EVERYONE, there is a specter haunting American womanhood, the specter of the Woman Child! And we maybe should do something about it!
To this end, Jezebel has kindly excerpted part of an essay by “Girls” writer Deborah Schoeneman for us to wring our glittery-nail-art-decorated hands over. Apparently, ladies nationwide are “aging backwards,” resulting in an infantilized population women who’d rather take “boozy vacations” with their girlfriends than design wedding centerpieces, because they’re ALSO not getting married or having kids -- like REAL grownups do -- until way later than their forebears did.
I read this post and was immediately concerned. Am I a Woman Child? Since this is not a diagnosis I can get from a reputable physician, I’m playing Doctor Internet and checking my symptoms myself. Maybe YOU are a Woman Child too. Let’s find out.
Exhibit A: I don’t give a crap about weddings. If I’m really honest, I wouldn’t even limit this to weddings as a concept but would also include the nuptials of friends and family members I sincerely do love. I don’t care if your wedding is really unique or quirky or a carefully designed demonstration of the power of your everlasting love. I’m just not interested. I lack whatever gene makes other people love weddings, and since I didn’t inflict one on any of my own beloved friends and family I think I should get to be honest about this (albeit not at the expense of the joy and excitement of any soon-to-be-marrieds I may know).
While I wouldn’t say I actively hate weddings, I do feel an immense apathy toward them, wedding pictures included. In the past twenty years, the only wedding I’ve attended that I can say I enjoyed at all was the one where I got so drunk that I don’t even remember most of it -- I can recall the beginning of the reception up to a point but after that it’s like the needle comes screeching off my memory record and there’s nothing but static and “scene deleted” -- so I’m not sure if that counts.
Thus: if part of being a grown-up lady means being way into weddings, either your own or other people’s, then I must be condemned as a Woman Child.
Exhibit B: Sort of analogous to the above, but I also don’t much get excited about kids, be they the actual children of people I know, or those of strangers. Worse, I don’t have any kids of my own, nor solid plans to produce or acquire some! Other folks’ pregnancies are sort of exciting, as it’s a new thing and an ongoing process, but once the kid’s been around for a bit (sometimes even a few minutes) I admit their antics become less than riveting to me.
I wouldn’t ever ask a parent to not bring their kid around me (like weddings, this is not a function of hatred but rather one of apathy) because kids have every bit as much right to exist in the world as I do. However, I confess I am unimpressed if our social engagement is primarily confined to talking about or looking at said kid.
I know, this is horrible honesty, but I suppose this is why many parents tend to make friends with other parents and leave the rest of us to sit around and talk about our cats.
Most women of a certain age have parent-friends who have sent out meticulous updates every time their kid uses a fork properly or poops in the toilet or dresses herself, and you know, I think it’s awesome when parents are so invested in their kids’ development that even relatively minor achievements are worth celebrating. That’s good for the kid.
But I don’t actually give a crap about it, and if the only updates I got from most acquaintances were that their child was born, followed by a long interval after which I heard they were off to college, I’d probably not even notice.
VERDICT: GUILTY, AND A TERRIBLE PERSON
Exhibit C: I dress inappropriately for my age. Or any age, I guess. I am not even sure where the age-specific clothing chart is, or how I would consult it, but I’m fairly certain the entry for a 35-year-old lady does not include donning massive petticoats just to go to Home Depot, or dresses printed all over with tiny little fairytale castles.
Oh, I’ve tried, at various points in my allegedly-not-being-an-adult life, to dress professionally and maturely. In understated solid-color shift dresses and sensible pumps. In pants, even. It never takes. Within days I am back wearing a full-skirted turquoise dress with a pink petticoat and a vivid purple cardigan and candy-colored Dr. Martens boots and wondering why that weird boring navy dress is hanging in my closet.
It sounds weird, but if I’m wearing anything even approaching what ladies in their 30s generally are supposed to wear, I feel like I’m in costume -- a fraud. I feel less in costume when in costume than I do when I’m not.
VERDICT: GUILTY IN A DRESS THAT LOOKS LIKE A CUPCAKE
Exhibit D: I like nail polish. Apparently this is a big warning sign.
VERDICT: GUILTY, ALSO SHALLOW
Exhibit E: I care about feminism. Schoeneman’s Woman-Child wakeup call is a little fuzzy on this point, noting the stated feminist tendencies of many of its named Woman Child role models like Tavi Gevinson and Kim France, but then also suggesting that feminism is incompatible with a continued commitment to girl-ness:
It's as if some of the women around me still want to be girls because girls just want to have fun. Girls certainly don't obsess over a feminist article in The Atlantic or the dearth of female directors in Hollywood.
