Growing up is overrated
I’m turning 32 today—I know, half of you are like, “God, she’s older than I thought,” and the other half are like, “Wow, just a baby,” which is why this blog’s audience is so awesome and diverse and love you guys—but because of this, I thought this post by carr2d2 at Skepchick was appropriate:
I feel like I should be a “grown-up” now, or something, though I’m not even sure what that means, exactly. There’s this idea I had, as a kid, that at some point in my life I’d arrive at adulthood and suddenly be part of the grown-up club. It’s weird. I do pretty much all the things I imagined would make me into a grown-up, but I still don’t feel like one. I’m beginning to think that maybe what I thought defined being grown up was the shedding of uncertainty. Frankly, I’m pretty good with uncertainty. It keeps me honest, grounded, and skeptical. By that definition, I hope I never grow up.
I’m grateful to my mother, who told me often—at least after she’d processed what had happened, etc.—about having a minor crisis when she turned 30 and realized that she didn’t know everything. She had two kids, a husband, a job that was turning professional and stable, a mortgage, a greenhouse, two cats and a dog. And a cool old car. But she didn’t know everything, and still felt like the same kid she always was. The lesson that was imparted on me was clear: Whatever you do, be yourself. If you try to fit someone else’s mold of what an adult is, looks like, or acts like, you’re going to find that no matter how good you play act the part, you will still feel like a kid who doesn’t know everything.
Great advice, really, and as carr2d2 notes, giving up the illusion of adulthood gives you a certain ability to be flexible, intelligent, forward-moving, and not calcified. Which is good for your health, you know. A lot of the old-fashioned definitions of what made someone an adult leaned towards lowering the amount of stimulation you got in a day, both in terms of moving your body and working your mind. Which in turn allows both those things to deteriorate faster. Something to keep in mind.
What’s interesting to me is that this issue—acting “adult”—is actually yet another front in the culture war. It’s not one that gets the same kind of attention that racial equality, feminism, gay rights, or even the fight against American imperialism gets, which makes sense of course, since those issues are more pressing. But as some folks were noting in a recent “Mad Men” thread, the way that the counterculture movement—and let’s face it, the Madison Avenue co-option of it worked this way as well, since there’s money in them thar youthful hills—put its foot down on the demands of adulthood was a huge and immediate shift that was a net benefit for the country. If you can wear jeans and a T-shirt most of the time, thank the hippies, seriously. If you can keep your hair the way it is, instead of submit to extensive styling and processing, thank the hippies. The 60s aesthetic of freedom and casualness was, above all other things, about claiming the right to stick with those childhood things that work, and run around barefoot if you damn well please. It’s the reason that adults like me can play video games if we want to, acknowledge that the music made for teenagers in the 60s is pretty fucking good stuff, and wear sneakers for everyday shoes. It’s probably even the reason that we have the cultural space to accept the bicycle as a legitimate form of transportation.
I picked up the book Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress at Half Price Books, because I liked the cover and it seemed funny. But I couldn’t get past the first essay, where Susan Jane Gilman writes resentfully of being a kid of hippies, and watching the adults goof off in childish ways, as if they were impinging on her turf. I’m sure she was trying to be self-deprecating by chronicling her resentment that way, but it was still so raw and authentic-reading on the page that I found I couldn’t continue. I could just imagine some wingnut at Townhall grabbing her essay and opining about how it hurts The Children when adults demand the right to be playful, much less other rights like the right to our own private romantic life or (for women) the right to a job or even a career. Trust me, I don’t usually let what the wingnuts would say hurt a reading experience, but I decided life was short and moved onto a book that didn’t bring up these unpleasant associations. I can just imagine what some people clinging to the old ways would think just to step inside my house, where the knick-knacks are toys and lunchboxes, and the art is predominantly based around cool-looking records and advertisements for rock shows. I don’t want any kids, but I’d hope that if I did, I wouldn’t feel any need to change a thing about this. My happiest memories of childhood were those of my parents being goofy and childlike, or at least adolescent. Halloween parties where their friends dressed in crazy costumes, rowdy board games, listening to rock music, that sort of thing.
