When I first arrived in New York, I met them almost immediately. It was hard to take your eyes away: one was blonde and one was brunette, they were tattooed, and they wore clothing that made the world their gynecologists (thank you, "Ab Fab").
These girls, who I'll call Thelma and Louise (although they probably wouldn't care if I used their real names), would tell tales of passing out drunk on trains, having sex with strangers at house parties, shoplifting from bodegas, and still making it to work on time. They hung out in the same circle as me, and they traipsed around parties with their messy makeup, constant bedroom hair, and complete and total "I don't give a fuck" attitudes.
I thought I hated them. I desperately wanted to hate them.
I would narrow my eyes in judgement and tell my husband that they were clearly late-stage alcoholics, and he would nod absently, watching them dance by themselves to no music. I avoided speaking with them, angry at how cavalier they were, or wanting them to conduct themselves with a bit more "self-respect." That was my term for it.
"Self-respect!" I would sniff. And I'm no prude. I'm married, but my husband and I are not that couple you hate, the one who doesn't leave each other's sides and goes home at 10:30 to watch "American Pickers." We stay out late, we party, and we have a ton of fun (though we do talk about our cat a lot).
Before marriage, I had my Thelma and Louise phase. I lived a life full of showing up to work in last night's clothes, making out with boys in cars as the sun rose over the graveyard, and just in general, having experiences that left me screaming "Why does this always happen to me?!" when I found my apartment on fire.
But by the time I met Thelma and Louise, the less appealing and less feasible their lifestyle had become, and the more I enjoyed the benefits of healthy, cleaner living. I had grown out of that behavior … or so I thought.
Clarity came one night at a rooftop party, when either Thelma or Louise complimented my coat, and the rush of endorphins I experienced helped clue me in to the truth. I didn't hate these girls -- I was obsessed with them, and worse, jealous.
I was jealous that they managed to stay slutty and messy for so long, jealous that they managed to keep their jobs while being such glamorous wrecks, jealous that when their eyeliner smeared, it looked hot (when my eyeliner smears, it looks like smeared eyeliner). That night, I ended up hanging out with them for hours, and I realized that hating the Thelmas and Louises in my life wasn't getting me anywhere.
I'm no longer interested in being them, sure, but I'm also no longer interested in judging them. Not to get too soapbox, but if you want to be pro-woman, you have to be pro- all women, not just the ones whose lives have turned out like yours.
Maybe Thelma and Louise won't be party girls forever -- maybe that phase of their lives is a phase, like mine was, or maybe they'll be partying it up through their 50s, making the rest of us tired as we watch them climb onto bars. There's a difference between a destructive addict and somebody who refuses to grow up and get the amount of sleep and alcohol recommended by a doctor.
All I know is that I don't want to live in a world where women are hated for being women and having the nerve to value fun over everything else.
My advice to you is that if there's a woman in your life that you hate because she 1) doesn't respect boundaries, 2) drinks too much, and/or 3) takes off her clothes in public, take a step back and really ask yourself why you're angry at her for "not growing up" or "respecting herself." Maybe there's a possibility that what you're really upset about is that you don't want to/can't live that way, for either practical or ethical reasons, and you know what? That's not her deal. It's yours.
Let her live her life, stop muttering that she's setting back feminism 50 years, and appreciate that it takes all kinds of women to make a rainbow. Instead of whispering behind her back or silently judging what her childhood must have been like (also not helping the cause), go and get to know her.
Challenge yourself to accept someone -- which is not the same thing as "approving," by the way -- for being exactly who they are, or at least, living the way they want to. It doesn't mean you have to be a slutty crazy drunk, too, or that that's some kind of ideal. But I'm old enough to know that I like living vicariously through party girls, and that being friends with one can feel just as fun as being her.