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The Plight of the Modern Woman

By Alison Henry

Posted: Friday, Sep. 18, 2009

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Photo by LGray Photography

In "Miles From the Aisle," former CB editor Alison Henry takes you on an irreverent trip down the often rocky road of relationships. She can be reached at alisonghenry@gmail.com.

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I've spent some time lately pondering various topics – as I frequently do – and it dawned on me that there are entire industries devoted to unhappy women. Think about that for a moment. Millions of dollars directed toward the apparent epidemic of female unhappiness. Almost every comedian – and comedienne – has a part in their act about women making men miserable. Women’s magazines scream from their headlines each month about how to "Be Happier, Today!" Television networks make big bucks on women screaming, hair-pulling and crying in prime time.

Why are we so "angry"? How did we become something for men to “put up” with? Is it just that – like men, too – we’ve become selfish? Too impatient to love or be loved? Is it really that we just have too much on our plates? (Ah, the “plight” of the modern woman: “So many roles, so little time.”) Or is there something much larger going on here?

Growing up, I prided myself on being the anti-girl, a “guys' girl.” I liked cars and tools. I played sports. I had zero – ok, one – girlfriend at a time. I didn’t like to gossip. I hadn’t been to a slumber party since the age of eight. I didn’t like the color pink, get my nails done or get facials. I honestly just thought those things were dumb. Not only did I not want to hang out with other girls, but they didn’t want to hang out with me. I wasn’t one of “them.” It was a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I was OK with that – until I got older.

With age, I started to like things and want things for my life that couldn’t be suppressed with exclusively male friends or typically male hobbies, and I began to wonder why I was alienating myself from my gender. It wasn’t because I only owned one dress and wasn’t taking weekly trips to the spa. I was just afraid of becoming what I had come to believe was a “woman:” catty, superficial, high-maintenance and emotionally unstable.

Now, I don’t know if life imitates art, or the other way around, but somewhere along the line, “woman” became synonymous with “crazy.” The entertainment industry’s portrayal of this type of woman as the norm makes it permissible – even encourages – bad female behavior, further perpetuating the very stereotype that did – and sometimes still does – leave me feeling lost in my own skin.

Yes, women are emotionally reactive, yes we have a lot to say, yes we cry and yell and sometimes find it difficult to achieve balance in our lives. But it is the extreme portrayal of these very traits that creates an inaccurate and damaging perception of women, enabling some to use this "norm" as an excuse for bad behavior while further alienating those of us who have spent our entire lives believing that this is our unfortunate fate. It gives the men in our lives reason to not listen and to treat us as something to “deal with.” It takes the very characteristics that make us loving and nurturing beings and repackages them as symptoms of a toxic subset of women whose self-righteous, egomaniacal, borderline psychotic behavior leaves the rest of us to wonder where we fit in.

Why are some women continuing to exploit behaviors that confirm and perpetuate the idea that we are all angry, catty, shallow and unstable when we have the power, the choice and the responsibility to change that?

Feminists are all about reclaiming the word “bitch” as our own – just like some people in the black community would like to do with another infamous word. But reclaiming a word does not redefine or empower a gender (or a race). The word “bitch” needs to be eliminated – along with the behavior.

My whole life I have been stuck between both feeling ashamed of the very characteristics that make me a woman and sometimes using them as an excuse for bad behavior. But I want to be able to embrace my gender without fearing it or exploiting it.

We live in a society that not only equates female behavior with bad female behavior – but expects it of us. It affects how we are viewed at work, how we interact with and are treated by our spouses, the quality of our friendships, our ability to be role models and our self-esteem. And the worst part is – we’re doing it to ourselves.

I’m tired of feeling like I have to apologize when I’m stressed out, want to talk at-length about something or need a moment to cry – just because some women choose to act like raving lunatics. I am ashamed to admit that I have said on more than one occasion to some of my male friends, “You’re right. Women are just crazy. We are.”

Because we’re not. Some of us are just women.

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