and respect the power of living authentically. With respect to women, I would want them to understand that our society will attempt to erase their individuality while simultaneously selling on all the ways they can be more special. I want them to understand that so they can never fall victim to it.

I also want them to understand that those who hold tightly to the systematic oppression of women are often as much victims of the patriarchy as we are. When we confront these ideas, we are confronting their stability. Instability frightens people. Fear makes people feel attacked. People who feel attacked attack back.

I would want them to understand the difference between forgiveness and understanding. One must strive to understand their oppressors, but to forgive them is a personal choice, and not one I’d likely to make without a sincere apology.

At the same time, I want them to understand the power that forgiveness gives them over their own pain. When they are ready, I want them to embrace that power for themselves.

I want them to understand the importance of respecting nuance, imperfections, and the diversity of perception. I want them to embrace the challenges of facing our own imperfections and learning from them to become more enlightened members of the human race.

I want them to love themselves and to not feel like doing so is a sign of selfishness. I want them to love themselves so well that the people who love them have a template for how it’s done properly.

An I’d want them to know that regardless of who they are, who they love, or how they choose to express that love – they would never lose my respect, unless they willingly harmed people without consent.

(3) What would you impart/share with her around the age of 13-14 as she’s entering her teen years?

There’s a part of this I’ve written before:

By the time my step-daughter wanted to read the Twilight series when she was in her early teens, I’d already read them. I told her she could read them on one condition – we had to have a chat first, and we’d have to have another chat before she got to the final one.

All her friends were reading it so she agreed to the chat.

Here’s the gist of what I told her:

This book makes the bad guy sexy. He wants to hurt her but he loves her. She is the ONLY one that drives him this kind of crazy and because he loves her so much he holds the whole “I want to kill you” instinct back. This is not a healthy relationship. This book will make you want that guy, and it’s okay to fantasize about that guy – but that guy is not the right guy when you start actually dating.

By this point in her life, my step-daughter had not yet given us many clues as to her sexuality. She had admitted she liked boys, but had not denied that she might also have an interest in someone who was not a boy.

And if she had shared with me that she might be into dating someone other than a guy, I’d probably have done a lot more reading with her on what some of the challenges and hardships that are inherent in that. I’ve recently become aware, for example, that there is inadequate-to-zero sex-education for lesbian teenagers leading many to find out much later than necessary about safe sexual practices, and have some confusion over what “losing one’s virginity” even means.

So, yeah. Right around when the hormones are about to hit – my priority would be to help my daughter prepare for them.

1000: Even deeper than I thought I’d go

I began blogging on FetLife (a kinky social media site) close to three years ago. Today I reached the milestone of my 1000th post there (many of which began crossing over to this blog about a year ago). That’s the context you need to have the post make sense.  Carry on. 


When I first started writing on Fet, it was in the wake of heartbreak and renewed hope. When my writings first started getting noticed on fet, it was in the wake of even more heartbreak and lost hope.

The more I exposed my pain and vulnerability, the more tenderly I was received. It was a light in a dark tunnel, and I followed it through.

But there came a time when I realized I was perhaps exposing too much. I don’t exactly recall how I came to this conclusion – but, it was (at first) a suggestion made by someone else.

That someone turned out not to be compatible for friendship, but nonetheless – their suggestion remained present in my mind. I was able, eventually, to recognize there were some unfortunate consequences to my oversharing, but they ran deeper than the ones I’d been warned about.

I’m not having a good day.

In fact, I’ve not had a good couple of days.

Relax: I can handle it. It’s okay for me to have bad days. But, it’s been a while since I’ve felt so low. I am experiencing emotional doomsday feelings where my mind travels to the worst places, and drag up memories of the most helpless moments of my life. I am also experiencing physical manifestations of the anxiety that has been dragged upward – the choke-sobbing fits and the acidic ache in my chest and knotted pains in my belly that won’t seem to pass.

