Only Marge Simpson Can Save Womankind

Tracey Barnett ©October 2009

There you are with a machete, thwacking out globs of soapy hairballs sucked into the shower drain, much to your family’s delight and everlasting gratitude, when you find yourself erupting in little declarative sentences like, “Wait ‘til I win the Nobel Peace Prize. Talk about surprises—“

What’s worse? The moment you realise you’ve turned into your mother, or the horrible realisation that you don’t mind. At the very moment of the death of irony in your life, you don’t friggin’ care.

I often yell out to no one in particular, “You’re probably looking at the next Dali Lama—you just can’t see it yet.”

There is heartfelt, usually unprintable commentary in response, but trust me when I tell you my family can’t see the significance of that profound moment repeated from woman to woman through generations: It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

As a teenager I looked at my Mother and thought, not me. Even 14-year-old Amish girls never lay in bed and thought, “More than anything, someday I want to carpool.”

I tried to delay marriage as long as humanly possible. Ditto, birthing babies. Because I knew I had this one moment waiting for me. The moment when I realized I’m defined as much by the possessive ‘s’ as any of the things that came before. I even introduce myself on occasion as, “I’m Mattea’s mother”– when I long to say, but hey, before that I was probably at least a Panchen Lama, but who’s quibbling.

I vowed I would define what my womanhood meant. I have. That’s what confounds me. I am surprised by how traditional my choices have ultimately been. I am a failed feminist, misogynist, hedonist and coffee maker. But I can’t even define the first one on the list anymore. I’m not alone. We’re still stuck in a world that has only one chick in a tiny little skirt on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.

Admit it, in the last 20 gatherings you’ve been to, nine out of ten times the bring-a-plate-offering has been shopped, cooked and still served by a woman. Have we all grown up just to land in a bad Mad Men episode because we haven’t figured out how to change the channel–or at least get our hair to look that damned perky all the time?

Where is the aspirational feminism of my girlhood? Sexual parity is a bigger myth today than it was in my teens. It’s like womanhood has been jet-fueled by Viagra and trussed up like a turkey in bondage leathers for the entire decade.

Alexander McQueen is showing 25-centimeter high heels this season that look like teapots balanced on their side. The US Republican committee recently put out a straight-faced press release saying Congressional Speaker Nancy Pelosi needs to be “put in her place”.

Hungary now has a beauty pageant for surgically enhanced women. How this is much different than the other Miss Who Cares contests beats me. Gone is discussion about the politics of shaving your legs, because women are now too frightened to ponder what’s after Brazilians. This is our transformation into sexual equality? Brides can now buy a $30 fake hymen kit for their wedding night.

Recently, Ralph Lauren so grotesquely photoshopped his star model into an alien life form, her waist was smaller than her head. If a vacuum cleaner hose could mate with a stick insect, this was their progeny. They’ve apologized, but only after they threatened legal action to blogs that posted it in disgust. Sadly, when I showed it to my family, they had to ask if it was photoshopped —so accustomed are we now to impossibly emaciated women as a sign of little girl sexuality. And we wonder why childhood sexual abuse numbers are spiking?

Sure, we have 5 female Nobel Laureates this year, more college degrees– statistics out the wazoo that are supposed to stamp my gender with, ‘we are there.’

But this new century has looped back to a reactionary divide that feels like 1962 has been reborn. A honking meat cleaver separates the person and her sexuality. In grand confusion that was both bizarre neutering and sexual over-enhancement, Helen Clark became the gay-masculine-Aunt-Nanny. Those labels became so obvious it now seems cliché. On the flipside, Pamela Anderson has no idea how to peddle the person beyond her implants, sadly, because she doesn’t seem to need it.

How do I teach my daughter to genuinely discount the corporate-manufactured self-loathing of our bodies to generate profits, or our strangely over-sexed definition of feminine allure? We are so good at it, I’m bound to lose against the big money forces of Ralph Lauren, and the quieter, subtle ones of ‘bring a plate.’

Marge Simpson is gracing the cover of Playboy next month. Now there’s a real babe who expresses womanhood at its finest— and she’s a cartoon. Irony isn’t dead, it’s just November’s centrefold.

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