Of course, the place where the panic attack over people’s increasing freedom to be themselves and to be playful gathers the most steam is when it comes to romance, family, relationships, that sort of thing. That’s probably because it intersects with the feminist project there the most. One of the first things I read this morning while fixing my coffee was this post by Samhita about writing her book on dating, and how baffling other dating guides really are, when you think about it. I’ve had a long blog career of making fun of tips on how to attract “men”—actually, a certain kind of very sexist man—and the assumption that women are obsessed with getting married ASAP, but I have to admit, that post by Samhita was a reminder of how incredibly weird that entire world seems to me. It doesn’t make sense to me, for instance, that a woman would want a man who she knows for a fact—due to the way she “snagged” him by playing the hard to get submissive female (which is sort of a contradiction, but that’s for another post)—is mired in the belief that women are inferior, that women don’t have a sexuality out of performing for men, and probably other things that are going to cause resentment, such as that women shouldn’t make more than men, women should do all the housework, women should give up their jobs or at least merely work part-time in order to take care of the kids. Why sign up for that kind of headache and misery? Why set out to get a man who comes with that baggage?
Well, the writer that Samhita mocks dwells not on what marriage means, but getting that princess-y wedding, and getting it before you’re past some magical date that makes you a spinster. That seems to be the hope, that a man who buys into all these old-fashioned gender roles is therefore a man who will perform to expectations and produce an engagement ring at exactly a year into dating, and produce a wedding ring at 2 to 2 1/2 years of dating. If that’s of paramount importance to you, then you’ll find these dating guides compelling. And they sell a lot of copies, so apparently a lot of women are getting exactly the message that the professional anti-feminist movement is peddling, which is that you should marry young, or you’re a loser and a failure as a woman. In fact, Samhita sardonically notes that this is exactly the underlying assumption:
I am sure the authors of all of these books would say I am kidding myself, after all, I am 31 and unmarried, but I would much rather hold out for someone that recognizes me as a fully realized human being, rather than a possession that must play inferior and passive to get someone to like me and be with me. Just saying.
The liberation to be youthful seems to have benefited men more than women. This is hard for me to tease out, because it’s certainly not true in my social circles, where feminist ideals are the norm, but even in super-liberal Austin, you run across a lot of lopsided couples, where the man gets to be a kid and the woman feels like she has to be the grown-up. Or that’s true at least when I’m running with the people who are into the live music scene here, anyway—occasionally, you run across the married man whose wife is too busy doing some serious, grown-up stuff to come out to many shows, or she finds the whole thing…..sigh….childish. Which is everyone’s right, of course, but it’s interesting that it’s so lopsided. I can’t help but think that the lingering shame about not being a grown-up attaches itself more to women than men. Certainly I find that no one is surprised that my boyfriend likes to play video games, but I occasionally meet a raised eyebrow when I admit that I like to play some. Not with my friends, of course, who are largely the sort of people who see men and women as in the project of goofy playfulness together. But there’s still a sense, when a woman plays, that there’s some work she should be doing.
So, in my own meandering, slowly caffeinating way, I guess that’s my thoughts on this birthday: It’s a feminist act of rebellion to refuse to grow up. I don’t mean refusing to pursue your career or have a nice house or refusing to settle down or forcing yourself to go out when you’re tired and want to stay home to watch TV. Just to not be shamed into releasing those things that make you happy because they’re childish. You don’t have to turn down the music, or hang up your video game controller, or stop wearing Keds with skirts, if that makes you happy. For my birthday, I’m having a theme party, not a cocktail party or even a quiet dinner out (which is actually usually my norm). Why not? Be goofy; who gives a shit? I’m not going to start getting expensive, layered haircuts with lots of highlights or stop wearing jeans every day. You shouldn’t have to become tedious just to prove that you deserve respect. Just because I got some fancy cookware (like I asked) for my birthday doesn’t mean I’m taking down 70s era cookbook cover I’ve got on my kitchen wall that says “Sex Pots….and Pans”. I carefully stickered up my Rock Band guitar game controller, and I expect that my opinion on world politics is still valid. I wear band T-shirts and vintage dresses on occasion. I’m still a hard worker with decent professional instincts. And why not? Being a “grown-up”, instead of just a person who meets responsibilities but doesn’t take herself too seriously, was always overrated.