Fun and feminism are not mutually exclusive in my world, but I guess not everyone gets to live there. I get to both rage about injustice AND pontificate on my new favorite drugstore mascara, and I do both, often. Sometimes in the same conversation. Am I a girly woman or a womany girl? The evidence is insufficient in either case.
VERDICT: ANSWER UNCLEAR, ASK AGAIN LATER
Exhibit F: I like games. WOW, do I ever like games. I like board games and video games and dumb games you make up in the car to pass the time on a long road trip. I like telling stories and drawing on placemats. I like toys, figurines, and other silly aesthetic diversions. So does my husband, and the home we share is literally -- LITERALLY -- filled with them. And as I’ve expressed in a passionate essay all of its own, Disney World continues to be my favorite vacation destination.
I like these things not because they allow me to reclaim some nearly forgotten idyllic childhood -- I like them because they are fun, and I am finally at a point in my life where I feel stable and comfortable enough to allow myself to have as much fun as I can bear. If achieving proper womanly adulthood means sacrificing my zeal for pursuing fun and happiness wherever this world might offer even limited opportunities for joy, then you can keep your grown-up respectability. I’m not interested.
VERDICT: REALLY SUPER GUILTY AND NOT REMORSEFUL AT ALL
Exhibit G: Earlier this week, I bought this huge cosmic dolphin puzzle -- featuring dolphins swimming gaily in space over a big glowy Earth and a random smattering of planets and stars -- at Wal-Mart. You know why? BECAUSE I LIKED IT. Because I saw it and thought, whoa, what if I single-handedly put together a 33 by 22 inch cosmic dolphin puzzle, and then framed it and hung it in my dining room? HOW AWESOME WOULD THAT BE?
There was a time when I wouldn't have indulged -- in fact, there were a whole lot of years in which I wouldn’t ever have given in to such a ridiculous and extravagantly bizarre idea, when I would not have trusted my glee at the prospect of making it happen, when I would have walked away and bought only cat litter and whatever brand of paper towels happened to be on sale. I would have told myself I couldn’t do something even so mildly absurd, because it would be pointless and stupid.
But weirdly, being an adult means I can.
As a kid, even a very young kid, I was enormously responsible. Occasionally to the extent even that it concerned people, from camp counselors to school teachers. I heard the 13-going-on-30 joke on a regular basis, frequently being the calm voice of reason to both of my occasionally (frequently?) uncertain parents following their life-upending divorce (sorry folks, but you know it’s true).
In my later teens and early 20s, I was always the designated driver, literally 100% of the time, and it was rare that I couldn’t be counted on to check in on the safety and comfort of my friends at the end of an evening, in nightclubs and drunken parties. Is everyone okay with the person they want to go home with? Is anyone too drunk to make sound decisions? Everything seem above board and undangerous? Wonderful.
While I wouldn’t say that I lacked a childhood, I was definitely not particularly kid-like, even as a kid, and I was as much the opposite of “girly” as it was possible to be. I’ll allow that my current embrace of all things cheekily femme-y and self-aware probably has its roots in my early life as an occasionally grim and pensive youth with no real strong investment in gender one way or the other, but even if that’s the case, that doesn’t make my more recent fondess for girl stuff a problem in need of a solution.
My favorite thing about being an adult -- about having a nice home to live in and an amazing-and-wonderful-and-often-super-difficult job and a loving/working marriage and debt that I pay on time -- is that I get to self-determine what my grown-up life looks like. Being able to choose to do (and yes, even to buy) silly shit without remorse or self-recrimination is my greatest reward for being a grown up; being able to trust that it’s okay to like the things I like and to not worry about whether they’re appropriate or acceptable is one of the best feelings in the world.
If choosing to outfit my life in ways that make me joyful and appreciative of my every living moment -- regardless of whether those choices are properly “adult” by some arbitrary standard -- makes me a Woman Child, then pronounce me guilty on all counts and sentence me to life in the fluffy sparkly rainbow unicorn jail. Just make sure my prison-issued kitty slippers are a size ten and my Tim-Burton-striped prison frock is wide enough in the shoulders and that all my Fruit Roll-Ups are strawberry flavored. I’ll accept my punishment with grace.
Now who’s up for Scattergories?