I feel, at any moment, like I could give in to the bubbling emotions just beneath the surface and go into a full blown anxiety attack. And for teetering moments at that edge, I almost want to do it – if only so I can let it all out and find myself in a state of dulled emotional capacity on the other side.

Though it has been some time since I’ve been in this state, it is one with which I am familiar. Reverse back a few years, and this is a shadow of what I used to experience on a near weekly, if not daily, basis.

I know what this is.

I also know why it’s here. Not just the obvious catalyst for its arrival, nor even the underlying essential motivations, but deeper down to the fathoms of my existential being, – the stuff I think most people don’t access on a regular basis – I do. I’ve got my number.

1,000 posts ago I’d have shared those details. I’d have given you, the anonymous reader, all of the data: the catalyst, the motivations. I might have, by the end of the essay, drawn a line toward my existential conclusion.

And the reason I’d have done that? I’d have painted you a word-picture of my pitiful state for the purpose of gaining your tender support. It’s a form of manipulation, but not in a nefarious way. After all, writing and story-telling of any kind is a form of emotional manipulation.

So yes, I’d have explained the who, what, when, where, and why of my despair and swam in the soothing elixir of your concern.

It’s what I needed then. But, over time, I became dependent on it. It became a crutch without which my emotional limp would heal but never reach maximum strength.

Now, 1000 posts later, you’re not so anonymous. I know who many of you are on some level.

I also have, for perhaps the first time in my life, an understanding of who I am independent of my relationship to anybody else, (including family, friends, lovers, husbands, stepchildren, or colleagues).

I exist as a person on my own. The people in my life closest to me that inspire love and affection provide an enrichment that I’d never want to take for granted, nor mistake for the emotional equivalence of oxygen.

What’s this got to do with my bad day?

Well, that’s just it. It’s my bad day. I know why it’s here and what caused it, and I’m well aware that it will be fleeting.

So, while I feel the urge to tell you all about it – to dive into the details of the why and how I’m feeling the way I feel – I also now know that the resulting concerned feedback does not help to achieve my purpose.

I just want to share. I just want to to share my truth. I want to illuminate that even one with a charmed life can sometimes struggle – not for the purpose of eliciting your pity, but in an attempt to narrow the chasms that sometimes separate us.

We all suffer, in varying degrees and for different reasons – but we all suffer.

I don’t want to feel separated from humanity. My current (and admittedly temporary) state of despair should not serve to isolate me when, in fact, it has so much potential (and history) of doing the exact opposite.

I want to tell you that you’re not alone, because – in doing so – I remind myself that I am not either.

The ol’ switcheroo

“Bear down on it,” he ordered. I was naked and collared, on my hands and knees at the foot of the four-poster bed, around the leg of which he’d used a thigh harness to strap a large, purple phallus at the exact height required for my impalement.

Just kidding. I’m not telling that story yet. I have things I want to say, but the people I want to share these thoughts with are the ones would only get this far into my essay hoping for more of that story.

I’m talking about the people who put up walls and tune out when certain words are uttered. They respond to words like “privilege” and “patriarchy” like I do to words like “prayer” and “God.”

Those are words that make me uncomfortable. They’re the words that expose the bias I have against all organized religion and religious people that’s similar to the bias our current administration has against people who are Muslim or brown in general.

Religious people frighten me because of the atrocious things done in the name of religion throughout humanity’s history. But, I remind myself that #notall religious people are power-hungry, hypocritical, selfish, and hate-filled people. That’s what separates me from this administration and its followers: I wouldn’t kick all religious people out of my country – but I admit that I sometimes fantasize about what this world might be like if nobody had ever invented religion.

So, here I want to share my thoughts on so many of the subjects that would include words like “privilege” and “patriarchy” and “equality” and “marginalized” and “personal agency” and “women,” and I know that the people I want to reach have already bailed.

They don’t want to be made to feel guilty.

