“Tell me about yourself. What sort of woman are you?”
That sort of question is why I shy away from dating men who work in psychiatric professions.
In this case, a first date situation, the question “What sort of woman are you?” could very well lead to a slap across the face. That’s what an incensed woman in a ‘50s movie would do. Sophia Loren would do that. Doris Day might slap a man who asks an innuendo soaked question.
I’m not Sophia Loren or Doris Day.
So on this first date I sat there dumbfounded.
What sort of woman am I?
Contextually, on that date with that man, I was the sort of woman who doesn’t like to be asked that sort of question on a first date. I was the sort of woman who had to fight an instinctual sarcastic roll of eyes when that question was posed. I was the sort of woman who inwardly guffawed at the guy’s affectation.
I don’t mind nuts and bolts interview-esque questions on a first date. In fact I’m in favor of them and appreciate when a man starts that line of questioning. Clear the air about important issues right up front. Typically those questions can be answered yes or no and without much thought. Those are the type of first dates I find most successful. Successful in the sense that you leave the date knowing whether or not there’s enough common ground for a second date.
This, this intrusion into my psyche was way over first date boundaries, especially since he was a psychologist and especially since there was nothing segueing into that question. It was just out of the clear blue, “What sort of woman are you?”
Crazy weather we’re having. The macadamia cookies are great here. What sort of woman are you?
And yes, this speaks more to my insecurities than to his crossing of decorum boundaries. But still, c’mon, how would you respond to the question, posed by a relative stranger, “What sort of woman/man are you?”
I said, “That depends. It’s complicated by perception. The sort of woman I think I am is probably significantly different than the sort of women other people perceive me to be. And every situation is different. Right now I’m the sort of woman who feels like she’s being used in a dating psychology hidden camera research study.”
I could tell by his blinking silence he was not amused. The date ended a few minutes later.
The “What sort of woman are you?” question immediately made it to the top of the funny date stories my friends compile about me. It’s a new catch phrase. “What sort of woman are you?” with varying inflections on each of the words is causing a lot of laughs. It is funny. You can emphasize any of the words in that sentence and have completely different innuendo. It works comically in almost any situation. I can tell we’re going to dine on that one for months.
But on a more serious note I’m not actually sure what sort of woman I am.
I keep going back to the gender issue. He didn’t ask me what sort of person I am. He asked me specifically what sort of woman I am.
If he asked me what sort of person I am I could list off personality traits. I know what sort of person I am. I have a high level of confidence in the sort of person I am. And how other people perceive me, as a person.
But the gender component is where it all falls apart for me.
Here’s where psychologists start probing into my relationship with my father and mother and how that defines my perception of my womanhood, my gender identity.
I don’t need therapy to know what’s at the root of this. My parents never put gender limitations on me. There was never intonation along the lines of “But you’re a girl, girls don’t do that.” I wasn’t a girly girl but I wasn’t a tom-boy, either. I loved all things Barbie and I loved designing complicated race tracks for Hot Wheels cars.
Complain about Barbie all you want, her huge boobs and stiletto ready feet, but, my Barbies all held great jobs, went on interesting vacations (flying the Barbie plane) and had a rich social life that included other dolls of all genders and races.
Maybe ice sports are to blame for my gender neutrality. I spent hours practicing figure skating feats of agility and played hockey. Where, and when, I grew up this was “normal.” Especially since I was tall for my age and a very fast skater. Us girls donned cute little skater skirts and twirled and jumped on the ice as often as we put on layers of sweatshirts and grabbed the sticks for a game of hockey.
At various times in my childhood I wanted to be: An artist, a geologist, an astronaut, a marine biologist, a veterinarian, an ecologist, a heavy metal guitarist, a writer … and at no time, ever, at school, at home, anywhere … did anyone ever bat a gender-biased eye at my passions and possible career choices. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t do any of those things because I didn’t have a penis.
I don’t go around defining myself as a woman. I have a female body. I manage and maintain my female body appropriate to its gender. My female body is attracted to men and my brain constructs desires accordingly. Beyond that I don’t go around thinking about what sort of woman I am.
I’ve always been more focused and concerned about what sort of person I am. Who I am, not what I am.
I know I’m the sort of person who wants people, men and women, to respect me for my brain and personality. I don’t mind if a man covets my boobs or a woman covets my shoes but they better do it respectfully. I want to be taken seriously, professionally, and garner a reputation for my creativity, intelligence, problem solving, and management skills. At work I do not want the first description of me to be “the woman with the big boobs and long legs.” When people at work think of me I want them to think about my skills and talents and as a team mate.
What sort of woman does that make me? I don’t know. I really don’t care. See above, who I am, not what I am.
Does that indicate a lack of gender identity?!
I do like some of the “typical” female trappings. I prefer my legs and arm pits shaved. A trip to the hair salon is a treat, not a chore. I never met a make-up counter that didn’t contain at least one shade of eye shadow or lipstick I didn’t like. A candle lit bath is so much more than a way to clean my body. Foo foo drinks trump beer every time. Jewelry piques my imagination. The quest for a pair of jeans that are comfortable and don’t make my ass look five sizes bigger than it really is is a lifelong passion. And shoes. Oh shoes. Glorious shoes. Especially heels.
That could be attributed to all those hours logged with Barbie.
And my mother.
My mother is stylish. But not trendy. Effortless understated elegance is her fashion niche. My mother is one of those people who always looks good—appropriately dressed with a little indefinable something extra. She looks effortlessly good. She doesn’t look like she spends hours composing her daily outfit because she doesn’t spend hours putting outfits together.
I would be remiss to not mention the fact that her mother was a fashion designer. My grandmother was paid to study the European fashions (back when the term European fashions meant something) and interpret (read: knock them off) for stateside department stores. My grandmother could whip up a Dior gown in a day, flat. Until my mother left home she never wore store bought clothes. Oh, she logged hours in stores with her mother, but they rarely bought anything other than fabric and notions. And shoes. My grandmother would then go home and whip up custom (and better) versions of the clothes they saw in stores. Shoes completed the look.
In my early formative years I spent every possible minute with my grandmother soaking in all the knowledge of design fundamentals and style as I could from her. I never wore many store bought clothes until arthritis claimed my grandmother’s hands. My Barbies also had custom wardrobes. My grandmother loved sewing Barbie clothes. Barbie was a miniature version of those European models she used to study. Fortunately before arthritis silenced her sewing machine she taught me how to follow and alter a pattern and how to sew.
Did all of that have a bearing on my gender identity? It must have. How could it not? A = Me. B = Female family role models. C = Fashion. A = B, B = C, A = C.
But more than the clothes, it was my mother’s shoes that defined our gender. Set us apart. When my parents were going out, dressing up and going out on a date or to a party, the last thing my mother did was put on her shoes. Her good shoes. Her going out shoes. Heels. Always heels. She’d step into her heels and her outfit would be complete. That was when the magic happened.
That magic moment of completion always took away my breath. “Gasp. Mummy you’re beautiful!” I would reverently whisper.
And so, between Barbie’s stiletto formed feet and my mother’s magic transformation to gasp-worthy style, shoes (heels in particular) are my female passion and gender defining talisman.
The one thing that separates not only the women from the men, but the women from the girls. Heels are ours. They’re the talismans of a coven-like society.
They can hurt us, skew our balance, and make us sex objects. We know all of this but we love them anyway. Even women who hate heels and won’t wear them have that one little secret pair in the back of the closet, or secret longing for that one awesome, gasp-worthy pair.
(Part 1)?Part 2