Speculum of the other woman: myself as object…

I go through phases of frequently changing my profile pic on Facebook. It’s a little odd even to me; partly a fascination with the ageing process but also curiosity about what being a woman is all about.

I never looked in mirrors when I was in my twenties; somewhat ironic as much of that period was spent writing my masters’ thesis on the theme of vanitas and the representation of women in the 17th century… Luce Irigaray, from whom I stole the title of this post, was inspirational at that time but only in an academic way until now. I dressed in a unisex, asexual or androgynous sort of way… big boots, trousers and baggy jumpers. Although quite a scrawny youngster, I was a bit chubby in my early teens and then became borderline anorexic at 16 which left me by 18 with a flat chested, very slim boyish figure. I had a love affair at 18 and almost became a woman then, wearing make-up, heels and longer hair until he broke my heart, cheating on me with his ex. I think I repressed my femininity as a response. I wore a short ‘bobbed’ haircut after that which too was, I guess, in it’s way gender neutral. This suppression of the external feminine wasn’t deliberate or even conscious but carried on into my early 30’s until my body took control of things.  I recall trying, with much laughter, to buy my first bra in my late 20s and it was an A cup and seemed somewhat pointless.

My thirties were difficult for me, caught between the feminine and masculine… And still no mirrors. My body seemed to have a will of its own over these years though while my mind and emotions were focussed elsewhere, like a garden untended, growing wild and suddenly I found myself in my early 40’s with a rather voluptuous D cup figure. It rather alarmed me to be honest. That and the sudden greying of my hair. I think I felt a momentary panic that I’d somehow missed out on being a woman, that it was over for me. I began to notice my exterior self more and more and started to make changes to my lifestyle and my beauty routines. Enter the mirror!

I’m sure my ‘friends’ on Facebook all think I’m terribly vain with my rotating profile pics but really I’m just observing and documenting my ageing and exploring the feminine in me. Playing with myself. I’m not sure why it needs to be public… maybe it’s part of understanding impact or benchmarking my perceptions of them. I don’t like a lot of the pictures and cannot look at them too long… the signs of ageing bother me… so I have an old picture of me at 19 which doesn’t really look like me that I put up in between. But I like being a woman, I’m enjoying it for the first time in my life. I feel ripe in a way, mature, but also very aware that all is temporal… soon it will all be going to seed. c’est la vie, n’est pas?! but I want to do it consciously and with respect and grace… with love. I don’t want to just dissolve into a frumpy, shapeless, wrinkled old wreck. This is also the first time in my life when I haven’t been with a partner, that I’ve been single for more than a year, and while at times it feels like the lost and lonely years it is also like going on a retreat of silence, self reflection and meditation… in a relationship with myself…

I am also becoming increasingly conscious of what all of this means in the workplace. Now in my mid 40s, I seem to have hit a glass ceiling and it seems to stem from perceptions of ‘leadership styles’ and regardless of sex the predominant preference is for a ‘masculine’ style. I have unwittingly cultivated more of a ‘feminine’ style over the years… clearly the suppression of the feminine was something to do with just the exterior me. Interestingly, in my experience, it is also mainly women who are a generation older than me, the ones whose careers took off in the early 80s, that behave, expect and perpetuate this masculine culture in the workplace. I’m very curious to see how things will be over the next 10-15 years when my own daughter enters the workforce.

For me at this point in the journey, I can and will only echo one of my favourite Marilyn lines: I don’t care if it’s a man’s world, so long as I can be a woman in it….

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