Bookstores & Subsequent Musings on Femininity


One of my favorite things to do in life is to read, so consequently it follows that bookstores are some of my favorite places in the world.  As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, I have a particular affectation for used books, not only because they cost less but also because there is just something magical about knowing someone else owned (& presumably read) a book before me, particularly if it’s an older book.  In any case, today I stopped by a B&N (Barnes & Noble, not a used book store of course) to stroll through the sale/clearance section, just to see what I might find.  And naturally I wound up purchasing two books which have now been added to my ever increasing “to read” list.

How I feel when perusing most fiction aimed at people of my gender (aka women)

How I feel when perusing most fiction aimed at people of my gender (aka women)

As much as I love trawling bookstores, I’ve noticed a certain phenomenon happens every time I go look for new (to me) books: I end up having a slight “crisis of femininity.”  If you’re wondering what the hell that means, it simply means that I find myself cringing at most of the books that are clearly aimed at women.  For example the ever popular Nicholas Sparks makes me want to puke.  I can’t stand that sentimental, romantic BS.  Maybe I shouldn’t call out what I haven’t actually read, but even the synopses of his books (& the theatrical versions of such) make me sick.  I’ve actually tried reading books by other popular “chick lit” authors such as Lauren Weisberger, Sophie Kinsella, & Jennifer Weiner.  I’ve made it through a few of them (I’ll even admit The Devil Wears Prada was pretty good), but others made me roll my eyes so many times that I haven’t made it past the first few pages.

If the cover looks something like this, I probably ain't interested.  And, yes, I am judging a book by its cover but only because I've found that books with these kinds of covers really do suck (for me, that is).

If the cover looks something like this, I probably ain’t interested. And yes, I am judging a book by its cover but only because I’ve found through experience that books with these kinds of covers really don’t interest me.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that a large portion of popular fiction aimed at people of my gender just makes me want to gag.  I find myself wanting to punch most of the characters in the face for their irrationality & general idiocy.  For example, as much as I try to be an empathetic person, I’m fundamentally incapable of feeling sorry for a character who’s upset about losing $500 Jimmy Choo heels.  I just can’t relate to that at all.  (Even if I had that kind of money I’d never spend it on something so ludicrous.  If that’s judgmental, I’m sorry I’m not sorry.)  Or when a female character is devastated that a man who was clearly an ass turned out in fact to be an ass, I just don’t have much sympathy for her.  Instead I find myself wanting to yell at her, “How did you not see this coming, you idiot?!harlequin romance

To be clear I don’t find myself reading a lot of books clearly aimed at men either.  But I have noticed that at least half (actually, probably a good deal more than half) of the books I read are by male authors &/or have a man as the central figure of the story.  Hell, the book I’m currently reading, & enjoying immensely I must add, is Post Office, the first novel by the iconic Charles Bukowski.  If you know anything about Bukowski you know that his books could truthfully be described as ribald & irreverent, all the while being immensely profound & astoundingly hilarious.  But a far, far cry from mainstream chick lit in almost every possible way.  Yet I am devouring this book like it was my first meal after a long famine.

This really is one of the funniest books ever written, I swear.

This really is one of the funniest books ever written, I swear.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t mind romance in my fiction.  A little bit tossed in here & there is just fine.  But if romance alone is the central theme of the book, I’m sorry but it just doesn’t hold my interest.  Romance novels, whether of the Harlequin romance variety or the prim & proper Christian romance variety, are of no interest to me whatsoever.  And Fifty Shades of Grey might as well be in Greek for all I care.

(To be clear, I don’t think romance novels in & of themselves are bad or wrong.  Different strokes for different folks.  They just are of no interest to me.)

I’m not really sure what the point of this post is (that seems to be happening a lot lately), other than to say I know I can’t be the only woman who is a little disgusted by the majority of books peddled to our gender.  To be clear, I’m a far cry from a “tom boy,” but I also have a pretty strong disdain for most things pink, so much so that if I have a daughter I’ll almost certainly dress her in little boy’s clothes (or at least more gender neutral stuff) when she’s a baby, just to avoid the boatload of pink stuff.  (Baby pink really is the worst shade of pink, I swear.)  Yet as much as I sometimes hate to admit it, I fulfill a fair amount of traditional feminine roles within my marriage.  But I also listen to hard rock music, swear too much, devour murder mysteries the way most (or at least many) women read romance novels, abhor treadmills but love lifting weights, & speak way too loud for my own damn good.  (I don’t have an indoor voice, I’ve been told, & it’s just the plain truth, like it or not.)  I’ve had one manicure in my life, which was for my wedding, & have no interest in ever getting one again.  I don’t own high heels & don’t care to . . . I guess what I’m trying to say is I like to think I’m a good mix of both stereotypical feminine & masculine traits.breaking stereotypes

As I’ve written before, I think the most interesting people in the world are those who defy stereotypes, those who are difficult to place in “boxes,” the convenient categories of people society constructs in an effort to make sense of this confusing world which we inhabit.  I like people who are unpredictable in the sense that I can’t always predict what their opinion is going to be on any given topic.  Furthermore, I like people who prove me wrong when I find myself being small minded or petty.  And consequently I like books that make me think, that make me question myself & the norms of society.  And frankly most chick lit simply doesn’t do that for me.  All it makes me do is cringe & wonder if there’s something wrong with me for not relating to the characters who presumably represent “normal” women.  If any of this makes me unfeminine or weird, I truly couldn’t care less.

