I never knew till now, at 27, arriving tits-first in the putative age of womanness, how few fully-grown females there actually are, let alone how difficult it might be to become one myself.
“Why does everybody think that women are debasing themselves when we expose the conditions of our debasement? Why do women always have to come off clean?”
—Chris Kraus, I Love Dick
“So Lidia, why is women's writing only rape stories? Are women's mysteries basically craft fairs? What the fuck?”
—Vanessa Veselka to Lidia Yuknavitch, Violence
The truest hour is just after dawn, after not sleeping, when in the shameless pink light something I should always have known crawls out from under my skin. I crave these hours, but I can't stay awake for them. I have to stay up for something else—a novel, an argument, a dick—and then the hour comes, and I feel like I'll never sleep again, I know so much.
So. Much like some 21-year-old me, I'm on the acid-lit Bowery at 7 AM in five-inch heels, texting. I email my beautiful friend, Durga, who's been in India for less than two weeks, or far too long. At the end, I say:
“I fucked ___.
Hurry home, I love you.”
Later that day, waiting obsessively for her email, I reread mine. I note the cooled past tense of “I fucked” (him) and the pressing present tense of “I love” (her), and I think, for the first time, that if I have a life partner or a soulmate or one counterpart in the couple form, she should be a woman, and then sex can be sex with men. It's the perfect solution to my problem of: 1) Desiring a species trained to expect dependence from me; 2) Hating to be dependent; 3) Hoping that when I die, there's someone for whom everyone else feels the worst. Plus, it might be what I want.
Why haven't I wanted or thought of wanting it before? Did I always love women, and was it just that I didn't know many? I used to think that when someone “loves women” he doesn't know shit, because who can so categorically love half the grown world, or that he actually hates them, hate being so much closer to love than “like” or “respect.” I have never liked a man who “loves women.”
But then, I never knew till now, at 27, arriving tits-first in the putative age of womanness, how few fully grown females there actually are, let alone how difficult it might be to become one myself.
There are girls, of course. There was, in 2012, a whole candystorm of girl-titled sitcoms, girl-themed VICE columns, girl-powered rainbow-pop singles. Do all these things exist 'cause of a, like, revolution? Or does the market research say, gentlemen of the board, it appears we have more girls than ever before in the history of human civilization? Let's take a census. Count most females, biological or otherwise, under 20 or 21 (you are my favorites). Count females over 20 or 21 who read Rookie and have Riot Grrrl nostalgia but never riot, and add to the count anyone who still has bangs or wants a bird tattoo. Add all female fans of Zooey Deschanel, who is fucking 33 years old, by the way, or Chloë Sevigny, who's 38. Then add anyone who “goes shopping,” can't eat alone, spends more time studying text messages than reading literally anything else, hates spiders, or knows Taylor Swift lyrics. (If you're male and you score six or higher on this list, you may also be a girl, girlness being the least biological of female states.)
The census, then, suggests that where there weren't always girls, there are now girls, girls everywhere, girls who will celebrate a dozen 29th birthdays and still be girls. Which is all right, because some of my best friends are girls. Most of my short-term forcible obsessions are girls. Girls rule, etc. But men are not afraid of girls. Girls never did and don't currently “run the world,” and if we believe Bey when she sings so, it's only because she's a woman.
Girls are forever. Women, I know, are for life.
For now I often, and not incorrectly, self-identify as a bitch. How you grow up to be a bitch is: You hit puberty, take one look at Girl World, and hitch a ride the fuck out of there on your brother's friend's motorcycle. Bitches start early, and they don't quit. As someone who's been at one time or another enamored with every Bad Feminist, from Ayn Rand (I was a baby!) to Camille Paglia to Elizabeth Wurtzel to Kara Walker, I do think 90s bitches are my tribe. But truth is, since leaving Canada it's tricky to convince anyone I'm not just a semi-sweet thing with a smart mouth. (That's what I miss about Toronto: You can really be hated there.)
Bitches are a small but hypersignificant minority of females, and bloodsucking cunts—often taken for bitches, but no, because they're as sleety as bitches are hot—are another. Here, a caveat: Most behavior that falls under “bitchy” or “cunty” is more the fall-out of being female and boss. I cannot read another musing on Hillary Clinton as “lovable” and/or a "bitch” when I'm dead sure she's neither.
And there are other ways to be female, and will be more still. In my feminist dreamworld, gender is never abolished, only multiplied and made even more fluid. Even then, all possibilities equal, I would still want to be a woman, always a woman, not ever the liberal, pale kind of lady that is feminism's new white-gloved wave.
Last week, at The New Republic, Ann Friedman sketched us a soft, attenuated portrait of such “ladies,” and, in short, I want to light it gently on fire and drop it in a gasoline pentagram through the nearest semi-ironic knitting circle.
