I love being a woman. I love the style, the camaraderie, the curves, and the stories, and while I have yet to hear a strict definition of femininity that rings true to my feminist ear, there is still some indefinable essence I see in other women that makes me love them, too. Today, my wonderful little sister L and I went to Nordstrom to buy her a bra and a pair of shoes for school at the Anniversary Sale. L is fifteen, and already, despite the ordinary adolescent wafflings and fumblings, has a strong sense of style and self that I can’t help but rejoice over. I always enjoy our time alone, and even more so now that I’ll be moving out of the state very soon. There is something wonderful about a close relationship with one’s sister—so many secrets to share, such an intimate knowledge of each others’ inner workings. L is a good shopping partner, even though our styles are strongly divergent. I love simplicity, neutrals—classics with a touch of femme fatale. L loves texture and layers—American tomboy meets British collegiate. We tease each other about our varying choices, but we both give good dressing room advice and support each others’ personal vagaries.
It is an interesting experience, watching my baby sister grow up. I can see so much of myself in her—the niggling insecurities I had in high school, the overachieving perfectionism, and the strong opinions. And yet, she is different from me in many ways, more discerning, more insightful. She is just starting to flirt with boys, and is far more successful at that dicey pastime than I ever was. And she is beautiful: long, wheat-colored hair down her back, an aquiline nose, and large, dark, expressive eyes under full, wing-like brows. It’s strange to watch her grow and change, every day a little more adult, a little less child. And though I’m often taken aback by these changes, I love having a partner in femme, someone who enjoys being a woman as much as I do, who despite our differences, shares with me in this odd human trait we call gender, and sees it as a wonderful game.
Because, with us, femininity is a game, and we both play by our own rules. I play a more traditional routine, with tailored outfits, vintage ear bobs, and silk scarves. L is a bit looser than me, a little more playful. She loves beat-up leather riding boots and makes her own denim cut-offs with jeans salvaged from the thrift store. We both love perfume, but I wear big, complex, spicy florals, and she prefers bright, herbal, citrus scents. L likes to watch romantic comedies from the nineties; she loves the upbeat pop songs and sweet, slender boys. I prefer torrid dramas, full of passion, scandal, and tragedy. And yet, despite these differences, we are both each others’ most understanding companion, our best partner in crime.
I remember being very young, and wanting a sister, badly, before L came along. I got two wonderful brothers in the interim between her and my births, and I think deep down, when my mother got pregnant a fourth time, even though my parents never learned the sex of any of their children until the birth, I knew it was her. Because, in the horrible month when Mama almost miscarried during her pregnancy with L, I remember the sick terror of imminent loss, knowing that, this time, it was a sister, my sister, the longed for second girl that was my wish on every star. And it was. Thankfully, L was born safe and sound, and while we’ve had our bits and bobbles in the proceeding fifteen years since then, I am still ever grateful to have been given my childhood wish. Because it is wonderful to have someone who is so good to talk to . Because L is always there to guard my back. Because I really need someone to tell me when I’m being a bitch. And because, when you have a sister, you never have to be a woman alone.
Growing up, and the attendant maturity that supposedly comes with it, are often far more mundane experiences than I had expected. In high school and college, I had a lot of romantic ideas about bettering myself, creating a version of me that was cooler, cuter, funnier, or just more popular. If I made friends with one of the willowy indie girls on campus, I started shopping at Anthropologie and tried (unsuccessfully) to enjoy folk music. When I spent time with the edgier art kids, I started looking for sleek leather moto jackets and made some very bad, angst-filled mixed media paintings. In my short lifespan, I have tried on dozens of identities based on my admiration for a lot of really interesting people that were, unfortunately, not me.
Once upon a time, when I was but a tiny home-schooled darling, surrounded by the harried, tight-lipped matrons that stood in as advisers for my first forays into femininity, I was decidedly unsure about my place as a woman in this world. On the one hand, I learned much from my mother, who is and always has been an indefatigable romantic. She introduced me early to fine perfume, glossy magazines, and silky dresses, and I adored every moment of those first peeks into what seemed a mysterious, grownup world. Yet, despite these positive experiences in my youthful feminine sphere, I hung back at the edge of adolescence, not quite able to fully immerse myself in the world of the Woman.
Because, behind the pleasant and beautiful frivolities that were offered to me as a girl, I could sense a deeper cost. The community I grew up in was exceptionally conservative; many of my girl friends where not allowed to cut their hair, wear pants to church, or listen to contemporary music. No woman was allowed to preach in my fundamentalist Baptist congregation, and very few young girls even attempted a college education, instead resigning themselves with varying degrees of contentment to early marriages and domestic duties. And as much as I loved the trappings of femininity, the rich scents and stories that swirled just out of my reach in old books and movies, I knew that I was unwilling to be a true woman if it meant giving up myself.