A female acquaintance of mine who lives in Washington, D.C. asked me the other day for a nightclub recommendation. She was interested in going to a club, and had zero idea where to go. Although I seemed like a bizarre choice for such a question (I have lived in Toronto for the past 6 years and barely know the nightlife scene in my current city, let alone Washington D.C.), my acquaintance quickly assured me that she was a "book nerd" and "got weird around boys," and thus she couldn't possibly know of a nightclub in her own city to take her friends to.
Her description of herself quickly put me off. Since when did being a lover of books mean one had to be awkward around the other sex? Didn't a confidence in one's own mind dispel any form of awkwardness, as self assured confidence is wont to do? This all-too familiar logic underscored the stereotype that beautiful women were destined for a lifetime of stupidity, while "book lovers" were guaranteed a life filled with intellectual stimulation -- but little else. Who came up with these stereotypes?
Many women would be quick to blame men. But in fact, I most often encounter the perpetuation of these stereotypes among other women. Perhaps it's because we feel envy or threatened by women who are different from ourselves, or seem to possess something we don't. Thus women can be cruel to each other, and create ridiculous, arbitrary rules of needing to be one thing or another: You can't be beautiful AND smart. You can't be nerdy AND socially adept or without in need of a makeover. You can't be powerful AND flirt.
Are women who defy these stereotypes just as mystical and mythical as mermaids and unicorns? Or could they possibly walk amongst us mortals?
Actress Natalie Portman is breathtakingly beautiful, with a face not just for the screen but for magazines -- and she has graduated from Harvard. She proves that a woman can think, and her thinking doesn't discount what is on her face. Zelda Fitzgerald was known for her beautiful face, and was loved and admired for her wonderfully original mind. Marilyn Monroe was tormented by her beauty -- for no one took seriously the thinking woman inside. My late grandmother, Barbara Frum, was a brilliant woman who could terrify men and women alike with her questions and insight; but her face was beautiful, and her demeanour always elegant. Beautiful and thinking women clearly exist; those are just a few names. And we could play the same game listing off examples of women who defy the other stereotypes.
Women become angry if a man treats a woman as two dimensional -- the old, "Talk to my face, not my chest" problem. And yet we constantly allow ourselves to be pegged into holes by other women. Although we are capable of birthing children, carrying the weight of a family on our backs in addition to whatever demanding jobs we might have, are our egos so fragile and envy-filled that we cannot handle women who defy the "code?"
If we as women are going to rally against men who only see us in two dimensions, then we must also rally against the women who believe it more than men do. A woman who treats another woman in the same two dimensions is just as bad as a sexist man.
As Ghandi said, a person must be the change they wish to see in the world. If a woman demands equality, she must be careful she is not the force holding other women back. Women must boost each other, not passively bicker and cut each other down, so that there is only a weak mess of scraps left for men to take advantage of.