Hulk vs She Hulk… That’s My Secret, Captain
Men are not the problem. Straight white folk are not the problem. Stupidity, fear and gender power divide is the problem. Hulk Smash!
I turned 30 at the beginning of this year. According to the culture I come from, I might as well be dead. And as Jimmy Carr, the comedian, so aptly puts it, the only way I will be referred to as young now will be if I die.
Men “age like good wine”. Women “wilt and start looking used”. When actors age, they get more recognition, better parts and sometimes Oscars; when actresses age, they get facelifts, botox and tabloid criticism for daring to sport the odd wrinkle (I’m not talking about exceptions here). As an artist, I find all bodies fascinating, but as an anthropologist, I understand where this double standard comes from. Growing up, we are taught that men are worth more than women. That, even when facing something as universal and unforgiving as aging and death, being a man is an advantage. It is not “how things are”. Fear of difference and fear of “the other” are not natural.
Nature experiments freely and without judging. Everyone gets a slice of the life pie. Gender discrepancy comes from perception, and the way we look at things. Nietzsche reportedly said that, if oxen could entertain theological thought, their God would most likely have horns. In a similar way, a patriarchal way of looking at the world will infuse that view with the equation of power – and whoever holds the power tells the story in their favour.
Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, and it’s informed by the ideology the individual was exposed to while growing up; from their family, their community, school, media and so on. The very notion of striving to be beautiful, otherwise we are unimportant and unremarkable, is a patriarchal norm which immediately divides humanity into two groups, granting privilege only to one, according to arbitrary and subjective criteria.
Being a woman the way others wanted me to be has always been a daunting task. In an ideal world, gender would not be an issue. I don’t like labels and limitations because it’s all I ever heard while growing up. “Boys don’t like it when…”, “Don’t be so loud!”, “Don’t claim so much space! A lady takes very little space!”, “No one will love you if you wear that!” My mother did her duty and clipped my wings religiously, hoping to make a “real lady” out of me. All she achieved was a scared little mouse. It’s been years since then, yet the desire to conform and to get a pat on the head and the acknowledgent of being a “good girl!” still pops up from time to time.
My mind does not attach a gender to my self-image. I like things to be fluid, yet I find that everyone around me obstinately reminds me I do have a gender and I owe it a supply of consistent proof that I am good at being a woman (and let’s not even get into a debate over who decides what a “good” woman looks and acts like; not now, at least).
After watching Avengers Assemble, I kept getting asked by friends who I most indentified with from the movie. My answer was and will remain Dr. Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk. “You mean you’d be a She Hulk! And you wouldn’t have long periods of time without incident, because you’d hulk out once a month by default.” This comes from friends who have known me for years, from people who have never seen me upset for real in all this time, and from people who know nothing about me and who would gladly pee in the pond of our friendship if it means getting a misogynistic joke in.
Being a woman is a constant struggle against myself and the world; because I am a woman, or I look more or less like one, the world has all these prescriptions and recipes for me. As a woman, surely I need help; surely, when presented with the prospect of autonomy, I would not know how to use it. I find that women who have grown and succeeded within the patriarchal narrative are the strongest defenders of patriarchy. They are the mothers who do not tolerate their daughters wearing trousers and skinning their knees, the wives who judge their own worth by the price of the ring on their finger, the women who blog about how getting pregnant is a turn-on because they finally feel they belong to a man for real. Seriously?
For me, every day is a losing race against the clock. I periodically get someone pointing out that I am not the woman I was designed to be, for I have no husband, no children, no mortgage. My mother tells me: “You can be anything you want, but after you’ve made us grandparents!”
Part of me wants to desperately to conform, and to get praise and respect. But another, bigger part of me feels it would be wrong for me to do so. At times I panic at the thought that my line will end and I have missed the last train to genetic immortality, but isn’t that a very selfish reason to bring another person into the world so you can live through them?
All that is left, constant and strong, is anger. I wish I could tell the world that I am more than my reproductive organs. That I deserve respect and consideration even if I never have children. But that will not happen very soon, since in the current paradigm, I am robbed even of the legitimacy to speak.
I wish the people around me, who feverishly dictate how my life should look and feel like, would understand the point that I am making that being a woman is NOT “somewhere between animal and man, but closer to animal”. Until I do manage that, I have to live with the pressure every day and I honestly do not know where it all goes. I wish it would not stay inside me and fester into something I can’t control.
Until then, I learn to live with it one day at a time and, like Dr Banner, I can say: “That’s my secret, Captain. I’m always angry!”