Here are a handful of things a woman might do that could get her labeled as “difficult”:
Refuse to smile when someone tells her she would look prettier that way
Ask for what she wants
Insist on equal treatment
Express an unpopular opinion (or even a popular one in the wrong company)
Say she isn’t interested in sex at the moment
Request help around the house or with the children
Believe it should be her body and her choice
Put herself first or make herself a priority
Know her worth
Expect appropriate acknowledgment and compensation for a job well done
Go against social norms, especially regarding appearance, career choice, or motherhood
Exhibit her anger, disappointment, or sadness
Call herself a feminist
Clap back against a cat call or other uninvited advance from an unknown male
There are, I’m certain, many other things a woman might do that could get her branded as difficult. It’s not just men who would label a self-assured or successful woman difficult. Sometimes women will cast other women in that same light because they are so accustomed to societal norms they don’t see the inherent sexism in them.
I have been labeled difficult plenty of times. It used to bother me. Now I simply see it as my duty. I’m not saying we need to smash the patriarchy to smithereens, but I think we’d do a lot better as a species if we allowed the world to become more balanced. Too much of any one thing is never a good idea, especially if that one thing is testosterone.
A couple weeks ago, I was watching MSNBC and saw an interview with Marine Corps Major Thomas Schueman and the young Afghan interpreter who had worked with him when he was commanding troops in Afghanistan. Major Schueman has spent years keeping in touch with Zak (code name), trying to make sure he would get the US visa he was promised in exchange for his putting his life on the line to aid and protect American troops. Major Schueman said Zak had saved his life several times. Zak spoke on camera from behind a mask. He was in hiding after he had recently received a letter from the Taliban reminding him that they knew his whereabouts and would be coming for him shortly. Zak sounded terrified, and for good reason. He and his wife have four children under the age of 5. Zak knew they would not survive if Afghanistan fell and the Taliban took power. And then this week they did.
As good journalism will do to a person, I became invested in Zak’s story and the thought that there are thousands upon thousands of Zaks in Afghanistan who helped us and deserve their shot at freedom. When Kabul fell, the impending doom for these interpreters became palpable. Tonight Rachel had Major Schueman on again. He has spent the past couple days trying desperately trying to get Zak and his family out of the country. Texting Zak and his contacts in Afghanistan, Schueman tried to coordinate an escape for the young family. Twice he got close, but no go. Then finally today Zak and his family were able to board a plane out of Afghanistan. Major Schueman isn’t sure where they are headed, but they are safe. Zak might at last get the freedom for which he risked his life.
I write about this tonight for two reasons. One: It’s crucial that we as a country remember those who help us and that we honor our word to them. It’s the right thing to do. The interpreters left behind will be killed by the Taliban if they are unable to escape. That is unacceptable. And that is on us as a nation. Period. Two: This story has a happy ending for Zak and his family, and there isn’t enough good news in the news lately.
Beyond this, though, I’ve been thinking about what an absolute mess our withdrawal from Afghanistan has been. And this is what I have decided. There are not enough women involved in these types of decisions and operations. Fine. We needed to get out of Afghanistan after 20 years. It is unlikely that staying there longer or investing more money would have changed anything. But, the timing and planning for our withdrawal seem haphazard at best. I mean, even if Afghanistan fell to the Taliban at a rate far quicker than most experts imagined it would, why hadn’t we planned better how to remove the over 15k American citizens still there and why hadn’t we done more to secure the safety of our friends, the interpreters who risked their lives to save American ones? We’re the United States, goddammit. We have resources and money and trained professionals. There’s no excuse for this crap.
So, I started thinking that maybe we need more moms involved in planning the actions of our government. Moms plan for contingencies. Moms think of everything. I guarantee that you have seen this in action. You have been on a picnic where utensils were forgotten and your mom conjured up six sets of plasticware with napkins from the depths of her car. Or you’ve been to the pool and your kid got a scrape and a mom who was sitting nearby pulled a bandaid and Bactine from her purse. Or you’ve been in a parking lot before a concert and you realize your beer is not a twist-top bottle and you have no bottle opener, and your wife grabs the bottle from you and removes the cap using the door catch on her car. Women are amazing that way. We’re undaunted and resourceful. It’s the reason we’re often the last one out of the house before a family trip. We’re thinking about disasters and contingency plans. We consider potential rainfall or diaper blowouts or sunburns and we turn around to grab the plastic ponchos, clean onesies, and sunscreen. With women, it’s not just leave no one behind but also leave nothing to chance by making assumptions. So, should we have had a momma bear or six involved in preparations for our withdrawal from Afghanistan? Definitely. We’d have had Plans A through Z lined up and ready to knock down. And we probably would have had snacks and matching luggage too.
