Picture it: Charlotte, North Carolina. The median years in the first decade of the new millennium. Young and eager, I sit in a conference room with mismatched office chairs in various degrees of hard plastic. It’s the yearly newspaper brainstorming session, and ideas for cover stories and articles are ricocheting about the table. “What about … ” a voice says from the sidelines, “a story on gold-diggers? There are SO many of them trying to steal our boys. I see them. I know them.”
The voice was that of a freelancer, a girl who took a singular interest in the local pro sports players. NFL. Our boys. Possessive.
“Gold-diggers! Yes!” Agreement from a few. Kayne West’s song was already a few years old at this point, but what could be more relevant to an alternative newspaper than the most popular game in lazy media: Finding a Stereotype of Women and Endorsing it Fully. Profit. Subject to this game are: soccer moms, desperate housewives, Sex and the City caricatures, pop stars, wives of famous men, wives of famous politicians, Baby Mamas, any type of woman of color (your basic Welfare Queen/Ghetto/Loud/Angry/Uneducated trope), hippie chicks, feminists, or any vagina-carrying individual. You’d think perpetuating negative stereotypes of women was a piÃ±ata, and the more that lazy media bashed it, the better the candy. Delicious, delicious candy profit.
At the time, I had been mulling over the idea of a feminist deconstruction of Amy Winehouse songs. And to quote the lady herself, “What kind of fuckery is this?”
Luckily, the story never ran. I don’t know if it was because there was a dearth of women hesitating to be interviewed as potential gold-diggers – i.e., someone who cares naught for the man, but the money in his bank, because women ain’t nothing but bitches and hos – or if those in charge simply forgot about that particular idea (it had been done roughly 163,349 times before and as such, becomes forgettable) but in my time there, I never heard it mentioned again for the printed version of the paper.
Wait, now. The story never ran. What’s the problem, then?
Dear reader, the problem is that lately, I have been a bit sad. It’s hard to process, sometimes, the way people hurt each other again and again. The shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, 13 other bystanders and killed six people, one a 9-year-old girl, really shook me up.
In this sadness was a stall to my writing; my big blogging comeback was sidetracked, and in my musings I remembered a moment in time nearly 4 years ago; the insistence that a story on gold-diggers would be the appropriate and amusing cover for a progressive newspaper. Sadness that such language used to describe women hasn’t faded from our lexicon after god-knows-how-many years. Sadness that the power of language is still enough to take a life, that hateful rhetoric from various media sources motivated the killer in Arizona, that one of the reasons for shooting Gabrielle Giffords pointblank was because the killer thought she was a “bitch.”
Another word to describe a woman, near synonymous with A Woman In Power. A stereotype. A label. A woman.
A few months ago, Shakesville posted a speech by Tony Porter at TEDWomen. In it, he gave this quote:
I can remember speaking to a 12-year-old boy, a football player, and I asked him, I said, “How would you feel if, in front of all the players,your coach told you, you were playing like a girl?” Now, I expected him to say something like, “I’d be sad; I’d be mad; I’d be angry,? something like that. No, the boy said to me, the boy said to me, “It would destroy me.”
And I said to myself, ‘God, if it would destroy him to be called a girl, what are we then teaching him about girls?'”
Girls ain’t nothing. Girls are the punchline, the punching bag, the pun. The worst thing, it seems, is to be a girl.
And sometimes the only refuge is to try to conform completely into a kind of girl that is somehow, some way, exempt from the stigma of being a girl. “I’m not that kind of girl. I’m a cool girl.” A Patriarchy Approved Girlâ„¢.
In 2007, I sat in a newspaper conference room and heard a young woman my age basically say, without realizing it, “I am not that girl – I’m an Approved Girl.”
For what it’s worth, I know this is not something done consciously. It’s much more of an indoctrination from the culture around us – so subtle, so unnoticeable. So ingrained. Not to harp on an old metaphor, but to be aware of it is really like taking the red pill in The Matrix. Everything is “normal” until then, but nothing is quite right.
It seems better then, to be the lowest member of the totem pole on the winning team than to continue trying to fight for the losing team.
But here’s the catch: no matter how long you play that game, eventually you will be the only woman in the room. And even if you think that you are special, as the Approved Girl, you are still the lowest on the totem pole, and it’s on your shoulders to laugh and take any “joke” thrown at you. And if, for some reason, you don’t take the “joke” about Woman Stereotype B acting like Woman Stereotype B, you will no longer be one of the guys. You will be what you always were – a woman, perpetuating negative stereotypes of other women in the vain and desperate attempt to belong to the system rather than be oppressed by it. And it ain’t gonna work. No matter how many times you read that “serve-beer-in-hell” book or thumbs-up the “Woman, Make Me a Sandwich” group on Facebook. You are one of us, whether you like it or not.
And that’s the thing. You don’t like it. Your life may be so unexamined that you can’t pinpoint exactly why you hate other women, why you can’t bond with other girls without talking about guys, and why you shrug and say women ain’t nothing but bitches and hos when a guy friend gets dumped.
Miss Amy Winehouse opens her vocal cords to expound on the idea, that, no, she’s not that girl. In the song, “Fuck Me Pumps,” she’s the girl laughing at the other girls, singing, “Don’t be mad at me, because you’re pushing 30, and your old tricks no longer work.”
But those tricks never worked. Because at the night’s end, we’re all suffering from the same cultural phenomenon of being less-than, ready to be called out as a bitch, fearful that the one doing the calling will be the one person who will pull out a gun and shoot, point blank. Fearful that if we are not the Approved Girl, we’ll never have a place in the world otherwise.
And I have to ask: What kind of fuckery, really, is this?