Tag Archives: feminism

Dear Jane: This Isn’t a Temporary State of Being

2 May

Dear Jane.jpg

Hello, dear readers. Those of you who have been following awhile might remember Jane, my first follower. She recently sent me an update, which I wanted to share, along with a few words. Thanks always for reading. I hope to have more exciting updates soon!

Dear Jennifer, 

Hello again. It’s been a few months since I wrote to you. That’s really cool that I kind of inspired your adventures. Me – the waitress from Kansas who used to spend more time waiting at the pharmacy window than staring out the window of an airplane. But that’s going to change soon!

My dad is a lot better now, but he still is on a lot of medications. But I think he can handle things on his own. I’m glad I stayed home to take care of him. If I hadn’t, I would have thought about how I was letting him down. But also, staying home led me to the most wonderful man I ever met. 

Thank you for inspiring me to be patient and do things that make me a more interesting person so that I would meet a great guy. It really helped me get to this point where I can actually see myself really being with him for a long time. I’ve decided to postpone my college plans for now so that I can follow him (his name is Kurt) to Arizona where he’s going to finish college. I feel like I’m starting a new life with Kurt – all thanks to you.

I just wanted to say thank you for helping me get through a tough time and for inspiring me to be the kind of woman who could get a guy like that. Good luck with your dating life! (I think you should give that last guy a second chance – you never know when it might be the one!).

Sincerely,

Jane

(name changed for anonymity)


Dear Jane,

I’m happy to hear your father is better. You sound happy and that is always a great thing. I admire you for sacrificing your future to help those you love. I’m sure your dad and brother will be forever grateful to you.

You seem like a sweet and unselfish young woman with genuinely good intentions, so I feel like a jerk for saying this so bluntly, but I just have to: I think you misunderstood me.

You are not alone in mistaking my intentions, or the intentions of even stronger, more determined women. It’s a familiar narrative that I’ve noticed in my past self, in my friends, and even in female protagonists in crappy movies. It goes something like this: woman becomes single, woman gets mad, woman finds voice, voice makes her interesting, some other man finds that attractive, woman couples with new man, woman’s new voice is validated because it led her to a better man.

Let me say this loud and clear, in case there’s any lingering confusion: being an empowered female is not a coping mechanism to employ between romantic relationships. It should be a permanent state of being.

I didn’t make it my mission to become an International Woman of Mystery so I would be more appealing to my next boyfriend. I did it so my emotional and spiritual center of gravity would always reside in myself. I did it to find a long-lost inner confidence. I did it so I would have a permanent independence in an impermanent world.

Sometimes I let my mind wander to a post-apocalyptic state where I have nothing but the clothes on my back, the brain in my head and the soul in my heart. What would I ever do in that future world if my identity resided in someone or something else that no longer existed? I would have even less, and that would be devastating.

It’s not any of our faults for making this mistake. And I don’t think it’s necessarily a female problem. But I do think women are more often raised to believe that the men (or women) we end up with, the weddings we have, and the children we bear warrant our efforts to become more intellectually, emotionally and physically successful.

Jane, be the best version of yourself because the things that make you that way fill you with joy. Do what makes you happy and share that energy with the world. Fall in love, of course, but be careful that you’re not doing it to validate your life, or because you depend on it for your main source of happiness and acceptance. Let the men in your life be not the leads in your story, but the supporting cast, for that very reason.

If I sound redundant, it’s intentional. We have to make these points often and we have to make them loud if we’re really going to change the way we women value ourselves. And so, I must say Jane, you have inspired me once again, though maybe not in the way you planned.

I see now that I still have so much more work to do. Thank you for showing me that.

Yours,
The International Woman of Mystery

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Guest Post: Required Reading

15 Feb

Books

Hello Readers,
I have a treat to share today, in the form of my very first guest post! See, a few weeks ago, I was contacted by a reader, Margaret, who found my card. Margaret, as it turns out (and as she’ll explain below) is a bit of a literature expert and enthusiast. When she wrote into me with some book suggestions for the IWOM Book Club, I was so impressed by her due diligence I asked her if I could share it here and she agreed. I’m so glad to have made Margaret’s acquaintance and hope we can meet for tea someday and to poke around old book stores. I also hope you enjoy her book reviews as much as I did.

Ciao,

Jenny G.


 

Hey Jenny,

I hope you don’t mind me butting in about your blog, but I found your calling card a few weeks ago downtown. My name’s Margaret, and I love books. I love books so much that I hope it will be okay for me to submit for your consideration a reading list, since I agree with you that an International Woman of Mystery should always be well read.