But that’s the thing. I’ve found in my own life that digging in at the things that inspire icky feelings like guilt or resentment has been the first step in my moving past those feelings. Similar to how it works in the final stage of mourning, it’s acceptance. Those of us who cling to the #NotAll when we’re feeling lumped in with a group that does bad things need to lean into the discomfort of being seen as #OneOf and make a conscious choice to listen to those who have been affected.

That’s it. Just listen. Don’t argue. Don’t #NotAll. Just hear out the people whose words bring up those yucky feelings and try to empathize. If there’s something you don’t understand, ask the question – respectfully. And if they don’t want to answer it?

Then keep making an effort to listen. Go in search of the answers by others who have already shared their truths with the world. All the answers are out there.

Eventually you might discover that there have been some instances in which you didn’t do all you could to help their cause because it was easier for you not to, and that the only person that’s making you feel guilty is you.

All guilt ever did for me was two things: 1) make me feel resentful, and 2) make me react defensively.

But after I decided to confront that discomfort and take ownership over my part in these things, the guilty feelings started to erode. You don’t have to take the blame for the continued existence of all the isms and the phobias: just recognize the areas where you have inherited an advantage and accepted it without question. Once you do that, you might find yourself able to let go of the guilt and start taking action to help our shared society move past this.

Listen – not everyone’s gonna welcome you as an ally. You just have to do your best to be the best version of a human being you can be. But don’t cut corners – if you are able to tune out the injustices of the world, that’s evidence of your privilege. If you choose to tune it out, then that’s when you are part of the problem.

This from someone who tuned it all out in the wake of her husband’s unexpected death because she couldn’t handle negative information. I recognized my privilege. I know why I did it. I would counsel someone struggling with that degree of trauma to do the same.

But not everybody can. There are people whose lives and livelihoods are constantly under siege and have been for a long, long time. They don’t have the privilege of tuning out injustice, because it is part of their daily lives.

So I won’t tune it out. Not anymore. Not because I feel guilty, but because I feel it’s right.

That’s not the same as disconnecting for a night and focusing on the things that bring me joy for a few hours. That’s self-care. Deciding that I’m just not going to think about, talk about, or pay attention to politics at all, or go pretend I’m still ignorant of the issues facing marginalized groups? That’s tuning it out.

The people who have read this far already grasp this. As soon as this post was not about the time I was ordered on all fours to be fucked from behind by my bedpost while my lover knelt before me and jackhammered his lust into my hungry and willing mouth, the ones I wanted to reach had already tuned out.

But those of you who stuck it out this far, at least get to know how that story ended 🙂

Good Girls Revolt (quietly?)

I spent the day yesterday watching the one season of “Good Girls Revolt,” an Amazon original that had sneaked under my radar when it was released a few years ago. It’s historical fiction based on the real-life 1970 lawsuit filed against Newsweek by 46 of their female staff for gender discrimination.

Only 10 episodes. Worth the watch when you have some time.

Anyway, as happens in most cases when there’s a female-driven ensemble cast, I find myself relating to pieces of each of them. And, as I’m pretty sure I’ve written before, I know this happens because characters in stories tend to be one-dimensional for a purpose, whereas real-life people can be unpredictable and have fluctuating wants/needs and personalities from day to day.

So, as much as I’d like to say I related best to the free-loving, fiercely intelligent, and sexually liberated redhead Patty, or the shy, stammering (until she gains some confidence) but passionate Cindy – I really felt kinship with the privileged, sexually and socially repressed, daddy’s girl Jane, played by Anna Camp.

It’s a character Anna Camp plays well…it’s similar to her role in Pitch Perfect, only set in the late 1960s and with far less puking.

There’s a scene in the last episode (spoilers) where she confronts her wealthy, privileged father and tells him she no longer wants to take money from him to support a lifestyle beyond her means.

He responds by trying to instill fear, “I won’t let you go live in an unsafe place” and then disregarding her ambition, “Okay fine, i’ll see you Thursday when you run out of money,” and then anger and projection, “What the hell do you mean you hired a lawyer to sue your employer – are you on drugs?”

