Lately I’ve been really into weird concepts of something like failed, desperate, self-conscious deliberate performative femininity? Part of this is evidenced by the fact that I’ve been doing my hair in big curls with my kinda-crappy-blonde-dye-job and wearing a ridiculous faux-leopard coat with ripped tights and messy eyeliner, and part of it comes together more in at least 47 different e-mail conversations about books and movies with “unrepentantly fucked up” lady characters that I’ve been having with at least 5 different people of late. Some of these ideas have been written very eloquently by other folks already, and some of it is obvious and some of it is still vague, and all of it is definitely not “complete,” so, like, go at it in the comments, y’all, I wanna know what you’re thinking.
It begins, I think, with my ongoing frustration that when we are presented with male characters (or personas, or even real persons) who are basically bad people with one redeeming quality (still sleeps with a teddy bear, is a brilliant filmmaker) we let that one redeeming quality, you know, redeem them, and are collectively charmed by their fucked-up-ness. But I have a really hard time coming up with similar female examples: all of the ones I can think of we have opted to either lambast or concern-troll instead. And we always need to redeem them. They always need to learn something or be rescued, which we all know is basically the opposite of how the world really works. Kids, I am a hot mess, and almost all of the women I admire and love and am fascinated by are also hot fucking messes, and I so rarely see that represented in a real, nuanced, and fascinating way. To simplify: I am eternally tearing my hair out over the fact that I desperately want more female antiheroes. In books, film, pop culture personas, whatever. And I’ve been seeing this idea come up again and again lately.
As a brief list of some of what I’m referencing: There’s this Lana Del Rey album review, which is kind of the most astute thing I’ve read on her yet, and which hit the nail on the head of my bizarre, obsessive preoccupation with her and her aesthetic — though it condemned her where I obviously am fascinated instead. There was that Marie Calloway brouhaha, and the fantastic response to it all from Kate Zambreno, which also lead to The Rejectionist’s interview with her here. There were a bunch of folks over at Emily Books who managed to somehow misread a lot of lesbian moralism into Eileen Myles’ Inferno, when I thought it was just a book about, like, someone very funny and intelligent and unapologetic, who also lived a life that reminds me an awful lot of my life now. There was Charlize Theron in Young Adult, who would have been way fascinating if not for Diablo Cody’s frustrating insistence on de-nuancing her characters in favor of twee trope-tastic banter. There’s Cat Marnell at XOJane and the no-nonsense-it’s-okay-to-be-human writing at Rookie. Sarah’s and my Rayanne Project (which sort of fizzled out probably partially because I am a little bit too much of a whacked-out womanchild to coordinate and motivate folks to write me things like that, but the stuff that’s up there is still amazeballs!) The Amy-Winehouse-inspired couture collection that Gaultier showed yesterday. Courtney Love, like, in general.
I am really into this, you guys.
I feel the need to clarify that this isn’t like the “It’s okay if you don’t text him back right away” pages of ladymags, because it’s not that kind of screwing up. Nor is it the Manic Pixie Dream Girl either — look, guys, maybe Zooey Deschanel has shiny bangs, but I’d rather hang out with or read a book about Courtney Love any day, who is more of like a Manic Troll Nightmare Beast than anything else. I actually sort of want to see it as an inverse of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, though I know my character I’m describing here is also easily reduced to male fantasy. But I want to insist that it doesn’t have to be, and that she shouldn’t be, which is half the point, that the drunk sloppy girl in the corner is definitely not any more broken than anybody else and definitely not there to be taken advantage of. She’s a failure of male fantasy, and she knows it, and more than that, she flaunts it, because the point wasn’t the goddamned boys to begin with.
The kind of ladies I’m talking about are flawed, but not damsels in distress in any way. So I am totally cool with being a Manic Troll Nightmare Beast, because in my experience, that is basically just a symptom of “the human condition.” I am totally cool with being a human, and I am totally cool with other women who are okay with being humans and not gentle ladies, too. And humans are a lot more interesting.
There are problematic interpretations of it, too — a lot of it verges on nauseating, hackneyed and racist “Carefree White Girl” style fantasy, and it’s easy to slip into tropes of “glamorizing drug use and prostitution” or whatnot. (I’m already anticipating 3-7 comments criticizing me with that straw man, it’s cool, y’all.) I also keep wanting to describe things as “trashy,” because please, kids, I am from New Jersey, lord knows I love trash, but I know that is often read as both classist and misogynist. There’s also another frustrating version of this which involves things that have always felt like myself — you know, the messy girl who has made a ton of mistakes and isn’t quite pretty and is a little bit sad and a little bit nuts and lives a little bit too hard sometimes, but keeps it together — being recycled and spat back at me in a distorted and fetishized way. (Do we want to talk about my disgust for Sasha in A Visit From The Goon Squad? Like that.) But I am still going to be a sucker for anything even verging on this image of the screwed-up girl who’s getting it half-right but doesn’t give a damn if it’s also half-wrong because she’s trying and because she’s having fun. I am still going to want more of it, because there isn’t enough of it.
On a more personal note, in some ways I think this a weird core of my own “identity” or whatever, if we want to talk about those things. When you are coming out it sometimes takes years to bridge the gap between “I like girls” and “Wait, I don’t actually have to date him, I don’t owe him that. Wow! I don’t have to!” and then suddenly you exist in this entirely new bizarre world where every page of every ladies’ magazine doesn’t apply to you at all and you feel so much better about a ton of things because you have given yourself permission to not worry about men anymore. Or at least that’s how it worked for me. What I am saying is that frankly I feel like I spent an awful lot of my life trying real hard to be straight and getting real sad when it didn’t work the way it was supposed to, and I basically feel the same way about Doing Ladylike Shit. And I’m having a ball with it, and I really dig seeing that in other places, too.
BUT. Back to the point. We know that girls aren’t supposed to go out and get drunk and let their makeup get messed up and screw the wrong people and show up late and swear and have breakdowns and get pissed off and make noise and take up space and have delusions of grandeur and mood swings and panic attacks. We are supposed to contain all that: we are supposed to contain our messy, loud, crazy bodies and estrogen-addled minds and comb our hair and iron a dress and show up with a smile, at risk of becoming a broken, dirty woman – the demimonde, the floozy, the washed-up starlet, the old maid – if we do not.
I am not into that. I will lose my mind if I do that, and probably half of my existing crazy is from trying to do that anyhow, and I am eternally charmed by the evidence of other ladies who feel the same way. I would so much rather see someone else screwing it all up than someone doing it right or being saved. And I admit that I still am trying to convince myself — this blog post is evidence of that, for sure — that it is okay for me to be a hot mess like that, that it is okay for me to be a real human too.