Bertha's List: August Edition
“I am a princess. All girls are. Even if they live in tiny old attics. Even if they live in rags. Even if they aren't pretty, or young, or smart, they're still princesses. All of us! Didn't your father ever tell you that?”
When Frances Hodgson Burnett wrote that, I believed it. I believed it with the same fervor her tiny heroine proclaimed it. You see, I am what you call a girl’s girl. Always have been, always will be; which is probably the reason why I hate reality TV shows like The Bachelor. Thirty smart, beautiful women tearing each other down while some dude openly deliberates which of them he’ll pick? It’s enough to send my feminist heart into a rage. But for every chauvinistic, tasteless show there is a Sex and the City to wipe the misogynistic slate clean.
Now, before you jump for my throat claiming that SATC is the epitome of anti-feminism, let me clarify. I may not be a card-carrying member of the Gloria Steinem variety, I happen to love my red lipstick and yes, I dress for men as much as I dress for women, but my generation’s definition of feminism has managed to attain equality without eschewing the feminine. The two can and should co-exist. Those that criticize the show never understood it. Beyond the glamour of city-living and expensive footwear, SATC was always about relationships- messy, complicated relationships- and, most importantly, friendships. Sarah Jessica Parker has said in countless interviews that what she loved most about the show was the friendship between these women. The love and support they shared on and off set. I remember watching the episodes with my girlfriends in high school and it bonded us with a deep sense of sorority. It set a high standard for how we valued each other and other women- with respect and confidence. As Kim Cattrall once said about Sarah Jessica “She shines and lets others shine, too.”
Don’t misunderstand me, though. I’m no ring leader of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. I too have been guilty of jealousy. I’ve tried blocking from memory a very public outburst of emotion which turned into a full-blown breakdown in the middle of Union Square Park. I’m still infamous with some innocent passer-bys as that ratchet girl screaming her head off on the sidewalk. Not my finest hour. I’ve also been the victim of girl-on-girl crime and lost some important friendships because of it. That one’s a bit more complicated. But those experiences haven’t jaded me into having “only guy friends because girls are so bitchy.” If I had a dime for every time I heard a girl say that… I can’t assume that mentality because I have been raised, and continue to be surrounded by, some pretty damn amazing women. I refuse to think we are anything short of absolutely wonderful.
As summer drew to a close, it brought along the end of an era. On the last day of August we said goodbye to our friends Maribel and Dodge as the recently-engaged couple prepared for their new life in California. At the couples’ request, Thanksgiving came early. In a tradition that over the years became known as “Drunksgiving,” our urban family celebrated with turkey, mashed potatoes, and copious glasses of wine. Just days before we’d helped the bride-to-be look for her wedding dress and many hours were spent deliberating over lace, silk, and tulle. That day we’d also found the perfect dress. It was a good omen. I realized how much I would miss Marbles. This was the girl that talked me through a panic attack the same night I’d arrived in New York. When I say I was literally convinced not to buy a return ticket, there is really no one else to thank. So we toasted to her future and promised our paths would meet again. At that same rainbow’s end, just waiting round the bend, my huckleberry friend.
With so many birthdays in August, I spent the month celebrating the fierce Lionesses in my life. Whether it was dinner at Pio Pio, a midnight showing of The Conjuring, or a day by the Coney Island shore, I felt privileged to call these ladies my friends. They have held my hand on more than one occasion, through surgeries and dating disasters. Take for example my lovely friend Nina. She’s sat through two dinners, one awful Off-Broadway show, and three cocktails while I rambled on and on about my romantic woes. Where she finds the patience I frankly do not know but I love her all the more for it. During one of our rare, once-in-a-blue-moon drink after work (coincidentally, it really was a blue moon that night) we talked about how much women sacrifice for their significant other. I knew so many gorgeous, strong, warm, intelligent women who, at worst, put up with physical abuse or, at best, put up with waiting around for these boys to finally, maybe, hopefully grow up, get his crap together, and love her the way she ought to be adored. Why do we give so much and settle for so little?
