The Soapbox: In Response To The Archetype Of The “Woman-Child”
I’m sure you know a person like me. I’m one of the maybe five people in this country over the age of 16 who’s seen every episode of a teen gymnastics show called “Make it Or Break It.” At 29 years old, I do my own taxes, pay my own bills, put my own furniture together from Ikea, and generally exist as a functioning adult, without problem, complaint or repercussion. I wear nerdy glasses, have bangs and feel very strongly about nail art. I have a job, a career path and a vested interest in things other than J.Crew flats and kittens. I am a grown-ass woman, a one-woman miracle — not a “woman-child,” the latest, freshly hatched archetype from Deborah Schoenenman’s piece, Sparkly Nail Polish, Katy Perry and Frozen Eggs: Meet the Woman-Child, an excerpt from her ebook. What is a “woman-child,” you might ask?
According to Schoenenman, she’s a woman who’s “aging backwards,”a girl who likes nail art and kittens and cupcakes, a girl who has deep and long-lasting female friendships that she values, a girl who maybe isn’t afraid of a polka dot or two. You know the type. The bangs of Zooey Deschanel; that girl in high school who totally knit her own scarves and still gave out store-bought Valentines well into senior year. In Schoenenman’s words:
“She doesn’t have to go into a Tower Records (if they still existed) to buy a Taylor Swift album.She can just download it and blog about her favorite songs on HelloGiggles, a new popular website devoted to all things tween. A ‘woman-child’ is the type to prioritize her female friendships as if she were in a high school clique by posting pictures of her girls’ birthday dinners or boozy vacations on Facebook while her peers post wedding and baby pictures with similar zeal. She truly believes that women are in it together and is all about helping her friends start businesses, meet guys and pick out a cute outfit for a big event. Competiveness among females in the workplace is perceived as totally ’80s. ‘Women-children’ are increasingly looking back to create a new common ground and it’s a warm fuzzy ground.”
I recognized bits and pieces of myself in her description and resented the quiet tone of judgement I felt leaping off the page. Being a woman isn’t a one-size fits all equation, it’s multifaceted, a world where your underwear’s from Target, but somehow, your purse is Prada. I’m the only one who can tell me how I should be and by insinuating that these “women-children” are one-dimensional and flat is just another form of lady-hate.
But the implication in Schoenenman’s piece that was the most disheartening was that there is something wrong with desiring and maintaining close, female friendships. This seems to be a tremendous step backwards for feminism. Why shouldn’t we be allowed to cultivate relationships, of any kind, that are fulfilling, rewarding and fun? Is she suggesting that the “woman-child” has a best girlfriend as a replacement for a loving husband, for becoming a mother and raising a family, because it’s not for me. My female friendships do not exist for the sole purpose of finding a partner to start my own vegan cupcake food truck with. My female friendships exist because I recognize the way they enrich my life.
Life and experience has taught me that friends will be there for you through just about anything. The ability to embrace and cultivate these friendships is just as important as maintaining a career, working through a marriage, or raising children. The support systems we create as women with our female friends are vital to survival. To live without these truths is to live a life without sweaty declarations of love in crowded bars over thumping music, a life without the constant chatter of text messages and Gchat supporting you along the way. This isn’t immaturity, or a regression to childhood, it’s connection, it’s support, it’s what we need to survive.
And speaking of my survival, the very things that Schoenenman dismisses as childish frivolities are things that I consider vital parts of my existence. Nail art, for example, as pointed out by Tracie Egan Morrissey in her excellent piece Nail Art, the Last Bastion of Female-Centric Beauty, is a grooming ritual that it is for women, by women — and that’s perfectly okay. Embracing a ritual that exists solely in a female space is an act of rebellion that I’m not only comfortable with, but I relish in.
Schoenenman’s piece is underscored by more uncomfortable commentary upon the work/motherhood conundrum. It’s news to no one that the job market is piteous. Anyone in their right mind would do their best to work hard and keep their job and the facts are all there — women are getting married later, putting off marriage, freezing their eggs so that motherhood can be had on their own terms. These facts are not harbingers of a doom, as Schoenenman seems to insinuate, in which we regress slowly but surely back toward our adolescent selves, but are conscious decisions made by grown women who know what they want, and how they want it. These decisions are important ones, and the ability and wherewithal to make them on our own terms gives me hope. It is frankly, reductive and backwards to assume that most women are really looking to find a partner, buy a house and settle down, sacrificing themselves to the hard work of raising a family and maintaining a functioning marriage. Each woman should be able to decide what’s right for her and it certainly doesn’t boil down to just wanting “to have fun,” as Schoenenman suggests. “It’s as if some of the women around me still want to be girls because girls just want to have fun,” she writes. “Girls certainly don’t obsess over a feminist article in The Atlantic or the dearth of female directors in Hollywood.” Says who? A great manicure does not come at the expense of a brain.
I have a friend whose endgame was to marry young, marry up and have a brood by 30. At 31, she bagged all of her goals, marrying her college sweetheart, having an adorable baby girl and moving to the wilds of New Jersey, to be the wife and mother she always dreamed of being. I admire her decisions, and I respect them because they’re hers. But there’s no reason I should feel shame for not wanting the same things as she does. At dinner the other weekend, I watched as she fielded phone calls from her husband and got sheepishly drunk off a glass of wine. I sipped a beer and pushed asalad around my plate, averting my eyes at the intimacies of her married life, laid bare in front of me. After the phone call regarding the location of the spare keys and the well-being of her child, I came to a realization — maybe children are not for me. I’m starting to feel comfortable with the idea of being able to admit this to myself. Selfish? Maybe. But it’s the truth.
I like the idea of apple-cheeked children tromping through fall leaves and skinning their knees in karate. I like the idea of a career I’m pleased with that gives me a salary I deserve, a partner I love deeply, and the bone-deep comfort that comes from a garage stocked with cans of tunafish and backup rolls of toilet paper. I’m still young. I have time to decide how things are going to play out for me. I’m testing the waters for myself, making my own decisions, as a woman, as a person. And in the meantime, I’m wearing nail art and Gchatting with my girlfriends as I do.