Last week, I had lunch with a writer friend of mine. We met almost two years ago, introduced by a mutual Internet friend who put us together because she had gone through breast cancer surgery and reconstruction, and I was about to embark on a similar journey. We hit it off instantaneously, not because we had illness in common, but because we shared the same perspective about our gender: we are both women who hate other women.
As my friend and I conversed over burgers and iced teas, our conversation inevitably turned to politics and the current “schoolyard” scenario gripping the nation. The world is looking on in horrified disbelief as grown American men stand behind podiums engaging in eye-rolling, name-calling, and penis size references, as we look on embarrassed for ourselves and our country. We talked briefly about the other side of the spectrum, where a woman and an eager socialist male are vying to become President of the United States as the under card to the heavyweight bullies. It was talk of the woman candidate that moved our conversation into verboten territory - things we would never discuss with anyone other than ourselves.
It’s not easy to admit that you dislike your own gender, particularly when gender equality is such a hot-button topic. As women in our 40s and 50s, we feel we have a right to do so, because we have lived long enough to witness remarkable change during our lifetimes. We’ve seen the first woman justice appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court; we’ve witnessed women in the military engage in battle; we’ve seen more women take jobs as CEOs, politicians, and other positions traditionally held by men. Yet, in our midst, we still encounter women who are loathe to go through life without playing the damsel in distress. There seems to be no discernible middle ground between the damsels and the militant feminists. We feel we are stuck in a sort of “no woman’s land” where we don’t fit into a neat little category. We are intelligent, capable, strong, and let’s face it - firmly in the minority.
I must admit, I have been hyper-aware of what it means to be a woman ever since being diagnosed with breast cancer. As part of my treatment, I chose to undergo a bilateral mastectomy, even though one of my breasts was not cancerous. I knew before the surgery that I would need chemotherapy and radiation, and that radiation in particular would make reconstruction difficult. I was confident in my decision because I knew that going through life without breasts wouldn’t matter to me. I wanted my health intact, not my bust line. My friend, on the other hand, was able to have reconstruction, because after her surgery, she did not require further treatment. She doesn’t have breasts so much as mounds, which look perfectly serviceable under clothing, but look like, well, mounds on her naked body. She is at peace with what they are, and doesn’t waste time thinking about how they look or what they mean in the grand scheme of her life. She lives with them - not for them.
I cannot begin to count how many stories I’ve read about women who “mourned” the loss of their breasts to cancer; women who feel worthless without a man by their side; women who cry sexism at every turn in order to justify their own shortcomings.
The Internet has given us all an outlet to express ourselves, but women use it as one more place where they can bitch and moan about the inequities in their lives, many of which are conjured by their own imaginations. There’s always someone staring at the “flat” or “uneven” woman; there is no shortage of sexist cop-outs that keep women from realizing their true potential. The truth is, we are experts at finding things to complain about. We refuse to see ourselves for who we really are. No, our destiny is not to exclusively keep the home and raise the children. But, if we want certain things out of life, we have to be prepared to sacrifice in order to achieve our goals. Men might not have to make the same decisions, but they are men. Do we want to be men? I don’t know, do we? I certainly don’t, but I also don’t want to be the kind of woman who bitches and moans instead of going after what she wants.
Ladies, the sooner you realize that being a woman is not a disadvantage, I might decide to like you again. You probably don’t care whether or not I do like you, and you probably hate me for calling you out the way I have. I’m certainly not perfect, nor is my friend. But, you are embarrassing us, much like the men playing schoolyard politics are embarrassing an entire nation. Be strong; stand up for yourselves; stop looking for reasons to feel inferior. Most of all, be true to yourselves, not the vision you believe others want to see. Once you’ve accomplished that, it won’t matter if you have breasts, a vagina, or a penis. What will matter is who you are, not what you think others are choosing to see.