The word “lady,” writes Friedman, “is a way to stylishly signal your gender-awareness, without the stone-faced trappings of the second-wave. It’s a casual synonym for ‘woman,’ a female counterpart to ‘guy,’ commonly used in winking conversation between one in-the-know woman and another. A scan of my phone reveals dozens of text messages that begin, ‘hey lady.’ ”
Rihanna: more than a lady.
“ 'Woman' has this heaviness, which sounds old,” Edith Zimmerman, 28, is quoted as saying. Friedman adds: “Age is not something to fear—but we don’t want to be using vocabulary that makes us feel older than we are.”
I am rarely a girl hater. I have deep feels for bitches, and tomboys make me weak with envy (or lust, if there's a difference). But ladies? Ladies can eat me and call it a juice cleanse. I haven't spent my entire feminism waiting to “stylishly signal” (gross, so gross) that femininity is a construct but also totally cute and young. I want to signal that if I am fucked with, I will shoot a man down in Central Station.
Ladies, or “ladies,” do no such dirty work. Ladies dine out on the upper echelons of what is called equality, concerned mainly with Democrat victories and amicable coexistence with men and “the status of women,” so long as it doesn't upset the status quo. And ladies, for all Friedman's nice protestations, tend to adhere to the first definition of lady: mistress of a household. That household may be her very own studio in Park Slope, but all the crafting and canning and cottage-industrying and Betty Draper drag-wearing and peaceful bike-rally protesting in the world will not give her the rule of it. Nor will drinking whiskey and having witty conversations and swearing or any of the things Friedman intends, in her half-baked tautology, to subvert the old definition of “lady.” Only a lady would find any of these things subversive.
What I find subversive and right is to grow a bleeding vagina and be a woman, which is not to say “don't harass or assault or discriminate against me because I'm a woman,” but rather, “don't harass or assault or discriminate against me. Because I'm a woman. And I'll destroy you.”
Ladies “help” until what is required for progress is harm, and then they're helpless. Good ladies, for example, complain daily about female bodies and identities being “policed,” then call the literal police, the literal fucking patriarchy, when something threatens that body or that identity. Last year, a Toronto feminist called the cops on a Twitter stalker/harasser (one with whom I'd also had problems, which I solved by being directly and verbally such a cunt that he soon disappeared), and when he was arrested and charged, all the other Toronto feminists gathered round to tell her how brave she was. Which, please. Giving the bro-force some nice, educated, single, white female to protect is the lowest of low things a lady can do, and while it was maybe, depending on her immediate threat level, OK to report him, it would have been far righter to fight back, to go Foxfire on the guy. But ladies never get in the ring, they just go to, like, spin class, and so their ladyfriends call them brave for “speaking out” rather than acting out, for knowing about “privilege” and “slut-shaming” without having the faintest fucking idea how to weaponize privilege or be a slut, for “naming” all the “issues” and yet never putting to them the weight of flesh.
Gena Rowlands: also more than a lady.
Ladies tell girls to “own” their bodies, skirting the capitalist implication by which everything “owned” can also be bought and sold. Women understand that our bodies are borrowed against time. So we use them: lavishly, well. “You know how they say a man's house is his castle?” Jamaica Kincaid just told Mother Jones. “I think for a woman, it's her body.”
You can, correctly, reject corporeality if living outside your body makes you feel liberated, or you can maintain a ladylike, winky-wink distance from it, and risk only being jejune and useless. What I know is that as a manic-depressive nightmare girl I've been all skin, sometimes tough but always, also, so sensitive. Now, trying to be a woman, I am always feeling my bones, feeling things to be true inside my bones, and—the definitive bit—sticking to my bones.
Among girls becoming women I need never explain these changes, or mind the charges of “essentialism,” of “objectification.” (The sooner we understand that all of us are likelier to be objects than subjects, the better arguments we'll have on Twitter.) Women know that biology isn't destiny, but that destiny is necessity. I knew that even when I was the girl-est, when I got “ess muss sein” tattooed on my fucking ribs because I'd read The Unbearable Lightness of Being. “It must be,” I thought then. Now I think, “I must be.” Adults are made by choices, and ladies do the correct thing, yet women... women have an insatiable animus, a marrow need to be women, to bleed, to see blood, to fuck and fuck men up and love. In a die-or-kill world, girls “could just die.” Ladies get lady-killed. Women kill.
When Durga returns, I tell her I'm writing her this piece. She tells me that in Kerala, India, there is 100 percent female literacy. That she felt she'd fallen back through time, into the future. That all over India, in the streets, women protested rape and rape culture and rape laws, and that even she was afraid of them, they were so mad.
I say that for all the “girls” and “wives,” only one TV show has “women” in the title, and it's about female prisoners.
We'll make a pact, she and I: Better to be women behind bars than ladies in the streets. It barely matters that this can't possibly, in all our soft-skinned Canadian privilege, be the case. It doesn't matter at all that like eleven percent of females our age could give a fuck about joining us. We don't care; we're not their sisters. It only matters that when we're together, the hour always feels a little like dawn, and the sun, like blood.
Follow Sarah on Twitter: @snpsnpsnp