Eventually he plays the hurt daddy card – the last possible card in the deck: “If you don’t need my money then you don’t need me. You don’t need anybody.”

Tearfully, she says she does need him, and somehow without saying it, she expresses that what she needs from him is love, emotional support, and to feel that he believes in her ability to achieve her ambitions.

And that’s where the break happened between this fictional character and my own experience. Because my dad didn’t respond to the tears, nor to the anger that followed. He still treats me like a first-class daughter, and a second-class human being. What’s more remarkable is how he still responds with pleasant surprise any time I show that I’m capable at anything.

What that’s caused is a break between the phi you all see here and the phi that is presented to my family. The part that sucks the most? I’m so proud of my accomplishments in this world, and they’re something I can’t share with them no matter what. They will never get to see what I believe are the best parts of me.

This morning, a friend of mine on facebook posted a status update lamenting that, when asked by a friend what she’s been up to, she felt she had to “self-edit more than half her life.” Because, since the election, she’s become a vocal activist, forming secret groups to help in the resistance, attending rallies and protests, informing herself, and contacting her representatives every single day.

“I am so much more than just a woman who goes to yoga, tennis and mahj, but some people just don’t want to or can’t know that. How long can any of us maintain this kind of charade….,” she asked.

And I wanted to respond, “Years.”

These things that drive us, that make us feel alive and give us purpose – these are the things we want to share with the world, and no-one more than those who mean the most to us. They are also the things that we feel we have to hide from those very same people because they won’t understand, and will belittle, ostracize, and reject us because it goes against their status-quo.

For the Anna Camp character to risk losing her father’s love was heartbreaking for me. There was a time when I believed my dad would respond the way hers did – eventually realizing that his daughter is a person who he helped raised to be capable of more than marriage and baby-producing.

But my dad didn’t make that jump. And I don’t think he will.

And so I hide the best part of me from him, because …

…because I don’t want to stop loving him.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Thoughts on the TV show)

I started watching it for the humor and the silly musical numbers. No, wait…I started watching it because of her. Rachel Bloom. I’d become aware of her last summer watching an episode of Lip Sync Battles, and felt drawn to her persona.

It’s not often I look at someone and think I see a physical resemblance, so when I do, I start to wonder if I’m imagining it, and then I maybe start semi-obsessively trying to find out more about them.

Which, if you’ve watched the TV show “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” you’ll recognize as a patently “Rebecca Bunch” move.

So I started watching it for her, but then I realized it was a silly comedy/musical romance story and I started watching it for that. Because I love silly comedy/musical romances.

I mean, I was absolutely hooked the moment I heard the “Sexy Getting Ready Song.”

But something else was going on, and I didn’t realize it at first. I don’t think I realized it until I was well into season 1, and I didn’t REALLY REALLY get it until I started following the lead/writer/producer Rachel Bloom on twitter.

I think her brain works like mine, but she does with music and comedy what I try to do with essays.

Because, yeah, it was some time during season 1 that I kinda realized the series actually featured a fairly diverse cast of characters in terms of race, sexuality, and size.

And I also realized that none of those characteristics actually defined the characters.

Then the crazy stuff she says – the tangents she goes off on with regards to feminism and the patriarchy and consent and slut shaming and …

…she’s my HERO.

Except she’s also a deeply troubled person with severe, untreated mental disorders. Only, she’s likable and kind of the heroine in her own story. Which makes her a bit of a narcissist. But a cute one, who sings and dances. And c’mon, I mean, it’s just a comedy…

…only it’s covering very serious topics more deeply, thoroughly, and honestly than most depictions I’ve seen in storytelling of any kind.

I knew I wanted to put into words how I felt about this show all day (I started binge watching season 2 on Netflix last night when my plans were rained out by the storm).

But there was so much. I wanted to use words like “rogue” and “subversive” to describe how this sneaky little comedy grabs hold of the heart of some very uncomfortable topics and sort of forces you to sit with them a while. The comedy and musical interludes serve to disarm you, but then..there those feelings are.