Friday night, after my date cancelled on me (four hours prior, mind you- "I just became exclusive with someone I've been seeing. I hope you understand." I hadn't even met him and already I was rejected? Never a dull day, I tell ya’) I was ready to jump in my jammies and call it a draw when my high school sweetheart, who just so happened to be in town, invited me to hang out with the old gang. He said something about a karaoke bar and I dressed up faster than I once did getting out of my prom dress. One fizzy drink and two kick-ass "Don't Stop Believing"/"Goldigger" renditions later, he walked me to the subway. After three long blocks he became melancholic and began talking in "what-if's" and the possibility of a future together. As he leaned in for a kiss I sharply recoiled as if I'd been stung. Given our history, that is a pretty accurate metaphor. Because even if, against all the odds, I wasn't at that particular moment in love with someone else, and even if I could overlook the fact he was seven years too late, I was just sick and tired of being "the one that got away." I was tired of being the hindsight-is-20/20 girl, the one that waited around while the boy figured it out. I looked at him and thought: here is a man who, once upon a very long time ago, was all I ever wanted and now here I am interested in nothing more than a friendship. So I kissed his cheek, thanked him for the book he'd gifted me, and we each went back to our respective parts of the world. I went home that night knowing that I hadn’t settled because this time I’d chosen me.
Not long after that large feat of self-actualization, I had yet another test of adulthood: choosing whether to fight over a man. Having already stated my abhorrence for The Bachelor, I’m sure you can imagine my utter horror when I unwillingly found myself in the middle of an episode happening in a Lower East Side bar. Totally unprovoked, this woman, whom I’d only just met, sought out to be hurtful, dare I say even vengeful. I had two choices: I could stoop down a few degrading levels or I could walk away with my dignity intact. I wish I could say that I walked out because I was the bigger person but ultimately I walked out because cattiness is not my kind of sport. I also walked out because I understood that this woman’s need to stake out her territory stemmed from a place of insecurity, perhaps even jealousy; traits not foreign to me but ones I don’t like cultivating. Deeper still than the jealousy, her actions stemmed from a place of hurt. Whatever mask she tried hiding behind, it was glaringly obvious- she wasn’t over this man. So I chose to walk away. The only thing I learned that night was that maybe I should have stayed home with a Woody Allen film.
Talking over the incident with my friend Aileen I became very interested in women’s inherent sense of competition with each other. More specifically, those first few seconds of meeting another woman, when you’re sizing her up for friend or foe and maybe slyly judging her outfit, why is it that our first instinct is to automatically feel threatened? Her discerning opinion was that men are easy, all it takes is a bit of charm, but with women, since the prospect of sex is off the table, charm will only take you so far, which is not very far at all. This of course only applies to interactions with heterosexual females. The other side of that coin is a whole other story left for a whole other writer. So my very funny friend Aileen deducted that the futility of harmless flirting with other women only leaves you with the possibility that they’ll genuinely like your personality. I could easily attest to that since I find it more nerve-wrecking asking a potential new girlfriend out for coffee than it is to shamelessly flirt with the cute barista. I’m also of the lone opinion that it is less awkward to break up with a lover than to break up with a friend you may have outgrown. The final verdict of our conversation was that maybe out of fear of rejection or maybe out of some evolution tactic pre-dating back to the cave days, sometimes women aren’t so nice to each other.
All unintended Sapphic undertones aside, I love women. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been completely fascinated with them. I love them for their best-kept beauty secrets and for the deep sea of secrets that is a woman’s heart. The ones in my life are my heroes, my role models, my gurus, my confidants, my sisters, my mentors, my mothers, my worst critics, my biggest fans, my guiding spirits, my friends. They shaped the woman I am and hope to one day become. Maybe it all does come down to upbringing and I am lucky for a mother who reminded me every day how precious I was. Every little girl should grow up knowing she’s special, just like all other little girls are too. They deserve to be treated as such. So if you ever see another princess in need I suggest you be kind. Tilt up her sloping crown and remind her of a little princess named Sara Crewe.
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