It’s not too long or pedantic (I hope!) It’s a few titles written by or featuring really bad ass women, women of mystery, women of strength, women who are working to find their place in the world. Not to say that this is the end all, be all, because while I think literature can challenge you and change you, sometimes it’s nice to read something that’s pleasurable. I don’t think books need to be difficult or obscure to be of value.

That said, let’s start with a challenge. I’m sure it’s the English major in me coming out, but to me, one of the original strong women is Chaucer’s The Wife of Bath from The Canterbury Tales. If you’re up for an adventure and want to spend some time looking up words in the dictionary, you can read it in the original Middle English, or you can find a translation and start there. The Wife is on a pilgrimage with an incredibly diverse group of characters in the 1400s, at a time when women were the property of their father or their husband, and they were little seen and certainly not heard. And yet, she’s on her pilgrimage, not as a nun, but as a bawdy, funny, spirited individual, talking openly about her marriages and her desire for another husband (or two, maybe!) What is always amazing to me is the familiarity in the Wife and in her tale, though she and I are separated by hundreds of years of time and many, MANY radical shifts in culture and conduct. I think hers is a worthy story, and the act of reading about her is an interesting history lesson.

From challenge to “chick lit.” I love Jennifer Weiner’s novels (I particularly love her break up book Good in Bed) and I also love her as an author and an advocate. Her books are about the lives of women – they’re real and they’re accessible and they make me feel like I’m talking to a great friend who also happens to be able to say the things I can’t say in words in exactly the right way. I also love that Weiner has been very public in her defense of so called “chick lit” and the art of reading for pure pleasure and entertainment. She’s gone toe to toe with The New York Times and challenged the boys club nature of who they choose to review in their book section, and uses her platform as a successful author to advocate for more equality in publishing.

Also an amazing person in addition to author is Margaret Atwood, and I’m not just mentioning her because we share a name. Her writing is bad ass and she IS a bad ass. She writes about dystopias (if you liked any Hunger Games, you’ll love The Handmaid’s Tale) and wild science fiction just as well as she writes about the lives and friendships of women. My favorite of hers is The Blind Assassin, which is a love story, a mystery story and the story of the relationship between two sisters – a Woman of Mystery could definitely learn from the way the main character Iris uncoils the details of the story slowly and slyly.

And if you’re looking for something different, she has short stories, poetry collections and works of nonfiction. She’s so prodigious that she’s the first author in the Future Library Project, having submitted a book in 2015 that won’t be read by anyone until 2114. It makes me jealous of my grandchildren, that they’ll get to enjoy Atwood’ dark humor and beautiful writing and the surprise of a novel that’s been just waiting a hundred years to be discovered.

I know that you have felt a lot of upheaval in leaving Boston for Denver, and so I think you’d like reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s Pultizer Prize winning story collection The Interpreter of Maladies, because she focuses on the immigrant experience and the way we assimilate and assume new identities when we change our location and our culture. Her writing is so simple and her stories are incredibly moving.

Lastly, I’m recommending this book because it’s my all time favorite novel. The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende tells the story of three generations of uniquely powerful women while also telling the history of Chile’s political upheavals in the 20th century. It’s magical realism, Allende’s beautiful writing, and a story that’s both unbelievable and true at the same time.

So again, forgive the intrusion and the influx of opinions, but I hope this gives you a little something to add to your reading queue- does an International Woman of Mystery carry a library card?

Sincerely, Margaret

New Construction

13 Feb

Resourcefulness

I got home from a run the other day to find six large, cardboard boxes outside my apartment door. I studied the information on them, mystified at who would possibly have sent me so much stuff.

In fact, my mom had sent me all my books from home. What a lovely surprise!

As a child and teenager, I was an avid reader (still am) and books were the only things I ever wanted for birthdays and Christmases. Accordingly, I acquired a large collection of books: first edition Harry Potters, Hemingway in hard cover, vintage children’s storybooks, French philosophy books sent from Paris, feminist fiction from Aunt Petra, classics that looked like they belonged in a dark library, and all the Shakespeare plays in leather-bound covers.

I couldn’t wait to immerse myself in their pages once again. I dragged the boxes into my apartment, and spent the better half of an afternoon joyfully opening them, rediscovering the books I hadn’t seen in such a long time.

Because many of them had been gifts, their covers were high quality, just begging for a prominent display. After studying my mostly blank walls, I decided that a full wall of books would be the most dramatic and elegant way to shelve them. Thus, I needed to build some shelves.

