Being a Girl

So I thought it started in high school, when I went one day to play paintball with my brothers and some other guys. It wasn't the first or the second time I had gone. A friend of ours had plenty of gear for a crowd of ten or eleven, and we'd drive up past Woodland Park into the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. After some hair-pin turns up a gravel road, with brittle under brush showing the signs of chronic drought, we'd reach a small valley, our usual spot. Even in the middle of summer it'd be cool up at that elevation. A good thing considering the layers of clothing I liked to wear in an attempt to soften the impact of incoming paint balls. In all honesty, I never liked to play that much.

The game itself consisted mostly of crouching behind bushes, trying feverishly to keep in mind my teammates' position, and making the odd, ever hectic, run or kill or death. Getting hit from a reasonable distance always brought a rush of relief. The fun, in paintball, existed entirely in the game recap. We'd walk back to the equipment feeling elated. Folks would show off their new war wounds -- welts, paint splatter, blood -- and we'd tell stories as we had seen them. My endorphins would be raging over my present safety. And if I had landed some head or body shots on a member of the correct team, I would feel even better.

On this particular trip (after a game which left a perfectly-round raised purple welt on my ass for about a month) one of the guys (everybody but me was male) just kind of started picking on me. He made fun of my brothers and my other close friends of the group in front of me, saying some anatomy-related things. When I didn't respond to that, he smashed a paintball into my hair, which I kept short, cropped to the base of my neck.

I didn't say anything to him. I felt too much like an outsider, just lucky enough to tag along with the guys, that I didn't feel I could raise a stink. Cause any awkwardness even if it was in self defense. Nobody else said anything either.

But as I was thinking about it, about how all of this started, I realized it had come before paintball. My family, growing up, would go pop-up camping every summer with a group of families. Us kids had known each other since birth, and I had been camping with them all since first grade. Sometime around fifth grade, two of the girls my age had started their make-up, boy crazy, Cosmo phase, (a tarp laid out by the pop up, beach towels on top of that, bottles of tanning oil and SPF 4 scattered over the concrete) and I had a choice: I could spend my time tanning, painting my nails, and meditating in front of the KOA bathroom mirror or I could do other stuff. Ride my bike. Read. Pick on my brothers.

In my intensely practical fifth-grade mind I sewed together the following theory: "I can beat those girls at their own game! I'll bet that more boys will like me if I hang out with them and talk to them instead of keeping away and putting lemon juice (or whatever) in my hair and trying to impress them with my looks."

On this side of a lot of things, I'm wondering if I was just being naive. So started, I guess, my frustration with being a girl.

Doing a lot of "guy things" -- playing sports, majoring in physics, talking about anything not boyfriend related -- I felt it was the general idea around me that girls were 1) not athletic, their attempts at sports were silly and juvenile; 2) not funny; and 3) generally less cool, their opinions and stories less worth hearing.

[And then I've done some reading: David Foster Wallace's essay, "Big Red Son," about the Adult Video News awards and the porn industry in general. Wallace quotes an Industry journalist as saying, "Nobody ever goes broke underestimating the rage and misogyny of the average American male," in reference to porn's 3.5 - 4 billion dollars in revenue. (Compared to mainstream cinema's 2 - 2.5 billion.)

And I read a New Yorker article by Tad Friend on Anna Faris and one by Tina Fey about herself. Both noted mainstream media's preoccupation with a woman's fuck-able-ness more than anything else. (17% of the writers, directors, and producers in movies PG-13 and under being female. The stats are worse for R ratings.)]

The trouble I was having with whole-heartedly joining the girl-power femi wagon (pink pom poms... and grenades!) was that those general ideas didn't seem off the mark. Girls I knew (including me) were doing way more giggling at guys' jokes, even lame ones, than making jokes themselves. And instead of focusing on athletic performance, the female trend tended to be exercising simply to lose weight -- you can see this in the Y exercise classes: men play pick-up basketball in droves, and women put on a full face of make-up and a jingle skirt in order to attend Zumba, a class in no way physically competitive.

And the other thing with the all-girl camp is why does everything have to be pink? Anything femi has to be loudly represented in pink as a kind of empowerment or something. And I don't really like pink.

In explaining to myself why women were behind the ball in all these different areas, my intensely practical post-college mind formulated the following: Let's suppose for the moment that all human beings have a Prime Directive. This underlying directive strongly influences our actions, thoughts, and feelings and most of the time it drives us in a way that is unnoticed. The Prime Directive is to increase one's fuck-able-ness.

And it makes sense that those devoted to the PD would have more offspring, proliferating their devotion... until you have us all.

For women the PD leads us to try, more than anything else, to look a certain way (see the failing of my fifth-grade theory). For men, it seems, accomplishing the PD is more diverse. Guys can get the girl by: playing guitar, being good at sports, looking a certain way, being funny, being popular among other guys. Hence the statistical advantage they seem to have in those areas.

And then came the second part of my post-college theory: Men are so narrow in their evaluation of a woman's fuck-able-ness because that's what they've been conditioned to be.

