I ventured uptown this weekend to see some music in a bar, something that I rarely do. Not having been uptown on the weekend for ages, I was rather shocked and overwhelmed at the energy of the whole thing. After weaving through side streets to get to Jackie O’s (employing my standard “best route = least people” approach to avoiding the drunks and nervously chanting hare krishna the entire way) I thought I had escaped the absurdity. While I was waiting for the music to begin, I was chatting with some friends of mine and was introduced to a friend of their’s. “Nice name” was the first thing she said to me, followed by “I like your hair, that takes some balls.” “Nah.” I replied. “Yeah, you have to shave it off when you want to get rid of it.” I shrugged and gestured at two of my female friends (who she came to the show with) who both had shaved heads. She replied “Well that takes balls too.” “Nah.” “I mean metaphorical balls.” At this point I was just giving her a confused look. She tried to explain again, “C’mon, I am a feminist too. It takes metaphorical balls. Like courage.”
How exactly, is one to go about making bar appropriate small talk about the deeply embedded patriarchy in our symbolic culture? I just have to walk away, it would be too ironic against the backdrop of the stage, as a sexily dressed woman is invited onto the stage to writhe around and stroke herself, all the while singing some back-up.
Everything about this night was absurd – I never can make it home from uptown without having some sort of existential crisis. Perhaps it was exacerbated by the ideas swirling around in my head, the conversations being replayed, the multilayered, multidimensional politics of gender. Bartky’s observations, for me, have brought into question the possibility of agency and freedom in the female experience. It is all disorienting, the layers of argumentation – make-up is mandatory, but wait, it is creative expression, freeing even! Female sexuality is frail and submissive, but if you play it right, its powerful (does this power leave the bedroom?). One cannot get to the bottom of it to begin to sort it all out.
All this considered, I am not overwhelmed – not by the effects of the female ideal on my own identity at least. However I am considerably concerned by the status of the feminine. Is the feminine all that they say it is? Is the feminine really what is played out on Court Street and in the bars? If not, how can a re-imagined femininity emerge? One defined and enacted by woman of their own accord? When you take away all the discipline and social rituals of being a woman, what remains?