Posts Tagged ‘women’

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For The Braintrust

January 20, 2014

She was a lunch lady. And she was as butch as they come. Every day she wore a regulation polo shirt tucked into high waisted, dark blue dickies, even when the other ladies wore floral prints or simple jeans or maybe even skirts under their uniform aprons. Her hair was buzzed within an inch of its life, while still arguably presenting as “hair” and not “bald.”  She had a deep, gravelly voice, and a hearty smoker’s laugh. She was heavy.  She was boxy. You would not hesitate to call her mannish… if it weren’t for those damn nails.

Her nails were impeccably manicured and impossibly long. She must have spent hours on them every night, for the shape and polish to remain so flawless despite working in a high school kitchen. It was clearly an aspect of herself for which she had great pride, and which was a part of her identity.

As a teenager, I was confused by what I thought of as a highly feminine adornment on an otherwise manly human. To this day, honestly, it still throws me a bit. Did they make her feel sexy? Did they make her feel beautiful? Was she even going for beautiful? But then I find myself a bit confused by what defines femininity in general.

At least as far as the news was concerned, womanhood was not celebrated in my home. I’m ashamed to say to this day when I hear the names Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi, the words “banshee” and “bitch” pop into my head, because that’s how my father referred to them. Regrettably, It wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s that I began to learn about what accomplished, remarkable women they are. My dad would make cracks about the “shrewishness” of these particular women or about women in general who can’t drive or about women failing at something or other in the public eye, and it was always said as if I were something other than those creatures. Over time I came to see myself as some outsider looking in to my gender. I knew he valued my abilities and believed in my future, but regularly dismissed women in the world, so I must be something other than this thing he despises.

I was never given the tools to understand womanhood and femininity from a place of power, only from a place of weakness. Instead, over the years I developed other tools for survival – I learned how to use logic and reason, I learned how to use timing and comedy, I honed a low, clear voice with a definitive edge; I’ve been called “authoritative” more than once, rarely meant in praise. And as a result, there is a softness within me that I have trouble letting people see, still harboring old beliefs about what releasing that vulnerability would mean.

Sometimes I wonder, when I get my weekly(ish) manicure, if people are looking at me the same way I looked at that lunch lady – why does she bother? How does one feel both soft and strong without tipping into accommodating or overbearing? What on earth is femininity?

From just a quick search online, I’ve read a few great responses to this question, so instead of writing more about my own confusion, I thought I’d try something different and pose the question to my brainstrust of powerful women out there. How do you define your femininity? How do you define your womanhood? What makes you feel strong? What makes you feel weak? How do you see yourself in the world as a part of this great sisterhood? And does anyone out there, ever feel as bewildered as I do?

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The World’s Most Popular Virus

January 17, 2013

I sit on my gynecologist’s metal table with the requisite paper over my lap, and catch a reflection of myself in the glass-framed, generic art print on the wall.  In utter absurdity to the situation, I look great. Arguably lovely. I don’t know, it’s just a good hair day, I guess, my eyeliner held up well despite all the fought tears on the subway, and I’m fully clothed from the waist up, such that this particular glimpse doesn’t broadcast that I’m about to have my cervix snipped.

Colposcopy.  If you are female and know the meaning of the word, the sphincter of your vagina probably just seized a little. If you are unacquainted with the procedure, let me fill you in on my last dance with the devil.

There comes a time in 50-75% of sexually active females’ lives, when you get a call from your OB/GYN, about a week after a Pap Smear, informing you that the test has come back abnormal, and she needs you to come in, as soon as possible, for a colposcopy. My doctor (whom – I should note right off the bat lest my snark get too heavy – I love) moves appointments for me, books me a week later, tells me to take 2 Advil before I come in and lastly instructs me, “don’t panic.”

So I’m sitting there looking surprisingly adorable from the waist up, paper clad from the waist down. I had considered shaving before I came in – you know, clean up the edges a little – but then I thought… who the hell am I trying to impress? The doc comes in and we get down to business. She puts the usual speculum inside me, but ratchets it up to what feels like 3 times its normal width. There is poking and prodding, cue-tipping, looking, peeking, peering. There’s discussion with her assistant about whether or not her sister-in-law can come work for them, idle chat echoing around my birth canal. There is a second speculum inserted into the first speculum – two for the price of one! – and the bizarre and horrible feeling of a swab probing beyond my cervix. There is talk of “infection between 5 o’clock and 6 o’clock,” and I resist the urge to ask what the happy hour specials are.

Then the real fun begins – the biopsy. The doc gives me “fair warning” which consists of “1, 2, 3 – pinch.” The first one isn’t bad, but she apologizes and says she took too small a sample. The second one… is bad. Very bad. I gasp. She admits this one was too large. It’s at this point that I can’t hold it together anymore, all the breathing exercises I know have failed me, and tears stream down my face. My doctor is all apologies – but then she’s all apologies when she sticks her finger in my ass during a routine pelvic, so I’m used to it. In between assuring her it’s ok, I take tissues from the assistant and some part of me that isn’t going through this hell notices how beautiful the assistant’s skin is. That part of me makes a note to tell her that later. The doc finally gets a mama-bear size sample and the nightmare is over. She swabs some more – antibacterial somethingorother, perhaps a coagulant, fairy dust and unicorn sweat, I don’t know, and finally removes the metallic duck-beast.

She tells me not to sit up right away so as not to get faint, and to “put my legs up.”  What she means is to stretch them out on the table she has since adjusted, but what I hear is lift them into the air like a giant 31-year-old baby waiting to be changed. It’s hours later before I realize my mistake and retrospectively cringe.

We talk a little about when test results will be back, what treatment options could be, and she tells me for the next 10 days while I heal, no tampons, no baths, no swimming and, of course, no sex.  She tells me to take as long as I need before I get up, get dressed, and pay $1,000 for the privilege of feeling like I’ve been fucked by a gigantic man with a rusted nail on the end of his dick.

She closes the door behind her and I finally let the tears go. I wish I could say I’m just crying from the physical pain, but I’ve been in therapy long enough to know I’m not; I’m bathing in a cocktail of sadness, fear, anger and, worst of all, shame.

I know, you guys. I know. I know it’s practically impossible in this day and age to be a sexually active, 30-something female and not contract HPV. I get it. I know I’m supposed to join the forums on Jezebel and be willing to openly talk about the STI. I know – especially since this is my SECOND TIME with all this – that I will be fine, and that my likelihood of developing cervical cancer is low. It’s just that… maybe it’s from an unfortunately Catholic upbringing, but I can’t help feeling like I’m being punished by some unseen force in the universe for letting a couple guys into my life (and my vagina) since my last clean Pap six months ago.

And aside from the unnecessary feelings of shame, I can’t help but feel plain old pissed off that in 2013 we still have no way of testing men for HPV, treating men for HPV, or preventing them from carrying/spreading HPV.  Or maybe I’m just angry that I’ve undergone great pain, expense, and emotional stress, and whoever gave it to me – which, where the virus can lay dormant, could have been any partner in my sexual history – need not do a thing, need not undergo a test, need not concern himself in any way.

I eventually get up, get dressed, exhaust my credit card on the experience, and forget to tell the assistant about her skin.  I’m too concerned with slowly walking back to the subway, and making my way to my computer so I can write this.  I write this partially to find the humor, partially to process it all, and partially to let some other woman out there, who gets that phone call from her Gyno, know that she isn’t alone, in any of it: the fear, the frustration, the anger, the sadness, and even the unnecessary feeling of shame.

Because even if it’s unnecessary and unfounded, you should still know you’re not the only one who’s felt it.