The certain brand of masculinity that is attractive today has a lot to do with dominance. Physical size and strength. Financial security. But even baring these, men seem to achieve popularity among women simply by being popular with men. And something needs to be the butt of the jokes and comments said by men to other men in order to be liked (in order to, finally, help them get laid) and it might as well be women. Women reward assholes by sleeping with them. So more men become assholes. And assholes don't care about qualities other than appearance in females. So women strive to be beautiful, and they neglect their God-given duty to be the best at the things I care about. Leaving me few female role models. The pits.

So you see our cycle here. Women devolving into age-, weight-, and clothes-obsessed creatures deeply insecure because of our sluggish PD of being rather than doing. Which is OK, but it's SO BORING.

I mean compare the commercials on ESPN to those on day time television. The ads directed at women are wholly soul sucking.

My post-college theory came with a plan of action: if we, as women, had a wide-spread overhaul of what we considered attractive. The discrepancy in performance between males and females outside of school would go away. If women looked for men who were reasonable to them, liked talking to them, laughed at their jokes, and took pride in their talents and accomplishments. Men would (hey watch this) start valuing women for things outside of appearance. And when men started valuing those things, women would spend more time developing those things -- trying more jokes, pursuing a music career, becoming a movie buff, playing sports harder. Generally fulfilling the coolness they are capable of.

And in my intensely practical sitting-on-the-couch-right-now mind I know such an overhaul is not likely.

And the asshole that smashed the paint ball in my hair, I probably shouldn't have married him.*


NPR: All Songs Considered... Considered

When I found out that I could download podcasts to my Zune for free it felt like my world was exploding. It was like I had just discovered the internet only the internet was people telling me interesting things on almost every subject imaginable. And true to my browsing habits I ended up only really listening to one thing: NPR’s All Songs Considered.

It’s a podcast featuring four music lovers, three fellows and a lady, who listen to tons of music and then talk about and play some of their findings. Last month they took the show to South by Southwest (SXSW), Austin’s giant music festival.

They did a series of podcasts on the whole experience, starting with listening to over a thousand songs by bands they could see at the festival – debuting their findings in a SXSW preview show – then doing late-night updates each night, and ending with a 45-minute SXSW show in review.

The veteran listening foursome guided the show much more like fans than like critics. It was a lot of “I loved this” and “I loved this” and “this was incredible.” And the tunes I’ve listened to because of their enthusiasm have had a lot to love about them. I’ve never before had such an onslaught of music that I have liked in my life.

They ended SXSW saying that above all the festival was a celebration. One talked about how teens and twenty somethings these days have a lot to be angry and unhappy about, and yet the musicians and the fans alike were overwhelmingly joyful.

A couple of days after their broadcast that earthquake hit Japan.

I wondered if they were ashamed at all. Is it appropriate for a bunch of Americans to migrate to Texas to have a festival of entertainment and beer drinking and staying up all night and frequenting the taco truck and the porta potties when there is utter destruction so many places in the world?

I listen to NPR: All Songs Considered on my 40-minute commute to and from work each day. A lot about my post-college experience has been pretty disappointing. I expected to explode out of Whitworth like manure out of a sick person, and instead it’s been more of a dribble. I’m not working a job that uses my degree – or my brain. I make minimum wage and struggle to scrape meaning and prospects out of the career bucket that I happen to be looking in.

Listening to music has helped infuse the monotony with some beauty, adventure, and discovery.

But on my gloomier days I reduce music – and most art – to mere entertainment. Something to distract the masses from the reality of a life that is dull and monotonous. Music as fluff. Not what it was hoped to be and not something one can do anything about. Music as an opiate.

But you should hear this stuff.

The band, Fang Island, is aptly described as “like everyone high fiving everyone.” A wall of male vocals and hand clapping and all the rest.

And Typhoon gave me waves upon waves of goose bumps when I first watched their Tiny SXSW Concert online.

Typhoon is made up of fifteen-ish members, they are all about our age, and it should sound like chaos. They have a guitarist/singer, two trumpet players, a bassist (who stands like Spencer Boyles), a cellist, two drummers, a violinist, a girl who plays on a dinky piano, and probably some other people. When Kyle saw the video of them he said he would give each member of the band a bottle of shampoo for Christmas. They sound incredible; they are balanced and passionate and sometimes whimpering and otherwise jubilant.

Their song, The Honest Truth, on their new album says, “Be kind to all your neighbors/ cause they’re just like you./ And you’re nothing special / unless they are too.” Which is a pretty bold statement because often times your neighbors (especially at this festival) are drunk crazies. It reminds me of Mumford and Sons’ line, “Love, it will not betray you, dismay, or enslave you./ It will set you free./ Be more like the man you were made to be.” Both are gutsy things to say in a world that seems insistent on one doing the opposite.

The celebration went to the extent that Bright Eyes closed out the festival with literal fireworks. He ended with the song, One for You, One for Me. “One for the breadlines. / One for the billionaires./ One for the missing./ One for the barely there./ One for the certain./ One for the real confused./ One for me. One for you.”

These bands played their hearts out for people. Colin Stetson on bass saxophone nearly blacked out. The lead singer from The Joy Formidable was puking back stage in between sets.

And on brighter days I think that musicians, through entertainment, connect with people, make their lives better. They create something new and beautiful even if it’s only an arrangement of overlapping sound waves. And many, lately, send a message reminiscent to “love your neighbor as yourself” and “whatever you do for the least of these”, which has always been sort of crazy to commit to.

Let’s help each other through this life… thing, whatever it is.