I've been thinking a lot recently about what it means to be a good woman. Does a "good woman" exist? Should there even be such a thing as a "good woman"? To get inspired I've been reading a lot of the classics: Tess of the Dubervilles, The Collector, Lolita, to name a few. If you manage to finish reading one of those books, let alone all three, without an existential crisis, then I'll buy you a yacht.
All my life I've been described as innocent. Wholesome. Men, in particular, like to use those words to describe me. Often they find it entertaining when I find the epithet degrading and protest that those words are not only inappropriate but inaccurate. It's left me thinking about the sexualization of women and how, very early in our lives, we're divvied up into two respective categories: the Virgin Mary or Mary Magdalene (thank you professor Golubuff for first introducing this concept and demonstrating that it's in literally every piece of literature ever). Once you've been assigned a specific camp and given your little slice of property you'll remain a resident forever. It wouldn't matter if I completely went against my introverted and private nature and started going to bars every night and beginning a multitude of casual affairs (which is a totally natural and normal thing to do, by the way)--I'd still be little unworldly Sammie. It'd be a phase. Because I've already been assigned my place in the world.
Not only is this interpretation of innocence--you're either the virgin or the slut--naive and flat--it is medieval. What is our cultural obsession with purity? Where did it come from? After work the other night I went to have a glass of wine with the fishing guides at the guides quarters and they were telling stories of their youth. A few mentioned that their high school lay in between a all girls Lutheran high school and an all girls catholic high school. These guides claimed that they had girlfriends at each school. The Lutheran girls were "good girls" and were the ones you took to dances and to meet your parents while the Catholic girls were the ones you took "driving."
Why is it that when women are sexual they are suddenly no longer good? Why must there be a separation--the pure woman is the woman you marry and has your children and the others, while fun and entertaining, are ultimately defective. Now reverse the situation: if you genuinely don't enjoy having multiple sexual partners--does that make you innocent? Synonyms for innocence are innocuous, harmless, lack of malice--powerless. Why, in 2017, do I still feel like my power as a woman is debased by a judgment on my sexual preferences, real or imagined?
At some point between high school and college, I realized I wanted to be liked. I liked being liked. Around that time I changed drastically. I realized that being intense and prone to bouts of sadness and anger and disillusionment isn't attractive. And I don't mean attractive to men, I mean attractive to people. I started whittling my outward personality down to what is easy to digest. People understand happy. They understand sweet. It’s easy to talk to a “good girl.” This is perhaps why I identified very strongly with the book Gone Girl (although that’s something you shouldn't admit too loudly lest people think you're crazy and prone to faking your own murder and slicing mens throats).
People really are looking for the "cool girl," and from an early age we're shown the benefits of providing her.
Since moving to New Zealand I've tried to only be authentic to myself. What do I want? What do I really want to say? For instance, if I am at a party and I want to sit quietly and watch, I will. I don't give a fuck anymore if that makes me seem withdrawn, pretentious or strange. I realized I was talking, joking, laughing, purely to put other people at ease, to be liked. It doesn't mean I don't enjoy doing those things but not in a performative way.
So how does all this apply to Instagram and Facebook? Ultimately, social media isn't the devil. It isn't killing our spirits. But it does make me feel inauthentic. It makes me feel like I was shaving off bits and pieces of my life lest anything mar the image. It makes me feel like I need to be liked.
My friend Kaisa and I recently discussed the art of the selfie on Instagram. We talked about how posting a selfie is a very political thing. I didn't post pictures of myself for a long time because I didn't want to be one of those girls. But then I realized posting a picture of yourself online doesn't necessarily mean that you're vain and self obsessed. It can simply be a declaration: I am worth looking at or: I am not ashamed. When did posting a picture of yourself online become so charged? You could write a dissertation titled "The Selfie and What it Means to be a Good Woman."
One last comment on authenticity. Well, two.
1. Be Authentic is like the slogan of every branding attempt for every major label in the last five years. Why? Because we're obsessed with being real. But what does real even mean?
Case in point--when I was little I was a bright blonde. Like white blonde. Then, as I got older, that started to change and it made me sad. Time was passing and my body physically reflected the transition. So I started dying it. I did this out of nostalgia perhaps, but, more likely, I dyed my hair because I wanted to look the same as I always did. I felt less attractive without my old hair. But I began to believe--if I can't embrace my real self then that's going to really fuck with the rest of my life and probably give in to deeper, nastier compulsions. So a year and a half ago I stopped dying my hair. It's grown out now and I've discovered that a) I didn't die when I had brownish hair, b) my natural hair color is not as ugly as I thought and c) people treat me pretty much the same. But ultimately, the point is that I don't like my natural hair color. It doesn't feel like me--the real me despite the fact that it's au naturele.
The Moral of this longwinded 2am rant? I take myself way to seriously. To dye or not to dye your hair should not be an existential crisis on what does it mean to be real.
It came down to the fact that dying your hair isn't a very innocent thing to do. Dying my hair was admitting that I do care about what I look like--it was declaring to the world that a part of me is vain. But in the end, nobody cares about my hair! And even if they do, who cares? I'll do what I want. Dying my hair doesn't make me weak. It doesn't make me a liar and a little vanity never hurt anyone.
Instagram isn't going slurp up our souls for breakfast. But Instagram was giving me too many existential headaches. And for someone who has no idea what the fuck they're doing with their life it's probably best that I make decisions for myself not because I feel watched.