For a moment I considered hiring someone to install them for me, but then I realized how expensive that would be, especially after I bought all the shelving. I also considered buying bookcases, but I would have to buy too many of them to display all my books, and I just didn’t have the money for that, nor the space. I then sensed an opportunity to cross another item off my list. I would be resourceful.

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Girl Waits With Gun

24 Jan

GirlWaitsWithGun

Becoming Jenny G. can be hard work at times, what with the gallivanting about town, the wigs and the rigor of finding and completing new missions. Luckily, I recently had a bit of downtime to refocus on my ongoing mission of finding outside sources of inspiration. Thusly, the International Woman of Mystery book club has reconvened.

I’ve recently picked up Amy Stewart’s “Girl Waits With Gun.” A brief description informed me that it was a fictional story, based on true events and a true heroine. In other words, just my cup of tea. After my marginal disappointment in “The Secret History of Wonder Woman”, I had high hopes for finding a new literary icon. Luckily, I was not disappointed.

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James Bond: Spectre

5 Dec

Manifesto

[Spoiler alert!]

Dear High School Jennifer,

You don’t need a sexy man in a tuxedo to validate you, love you, or save you. Looking for a man to do any of these things only makes you just as bad as the men who objectify women: you’re depending on someone else for your self worth.

Recently seeing the latest James Bond installment, Spectre, only strengthens my conviction. In the movie, James Bond runs around the world, trying to protect the gorgeous blonde Madeleine Swan in an effort to chase her from the movie’s villain. Swan starts out seemingly strong and independent, but in the end, she turns out like almost every other fair maiden: saved because she is beautiful, saved because she is pure (she wears white for much of the film), saved because one man decides she’s worth saving.

Seeing this conjured memories of once feeling worthless, and thus, I am writing to you today. Continue reading

The Secret History of Wonder Woman

16 Nov

Lynda-Carter-as-Wonder-Woman

As per my list of International Woman of Mystery Must-Haves, I recently decided it was time to start looking for outside inspiration. The answer arrived rather serendipitously on my day off. While wandering through a bookstore downtown and glimpsing the shelves, a book caught my attention: The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore.

Admittedly I’ve never been a comic enthusiast, but I was intrigued. Even in 2015, women superheroes are hard to come by. It seems like even when we do see women in superhero lore, they exist only to be the scantily clad sidekick to a more prominent, more powerful male superhero. Why is that?

But Wonder Woman was more or less the original, no? Or at least kind of a badass? This book seemed like a perfect way to kick off my International Woman of Mystery book club. Membership: One. For now.

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Why can’t I have my own Bond Movie?

22 Sep

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Between my work-from-anywhere marketing research job, I started binge-watching James Bond movies.

When I was in high school, my dad and I watched these movies together. I remember getting blissfully lost in the exotic locales and charming appeal of the hero.

We never traveled as a family, so watching James Bond made me feel like I was leaving the depressing confines of my hometown: London today, Thailand tomorrow. I lived vicariously through Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan.

Or was I living vicariously through the Bond girls, daydreaming of the day some man would save me with his adventures?

Now, as I watch Bond movie after Bond movie, I feel increasingly terrible, and also foolish for realizing so late how blatantly these movies exclude a woman’s personal journey. They are hero movies for men – the male protagonist’s adventures lead him to some grand pinnacle of personal achievement, thus creating his deep sense of self worth.

Women spectate. Women get romantic comedies, where marriage is the heroine’s happy denouement.

For most of my teens, I think I genuinely believed that if I became the object of a man’s desire, it meant I was doing something right. I placed my happiness in a man’s hands. How ridiculous to place my happiness in anyone’s hands but my own. I was smart in every other way, but so dumb when it came to valuing myself.

Over the years, I lost myself waiting for someone else to make me happy.

Now, going through this breakup, I yearn for some story, some pop culture compass to tell me what to do. Where is the movie about the woman that has nothing to do with a man? Those stories are out there, I know.

Where are the stories of the strong women who gracefully rebounded from personal loss by giving an opposite, positive force to the world? These are the confident woman who never used their relationships to validate their self-worth, the women who had more important things to do than lament what they were better off without, the well-rounded women whose every happiness didn’t hinge on the self-loathing temperament of a selfish man.

Forget James Bond. I want to be THAT woman. That is not who I am now, but mark my words: Someday, I will be that woman.

I will be the International Woman of Mystery.