I keep confronting my own predispositions and preconceptions about people through these very silly, almost superficial characters that obfuscate the depth of their interactions with one another, as well as the show’s interaction with the viewer.

I swear I’m not high as I type this. I almost wish I were. I bet I’d get even more out of it.

Anyway, as I was saying – I wanted to write about how this show was making me feel because I thought that most people who watch it would stay on the surface and not get that deeper meaning, but then I read a few other blogs out there about the show and realized I am definitely not alone.

Also, the other bloggers were way more clear about the point I wanted to make.

When I was in elementary school I used to walk around the baseball diamond by myself singing songs I’d make up on the fly about things going on in my life. I wish I could tell you that habit ended as I got older, but I still do it. I’m often led by my emotions and my idealistic outlook on life in general. I don’t want to say I’m a big “schemer” but I definitely see and pursue opportunities that benefit my wants, just not to the point of sabotaging others around me. Oh, and a season 2 episode where Rebecca goes to visit her family at a bar-mitzvah? Yeah, that WHOLE episode hit really close to home.

Over these past few years, I’ve learned to confront my privilege and recognize some deep-seated tendencies toward codependent relationship and external validation. I’ve done a lot of introspection and I’ve learned to harness my empathy as a tool to help me help others, and not manipulate them. And, with the family thing, I learned how to cope with my semi-narcissistic family who value appearances over character.

The difference between myself and Rebecca Bunch is that I did the work to confront those issues and overcome them. That’s it.

That’s all that separates me from that crazy character.

Well, also she dresses better than I do…

…but I may start Single White Femaling the shit out of her outfits.

You’re probably not that weird

I had this idea about what college would be like, and it had very little to do with actual class time. In fact, I didn’t really have a sense of the academic point of college until after I dropped out first semester.

‘Cause the movies all showed a constant stream of parties, dating, and socializing, or…in the case of Buffy: Vampire Slaying.

I mean, when did she have time for class?

I was not prepared by the TV and Film industry for the truth of college. I was not prepared to discover that during your freshman year, there are only 7am classes available AND they’re all in boring subjects that have nothing to do with your major. Also, I didn’t really understand the point of declaring a major.

So when I got to college I just felt so weird.. I was definitely some form of outsider. Didn’t help that I was one of the few Jewish kids at a Catholic college. I was also one of the only sexually active people in my dorm, and definitely the only one with with a background in kink.

I kind of “owned” my weirdness. I took pride in being unique in a sea of cookie-cutter folk and broadcast it to set myself apart. Eventually, I fell in with the misfits: the gay guy, the Lebanese exchange student, the Mexican immigrant on academic scholarship, and that awkward nerdy guy who couldn’t talk to women unless he was drunk.

And trust me, in this very whitewashed, private catholic university, we were definitely the misfits. Not because of who we were, but because we were constantly broadcasting our truth, whether intentionally like I was, or by the way they looked, the way my friends did.

I regularly see people talk about being shy, cautious, introverted, or awkward as though they are the only ones who suffer from this malady.

But…they’re not. I know more people who characterize themselves as having social anxiety than those who would call themselves outgoing and/or extroverted.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think we have a skewed vision of what “normal” people are like. There is no such thing as “normal.”

This is not a huge revelation. I’m not the first person to put those words together. But, today I was having a conversation with someone who described himself as “overly cautious,” and upon explaining what he meant – I didn’t think there was anything “overly” about his level of cautiousness.

It got me to thinking that people are frequently ascribing what is “normal” to some …idealization of what they see in the media, whether it’s TV and film, or social.

That’s not “normal.” By and large, you aren’t getting the full picture of a person unless you’re really getting to know them.

On film and TV, they have scripts. They have that witty quippy response to an antagonist that gets a good laugh, and they don’t do that thing where three days later they think of the perfect comeback and beat their head against the wall that they didn’t think of it sooner.