“If I can challenge old ideas about aging, I will feel more and more invigorated. I want to represent this new way. I want to be a new version of the 70-year-old woman. Vital, strong, very physical, very agile. I think that the older I get, the more yoga I’m going to do.” ~Jamie Lee Curtis
I was sitting in the chair having my hair guru, Danielle, work the miracle of balayage on my way-too-quickly-greying tresses when I came across an article about a growing trend of women shaving their faces.One of my joys in going to see Danielle is that I get to check out all the latest copies of People, US, and In Style without actually having to buy any issues. It’s how I get to act like a typical female without having to admit to a grocery store clerk that I am typical. But I am going to have to stop reading these publications if articles like this continue to pop up. Why can’t I just read in peace about Bruce Jenner’s transformation to woman without realizing I’m failing as one when I already have all the right parts?
As I battle the march of Middle Age, a battle that becomes more arduous and gruesome as my forties pass, I can barely make time for whitening toothpaste, moisturizing sunscreen, and a daily appointment with my Clarisonic (which is really more of an every third or fourth day meeting if I am being honest). Now I’m supposed to add shaving to my already overtaxed routine? Apparently, this is the latest resurgence of an old exfoliation trend. The article claims that mens’ skin is much less wrinkly and smoother because they shave, thereby removing dead skin cells each time they drag a razor across their face. You can have this dermaplaning done at a dermatologist’s office or spa for between $85-150 a month or you can buy razors and attempt to master the technique yourself and repeat it every four weeks. The more I thought about it, the more it began to make some sort of sense. Most men age pretty darn well. But, still, are you kidding me? Is this what it’s coming to? It’s almost like there’s someone out there trying to see what wild things they can get American women to buy into. The beauty industry does quite well for itself.
I’m not thrilled about getting older. In a few months, I am slated to hit 47. Forty-freaking-seven. And as much as I am trying to be all zen about it, I am not even remotely there. Am I glad I’m still on this planet after nearly a half of a century? Absolutely. Living is much better than dying. But long life comes with aging and aging isn’t pretty. I struggle with the reflection in the mirror. I notice the wrinkles, the blossoming jowls, the dark circles, and the skin imperfections earned after too many days at high altitude without sunscreen because when I was a kid it was SPF 4 tanning lotion on my redheaded body at the pool. It freaks me out. Maybe I should skip the shaving? Honestly, I might be better off with a full beard, now that I’m thinking about it. A beard could hide all sorts of stuff. Wonder if I can grow enough chin hair for that?
I’ve tried all sorts of things to make myself feel like I don’t look my advancing age. My latest insanity is micro needling to improve skin texture, but even poking myself in the face to increase collagen production doesn’t seem to be helping. No matter what I do or how much I invest, time’s gonna keep right on marching across my face. And even if I enlist every treatment known, from Botox to fillers, from laser skin treatments to facelifts, I’m never going to look 20 again. I could spend the GDP of Lithuania on anti-aging treatments, but it won’t stop the inevitable. The years will take their toll.
So I am now trying to discern what aging gracefully might look like for me and how I might achieve it. I think every day about my friends who are on the backside of 50 and who assure me that all my insanity over my appearance will decrease. Eventually I will become more comfortable in my own skin and won’t care as much how I look. I won’t give a second thought to staying younger looking by adding a close shave to my routine. I’ll strive for good health. I’ll focus on drinking lots of water, eating my greens, getting restful sleep, practicing more yoga, and cultivating bigger smiles. And I’ll stop reading stupid articles about how shaving will make me look younger.
Truth is that I am much happier with myself now than I ever was at 20. Would it be nice to have my 46-year-old wisdom in my 20-year-old body? Sure it would. Just like someday I will wish for my 70-year-old wisdom in my 46-year-old body. But I’m not a Disney fan and I don’t live in Fantasyland. This idea we have as a nation about women staying and looking young into our 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond is a bit Ponce de Leon. If we’re smart enough to acknowledge that the Fountain of Youth doesn’t actually exist, we should be smart enough to know we can’t wish it into existence either.
We spend our youth looking forward to being older and our adulthood wishing we were younger. It’s a horrible paradox. I’m working on becoming more zen about aging, but I have a feeling I’ll be working on it until the day I die.
Sometimes people (especially my mother) tell me that I share too many personal things about my husband in this blog. They think he must be some kind of saint for tolerating what I write here. I don’t agree because everyone who knows a writer should be well aware that they should be careful of what they say lest they wind up as blog or book fodder. It comes with the territory. The reason I don’t feel bad writing about my husband is because he’s a photographer. He’s always walking around with his camera, snapping unwanted photos, and calling it “art.” Just tonight, after I’d crawled into bed after washing my face, hair still up and sans makeup, he thought it might be fun to snap a photo of me despite my specifically asking him to do no such thing. For this action, he received the look of death, a look which he of course captured with his fancy camera. He then had the nerve to show it to me and wax rhapsodic about how great the camera is in low light. Evil.
