A male acquaintance suggested I try “feminine wiles” to persuade my husband to take a trip with me to London.
“I think I’m a little beyond feminine wiles.”
“How old are you?”
Yes, I’ve belonged to the “girls’ club of life” for a long time, but I’ve never been one for wiles. Life is wonderful if you’re not a wily woman. And wiles don’t matter one way or another when someone doesn’t want to get on a plane.
In a strange way, I feel that I belong not only to the “wileless” girls’ club but to the “wily” boys’ club, too.
It has something to do with defying gender expectations. Women are expected to have children. If you don’t become a mother, all your friends who are mothers, even/especially those who are bad at it, try to persuade you to become one (presumably equally bad). They’re dropping with boredom and letting their kids watch Sesame Street twice a day, but they feel you, too, should drop with boredom and let your kids watch Sesame Street twice a day. They send you greeting cards with a picture of a woman with a briefcase and the slogan “Oh my God, I forgot to have children.”
“I didn’t forget, I planned,” I say.
Then, in my late thirties, I finally got pregnant, bled, got pregnant, and bled, and after I charted my cycle, the doctor said I needed to take fertility drugs.
If I couldn’t have a baby naturally, I wasn’t interested. I certainly wasn’t going to take hormones.
And then the lecture. Apparently if I did not take fertility drugs, I was somehow betraying middle-class women everywhere. My education would be wasted if I didn’t have a baby!
I don’t think a classics degree is necessarily the best qualification for motherhood.
The doctor was a woman, and women can be really hard on women who don’t conform. In the ’70s sisterhood was powerful, but standards for sisterhood have narrowed over the years. She saw no reason why a healthy woman shouldn’t spend months taking hormones that no doubt cause cancer in women and babies.
She was like a Stepford doctor. She had to be in control.
Here’s the thing about men. They may be hard on their girlfriends or wives and expect conformity, but they honestly don’t care much what a non-related woman does. At work they seldom bore you with pictures of their children, and they simply run in the other direction if you show them a picture of your latest bicycle trip. Many workplace women’s conversations revolve around motherhood. At book group some poor harassed mother will always show up wild-haired with a crying baby in a carrier, and if she does manage to leave the baby with her husband, she will assume you all want to see the latest pictures on her phone anyway.
Women bosses behave more like men in these situations: when they’re trying to manipulate you, they use strange sports metaphors like, “If you want to play with the Big Boys, you’ve gotta play ball!”
That doesn’t quite make sense, so I’m sure I’ve misremembered the phrase, but she simply believed I would want to work overtime after she said this about the Big Boys.
Heavens, if I wanted to play with the big boys, I doubt I would have been working for her.
The great advantage to working for men? They leave you alone. They don’t talk to you about the Big Boys, they don’t make you do overtime, they’re just so glad that anything at all gets done without their help. They’re always in a meeting, so you only see them once a week. And they’re so reasonable it only takes you about one week out of a month to get all your work done. The rest of the time you do whatever you want.
So does that mean I prefer to be in the boys’ club? Huh.
On my last day in London, when I was supposed to go to the Tate Modern, but just did laundry and went to bookstores instead, I finally went to the Ultimate Women’s Club. This would prove to be the test of my sympathies.
Having been given perfect directions, I could not mistake the Persephone bookstore, tiny though it was. In a minuscule room of gray-covered books and giggling young women, I felt I had wandered into the wrong club. Some places you’re at home (Skoob), some places not. I saw the Dorothy Whipples and the Mollie Panter-Downes, but didn’t see anything I really wanted. I wasn’t in the mood to do a pity buy, so I fled back to Skoob and bought Penguin crime classics.
So I either passed some glorious test (like I may be too old for most Persephones!) or flunked one (my glorious American dollars might have saved the store!)
No, I passed the most important one. DO WHAT YOU WANT!