Being a Woman is Hard, But So Is Being a Man
Usually, I know right from the start when I am working on a two-parter for TRUTH:In 1000 Words or Less. Either it’s a multi-faceted issue that I am attempting to tackle, or I just plain know that there’s no way that my loquacious ass is going to be able to limit myself to a thousand words on a subject. But this week’s column is more of a follow up to last week’s edition than it is a downright sequel. The genesis for this idea came as I was discussing last Thursday’s column on Greta Gerwig’s Barbie with my girlfriend. Though she has yet to see the film herself, she could tell this was an issue I am passionate about (in fairness, I’m passionate about a lot of issues, so take that for what it’s worth). You see, as a parent of both a teenage son and daughter, I want to see both genders liberated from the constraints of gender expectation in order that they can reach their full potential for success and happiness. In this regard, I found America Ferrera’s powerful monologue towards the end of the film that has gone viral in recent days to be both an inspiration and a curse. Her speech about the complexities of being a modern woman goes as follows:
It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong.
You have to be thin, but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin. You have to say you want to be healthy, but also you have to be thin. You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money because that’s crass. You have to be a boss, but you can’t be mean. You have to lead, but you can’t squash other people’s ideas. You’re supposed to love being a mother, but don’t talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman but also always be looking out for other people. You have to answer for men’s bad behavior, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of complaining. You’re supposed to stay pretty for men, but not so pretty that you tempt them too much or that you threaten other women because you’re supposed to be a part of the sisterhood.
But always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged. So find a way to acknowledge that but also always be grateful. You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line.
It’s too hard! It’s too contradictory and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you! And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault.
I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us. And if all of that is also true for a doll just representing women, then I don’t even know.
What I love about this soliloquy is that it encaptures so much of the plight of contemporary women. The speech gives voice to the plaints of women worldwide as they struggle against a system that limits who they are and burdens them with untenable expectations. The problem I have with it is that there is no parallel for the plight of modern men in this film. In fact, I would argue that no such content exists in the annals of contemporary film. Yes, living in this context is a daily strain on women, but men face similar burdens and anxieties. To suggest otherwise is not only horribly shortsighted and misguided, it is simply thinly-veiled sexism in reverse. Like women, men are constrained by preconceived gender expectations, and the pressure of living up to them is taking a toll on them as well. To this point, men are twice as likely as women to engage in at-risk behaviours and die by suicide. Our median life expectancy is six years less than it is for women. Gender equality lifts up both genders, not just one or the other. I absolutely loved this moment in the film, but I wanted to see its masculine counterpart before the film’s inevitable conclusion.
“Why don’t you write your own?” My girlfriend asked me.
And so I give you this monologue for the plight of men that also should have been in the Barbie movie:
It is literally impossible to be a man. Let’s start with the fact that many people will hate the very idea of a man voicing the issues men face. Because of a patriarchal structure that has oppressed women for centuries, men are now expected to keep their mouths shut about the difficulties they may face.
We are expected to be strong, but not forceful. We should be assertive but not aggressive. You have to have to have money and a good job, or no woman will even think of dating you. But no matter how skilled or talented you are, you got that job solely because you are a man.
You should be vulnerable, but not too vulnerable. At no point, should you display weakness or emotional fragility. You must be the anchor for your family, providing them with the stability for health and well-being, often at the expense of your own. And when you finally recognise your own hurt and pain, you better deal with that shit on your own because no one wants to hear bellyaching from a man.
Some women want you to open the door for them. Some get pissed when you do. Does a man pay for dinner or do we split the check? Either way, you’re the asshole for not being a mindreader and knowing which camp they fall into.
Oh, and you better be tall. Like over 6 foot kind of tall. Women swipe left if you’re not, even if there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. I mean, judging people based on their weight is demeaning and repugnant, but at least there’s something you can do about it. Last time I checked, no stretching machine is going to help you with that one.
Be competitive but not too competitive. You must be a proper breadwinner, but don’t make that your priority. You have to work your ass off to get the promotion, but also be a good family man that makes it to all your kids’ soccer games and dance recitals. Anything less and you are nothing short of a shitty father and husband.
And at the end of the day, keep your mouth shut because let’s not forget the Golden Rule of modern gender issues: Women are always right.
Steven Craig is the author of the best-selling novel WAITING FOR TODAY, as well as numerous published poems, short stories, and dramatic works. Read his blog TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less every THURSDAY at www.waitingfortoday.com