In retribution for this unfair photo, I give you a photo and a story of my own. This is a photo of a small portion of my husband’s shoe collection, the portion that is currently in residence on the floor on his side of the bed. He also has shoes stored in our closet and in the laundry room. I understand there are splinter sects of his shoes hiding throughout our house like rebels in caves in Afghanistan. Yes. My husband owns a lot of shoes. He owns more pairs of shoes than most other men I know. He probably owns more shoes than many women I know as well. In fact, for a man who has such a difficult time selecting a pair of shoes to purchase (he once spent about 1.5 hours picking out a pair of Birkenstock sandals, which he promptly rethought and then returned the next day for a different pair), it’s borderline miraculous that he could ever have found the time to purchase so many pairs. I make no claims as to the quality of his shoe collection, but the quantity is impressive.
I have friends who are married to men who might be casually referred to as a guy’s guy. These men spend their weekends watching sports. They know how to fix things around their home. They wouldn’t be caught dead sipping white wine. They don’t buy copies of Real Simple. They don’t know the difference between a Mary Jane and a peep toe. These friends often bemoan living with their more caveman-like husbands. They tell me they wish their husbands were more like Steve. By that, I assume they mean more interested in shoes. I tell them to be careful what they wish for. A husband like Steve may be able to tell you which pump looks best with your pencil skirt, but this knowledge comes with a price. A man who is knowledgeable about shoes will require a lot more closet space, and you’ll still have to live with a mound of man shoes next to your bed.
This afternoon I got to enjoy one of my favorite fall pastimes, holiday shopping at a craft and gift fair with friends. I very rarely start shopping for Christmas gifts before October. My mind is simply not in the game. Once the trees begin to lose their leaves, though, there’s no point in denying the obvious. Christmas is not far away. So, when Heather suggested we go to the Mile High Holiday Mart hosted by the Junior League of Denver, I had to acquiesce. I picked up Ana and we headed to the Inverness Hotel to meet Heather and get our shopping on. As we approached the hotel, the volume of traffic increased. I knew it would be packed with other women who had the same thought. My introverted self prepared for the exhausting task of elbowing my way through throngs of distracted ladies. If you’ve ever been to a holiday craft fair, you know the crowd is by and large comprised of women. The few men who are there lurk in corners and hold full shopping bags, praying their descent into the halls of estrogen ends soon.
After about a half hour of browsing separately, my friend Ana found me and told me she’d just received a text from her sister. There had been yet another shooting, this time in a shopping center area in her home state of Wisconsin. Ana’s sister lives not far from where the shooting had occurred. Coming not long after the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, where a gunman shot and killed 14 people and wounded another 50, this was not welcome news. What is wrong with people?
I spent part of today reflecting on this shooting spree mentality. It’s not just an American phenomenon. In the past twenty years, armed gunmen have opened fire and killed hundreds of people in Britain, Germany, Finland, Norway, Australia, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Before I write another word, I want you to know this is not a blog about gun control. I’m not against the 2nd Amendment. I’m not anti-gun, and I’m not trying to take guns out of anyone’s hands. This is because I’ve decided that guns are not the problem. Testosterone is the problem.
Has anyone noticed that these mass shootings are carried out by Y-chromosone-enhanced persons? Women aren’t the ones opening fire in crowded theaters dressed as Batman. We’re not the ones shooting people in churches, schools, shopping malls, and political rallies. We’re not the ones who air our sadness, our disappointment, our anger, through a spray of bullets. Instead, we women are slightly more subtle. Take, for example, astronaut Lisa Nowak, who was so upset to find out her boyfriend had another woman that she wore an astronaut diaper so she could drive across country without stopping just to pepper spray her competition. She didn’t take anyone’s life. Heck. She didn’t even take anyone’s car. Her clearly hormonally driven, emotional attack didn’t land her in prison. Nope. She got two days in jail, a bunch of anger management classes, 50-hours of community service, and the embarrassing nickname “the astronaut diaper lady.” No one had to be buried. We women may act a wee bit crazy sometimes, but we’re not usually homicidal maniacs. We may occasionally run high on emotional drama, but we don’t often run high on murderous rampages.
And yet, the stereotype of the PMS-raging woman persists. We can’t have a woman president because a hormonal women is potentially dangerous. We wouldn’t want a woman in the throes of estrogen fluctuation to have access to nuclear weapons. Yep. I’m certain that this world is not going to end on 12/21 as the Mayans predicted. Instead, the world will end at the hands of an emotionally unstable woman in control of nuclear launch codes. (Yes. I am rolling my eyes as I write this.) You know, I spent a couple hours crammed into a small space with hundreds of other women and, although that’s not exactly my comfort zone, not once did it cross my mind that perhaps one of them might go postal and whip out an AK-47 because another woman got the scarf she’d had her eye on. You know why? Because estrogen doesn’t kill people. Maybe we should leave gun owners alone and start doing background checks on testicle owners instead? 😉
(PS…Before any of you testosterone-enhanced individuals gets your whiskers in a twist, this blog was meant as a tongue-in-cheek editorial based on an observation I made. I’m not really suggesting we deprive men of their most prized possessions. Well, not seriously, anyway.)