We are told what to wear. A miniskirt in the middle of winter, an eyeful of cleavage and shoes which leave our feet blistered and misshapen as we slowly crawl home late at night, twisting our ankle in a four-inch heel. If we do as we are told, we are sluts, we are putting ourselves at risk of being raped and we clearly don’t value ourselves. If we don’t do as we are told, we are ugly, we are prudes, and we may as well not value ourselves because nobody else values a woman who is not ‘sexy’.
We are told what to wax, shave, pluck and otherwise completely obliterate from our bodies. Hair is only permitted on our heads (and lots of it, please – preferably highlighted and blow-dried to within an inch of its life), and a thin line of carefully-tweezed eyebrows whichabsolutely must not look like they have been drawn on. If we fall in line we are a Barbie, we spend too long in the bathroom, we are vain and probably don’t have a lot else going for us. If we don’t fall in line we are ugly (again), unnatural and nobody will ever want to fuck us.
We are told what to grow up to be. Nurses, teachers, secretaries and assistants. We are stupid, we are failures and we are without worth if we become models or strippers – and yet Man needs something to wank over on a Wednesday night, there is probably something wrong with him if he does not. We are a rare exception of female brilliance if we become doctors or lawyers – and yet a female doctor is only really meant for ‘women’s health’, and female lawyers are always ball-busting bitches.
We are told how to love. Unconditionally, monogamously, unleashing our bodies a minimum of three times a week in the bedroom, and anywhere else he might want it, looking pretty on his arm when he wants us to, but making ourselves scarce when the boys come round to play. If we don’t, we are lesbians (and not even the sexy kind of lesbians, but really hairy butch lesbians who hate men), or high-maintenance in our ridiculous demand for respect.
We are told what to eat. Consume everything placed in front of you, but do so in a delicate and tidy manner, and be sure to seductively lick and suck on lollipops in-between meals. Do not gain any weight, and if by some miracle you do acquire some extra padding around the middle, make sure you exercise it off as sexily as possible at an aerobics or zumba class, whilst wearing tight spandex and a push-up bra. Don’t be too skinny, either: men like something to grab hold of as you pass them in the street, or nibble on in bed.
We are told what to read. Rows and rows of frosted pink paperbacks with the title written in glittery font, a main protagonist who is a bit ditzy and clumsy and likes to shop, and whose story is only complete when she has fallen in love. If we read this, we are dumb, and we are inferior to the literary genius of Albert Camus and Anthony Burgess, and we may as well stick to reading glossy fashion magazines. If we don’t read this, we are too serious, we are a cliché for reading Sylvia Plath, or too dumb to read anything at all.
We are told when to start a family. Sort out your career, the one you’ve been told to pursue, and start having children only when your husband feels he is grown-up enough. Express baby milk, because breast is best, but do not ever breastfeed in public lest you turn on strange men and expose innocent children’s eyes to something far more sexual than the music videos they see on TV. Go back to work and juggle being a mum with being a ‘career woman’, don’t ever get anything wrong, but by the very nature of you going back to work, accept the fact that you are shamefully neglecting your baby.
We are told how to treat one another. Have a group of best friends, but only if they are as sexy and as much fun as you are; have pillow fights with one another in your underwear and suggest that maybe a couple of you snogged one drunken night in Ibiza two years ago, but do not ever put these women before any man. Prepare to enter into a competition with these friends over which one is the prettiest and the sexiest, but be aware of the fact that when you do, men will shake their heads in bewilderment and wonder why you are all so insecure.
We are told how to satisfy patriarchy.
It is time to stop doing as we are told.
By Martha Everitt