And on social media? People are showing you what they want you to see in them. If you’re intuitive, you see beneath that surface. When a relationship starts, there’s all the back and forth lovey-dovey writing on each other’s walls and posting love missives of their love for each other.

Months go by and they never post about a fight, or that recurring argument. You don’t often see the post on their wall admonishing their partner for leaving the cap off the toothpaste again.

They keep that negative stuff to themselves – they want project the airbrushed version of their relationship, ’cause it’s perfect.

Until it’s not. And then….

Well then they want you to take their side, so they start posting all the angry retaliatory blogs about how HORRIBLE this person was and why you should hate them. They post pictures of themselves out on dates and looking fine ’cause they want to project an image that they have MOVED ON.

And that’s all it is. Projecting an image. It’s not real. None of it is real.

Not until you really get to know someone.

So, to measure oneself up against an image? Well, it’s the same thing we tell people who look in fashion magazines and feel badly about themselves…

Don’t.

You’re probably not as weird as you think you are.

If there were someone out there who fully represented the concept of “normal” in real life, they’d be the weird one, I think.

Children of Sacrifice

I was listening to the West Wing Weekly podcast on my way to work this morning, as I do. In episode 2.13, they speak with Don Baer, former White House Communications Director in the real-life Clinton White House.

He quotes a line from a speech he wrote for President Bill Clinton, given at the US National Cemetery in Normandy, France on the anniversary of D-Day in 1994. “We are the children of your sacrifice,” he says, referring to the generation that had fought in World War II.

It was a pretty powerful statement. It showed the acknowledgment of an “easier” life and appreciation for the generation that had a very hard life in order to give their children a chance at a better one.

I’m thinking of who it is in charge right now in this country. It’s those “children of sacrifice.”

I read something a while back – a blog about the Baby Boomer generation. For all that’s said about Millenials, the blog makes a good point that it’s actually the Baby Boomer generation that behaves with so much entitlement. I wondered about the connection – from being the children of sacrifice to sacrificing their own children’s futures for their own comfort.

Do they seem to care that their children and grandchildren are paying into the system that supports them in their retirement, while they gut the coffers so there won’t be anything left to take care of us?

Do they seem to care that the actions of this Republican administration in denying the existence of climate change so they can go back to dumping toxins into our water and dismantling environmental protections that will keep this planet able to continue sustaining human life for generations yet to be born?

Do they seem to care about starting fights with and essentially poisoning our reputation, not just in countries that pose current threats, but …hey, even pissing off our allies for a good tweet-sized sound bite?

I say this as the daughter of a man in his late 60s, who said the nomination of a completely unqualified woman to the position of Secretary of Education wouldn’t affect him because his kids were grown, and his grandchildren would always be able to afford private schools.

Oh, father. Your privilege is showing, and it’s ugly.

Same man who recently shared a memory on Facebook of the day he decided to help out a friend who’d opened a restaurant by volunteering as a server in the dining room. “Menial” work, he called it.

Yeah, ’cause spending the last 20 years of your pre-retirement career in a comfortable office with a private executive bathroom planning your next two week vacation was very skilled labor.

I keep wanting to tell him, “I don’t know how, but you raised me better than that.”

All across this country there are stories like mine. The rifts between families that were torn open during this last election cycle, that are being further unraveled under the regime of this cruel, unprofessional, and divisive administration.

They don’t get it, either. They don’t get why their kids are so opposite. Why don’t we behave? Why are we such “whiny crybabies” and “snowflakes?” Why cant we take a joke?

But we look to our own grandparents’ generation…one that is being put in homes, and silenced as they enter their own end-of-life phase. I seem to have much more in common in terms of fundamental values regarding humankind with them than I do with the “if it doesn’t affect me personally, it doesn’t matter” stance of my parents’ generation.

I go back to thinking about that quote. “We are the children of your sacrifice.”

Updated for 2017, I think our speech to our own parents would be: “We are the spawn of your entitlement.”

But mostly we just talk about the weather, if we talk at all.