Sunday, August 27, 2006

Trollin’ YouTube (Or How My Rockin’ Role Models Saved My Life)

I’ve been musing for awhile on how powerful the rock videos from my youth were. No, not for their cinematic genius (uh, please.) But for the random voyeuristic glimpses into my girlhood psyche.

I found some early Pretenders and Joan Jett videos on YouTube and sat, jaw-dropped at the reminders of where I got my sense of gender identity.

Because here’s the deal: Even in my mid-30s I feel sort of alienated by the woman the media wants me to be. I don’t look, act, dress or even want to be like that.

I don’t have that model body, my physical strength came from hard work, not a personal trainer, and let’s cut to the chase: I wouldn’t feel safe looking and acting like that in my world (or anyone else’s).

And I’m not a cocktail waitress folks, I’m a friggin’ schoolteacher.

My job is to be a realistic role model and empathic mentor for a bunch of pre-teen and teenaged girls. And I remember from first-hand experience the desperation that comes from looking at the adults around you and towards the media for guidance and feeling like you won’t have a place when you grow up.

Which brings me back to rock’n’roll.

I was raised by a single-father and continue to have a difficult relationship with a distant mother who makes me feel like a disappointment for not living up to the beauty and power that women supposedly embrace.

Growing up I realized that I didn’t want people paying attention to me for my looks, hair or body. I wanted them respecting me. I wanted people to treat me like an equal, not an object. My mother seemed so powerless when I was a child, no matter how pretty she was, that was the prime factor of her worth, and I knew even then that I couldn’t hang with that.

I was nine years old before I ever saw a woman who made me feel like there might be a place for me as an adult. It’s funny, in retrospect, that Lily Tomlin in the movie 9-5 was that woman. My mother took me to the movie, it was one of our only outlets for bonding as a child, and I still remember the strained look on her face as I peppered her with questions.

Now, I doubt at 9 I asked about the “gorgeous brunette with the strong features,” but you can be damned sure that wasn’t what mom was hoping I’d take home from one of our mother-daughter sessions.

What, I’m going to want to grow up to have a wrack like Dolly Parton? Uh, no thanks, I’d already watched the insane amount of scumbag attention my mother got from being an above-average pretty blonde, and I didn’t want it.

And the Jane Fonda character? C’mon, I had more brains (and balls) than that at 9. Of course I’m gonna vote for Lily. (I’d like to say, `what girl wouldn’t’ but if that were the case this blog wouldn’t exist, right?)

Thankfully a few years later (as I grew to personify Lou Reed’s protagonist, Jenny) I was “saved by rock’n’roll,” more specifically Mtv launched the summer of my eleventh birthday (The day after said birthday, in fact). And for the first time in my life I had visual proof that there was a whole world waiting for me: I sensed a future where I could be myself, even if at eleven I wasn’t exactly sure what that was.

More importantly, if I could just survive junior high and high school, I might have a peer group one day.

Some day...

And I did, but college was a hell of a long wait away, and I honestly wonder what I would’ve done if I didn’t have my rockin’ role models to fixate on.

Because it’s a sham ladies.

They want us to be weak.

And if you believe them, and try and follow all the crumbs and clues we’re given then it’s just too hard to keep breaking the mold and pushing boundaries. The system is already set, and people don’t like having their pre-conceived notions of gender, power or sexuality challenged any more than they like having their eggs pissed on by the waiter.

But girls, look around. Take whatever role model you had (in my case, boyish guitar slingers who not only taught me how to dress, but how to hold myself as a woman) and be proud of who you are.

No one else will tell you how awesome you are for being yourself.

How sexy your strength and autonomy is.

How it’s ok to wear clothes that let you feel powerful, not on display.

But hey, if it’s all too much to process ...

Then stay pretty, complacent and weak – the corporate suits of Amerika surely need more trophy wives.


Blogger NYCbeauty said...

You rock woman. I can say I'm proud to share a blog w/you. Some time in the 90's there was a stupid movie w/Jeanine Garafalo and Uma Thurmon with a Cyrano-esque theme. The guy basically wanted Uma's looks and Jeanine's mind....I didn't understand it at all b/c I thought/think Garafalo is MUCH more attractive in all ways than Uma. I was kind of alone in my interpretation. I watch now as my 13 y.o. niece tries to find role models. Her stepmom is an anorexic fashion slave and she fears her budding body. I just want to cuddle her until she's 20 so she won't have to go through the shitty years.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Billychic said...

That was totally fucking brilliant.

I am totally there with you - and you know this well - because growing up in high school, YOU were very much a role model for me (how's THAT for a trip) because where we went all we had were anorexic twinkies and preppie pop-tarts as our classmates - and I sure as hell didn't fit in with any of THOSE chicks. You were the only person I really identified with in school.

I remember seeing Jodie Foster in Candleshoe (I think that was the name of the movie) and I think she was my very first role model at the age of about 8. Not only did I have the hugest crush on her, but I wanted to be her; she was so damn cool and independent...and not a foo-foo twinkie.

After that, it was mostly male bands, rocker chicks, and boyish actresses - and yes, thank god for early MTV and music, because I don't think I could have gotten through puberty and junior/high school...

As a fat girl who had very few friends until about 9th grade (ironically once I lost weight) all I had to find some kind of identity that would help me not go insane were The Police, Jodie Foster, Blondie, and The Kinks. Ironically, I was still entranced with Marilyn Monroe - but she seemed so kind and gentle - like a Gilda the Good Witch that I would never really be (though I was supposed to be) but she wouldn't mind if I wasn't.

It's hard when you grow up a woman who really doesn't feel comfortable in shoes that society has set out for us to wear...when those shoes are high heels and we really would rather wear purple Doc Martens. Or Merrils.

Thanks for being not only a great writer and thinker, but a great friend. You saved my ass in high school - and continue to be an inspiration to everyone who knows you.


11:50 PM  
Blogger Full Frontal Honesty said...

Put another dime in the jukebox, baby!

9:10 AM  

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