Actually, to be perfectly honest, I suppose I DO care a bit or I wouldn’t be writing this post . . . But just once I’d like to go to a bookstore & not be reviled by most of the books clearly marketed at people of my gender . . . Oh well.  Maybe I’d better start writing that novel I’ve always wanted to write if I want to make that happen.  Ha!pageant material

I’ll end this post the way I so often do these days, with a link to one of my new favorite songs, Pageant Material by Kacey Musgraves off of her recently released album of the same name.  The song contains the signature sassy but sincere, simple but profound lyrics that have become Kacey’s trademark.   (Skip to 2:50 in the linked video for a live performance of the song.)

See the full lyrics below (bold added by me to emphasize my favorite lines):

There’s certain things you’re supposed to know
When you’re a girl who grows up in the South
I try to use my common sense
But my foot always ends up in my mouth
And if I had to walk a runway in high heels in front of the whole town
I’d fall down
And my mama cried
When she realized

I ain’t pageant material
I’m always higher than my hair
And it ain’t that I don’t care about world peace
But I don’t see how I can fix it in a swimsuit on a stage
I ain’t exactly Ms. Congenial
Sometimes I talk before I think, I try to fake it but I can’t
I’d rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain’t

She might not be pageant material, but she is beautiful.

She might not be pageant material, but she is beautiful.

God bless the girls who smile and hug
When they’re called out as a runner up on TV
I wish I could, but I just can’t
Wear a smile when a smile ain’t what I’m feelin’
And who’s to say I’m a 9.5
Or a 4.0 if you don’t even know me
Life ain’t always roses and pantyhose
And…

I ain’t pageant material
I’m always higher than my hair
And it ain’t that I don’t care about world peace
But I don’t see how I can fix it in a swimsuit on a stage
I ain’t exactly Ms. Congenial
Sometimes I talk before I think, I try to fake it but I can’t
I’d rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain’t

Maybe if there were beauty pageants for little boys too I wouldn't be so disgusted by them.

Maybe if there were beauty pageants for little boys too I wouldn’t be so disgusted by them.

I ain’t pageant material

The only crown is in my glass
They won’t be handin’ me a sash
And that’s okay, cause there’s no way
You’ll ever see me in a swimsuit on a stage
I ain’t exactly Ms. Congenial
Sometimes I talk before I think, I try to fake it but I can’t
I’d rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain’t
Yeah, I’d rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain’t

The Greatest Expression of Love (It’s Not a Ring!!)


Today while reading an article online I came across a link to another article entitled “Five Ways to Get the Engagement Ring You Want.”  I think something inside of me died when I read that.  Actually maybe I should say something came alive, a part of me that was so angry & disappointed in our culture that seeing that article made me want to hurl my computer across the room.  I don’t know about y’all, but my brain is still a bit miffed at the fact that people are writing such articles, & not only that, but professional newspapers are publishing these articles!  Good lord, if we as women want to be viewed as the intellectual equals of men, may I suggest that we stop pandering to such ridiculous ideas of what being a woman means?  If we want to be seen as equal partners in marriage (or just relationships in general), maybe focusing less on what kind of ring we’re going to wear would be a great place to start

Kim Kardashian's ridiculous engagement ring . . . for a marriage that lasted less than 90 days . . .

Kim Kardashian’s ridiculous engagement ring . . . for a marriage that lasted less than 90 days . . .

On a slightly different topic, lately I’ve been seeing a link shared on Facebook about some kind of really sweet proposal story.  I haven’t watched it because I’m not a hopeless romantic & such things just don’t interest me.  I’ve also never seen or read The Notebook or any of the other popular Nicholas Sparks movies/books.  In fact that entire genre makes me want to puke.  Then there are the inevitable posts in magazines about the gigantic (& just plain gaudy) engagement rings that celebrities wear (see the above picture!).  Lest you should think I am a grump, please let me explain why these things are anathema to me.

I’ve never been enticed by the idea of public or over-the-top marriage proposals.  One of my biggest goals in life is to not be judgmental so I won’t go so far as to say I think these things are wrong.  Of course not.  But I just don’t see the appeal.  To me, getting married (or having any type of serious long-term relationship) is all about sharing real life with someone.  It’s about understanding that real life isn’t always exciting or even super interesting.  It’s sharing all of the little day-to-day events of life, like going to the grocery store, cleaning up after the dog, & vacuuming the carpets.  Lots of people can have fun together at concerts or the beach or on vacation in the Caribbean.  It’s when you can have fun with someone doing all the mundane little things than make up real life, that you know you’re onto something special.  Maybe it’s because I am at heart a bit of an introvert, but the idea of being asked to marry someone in front of thousands of people at a baseball game or some other such public event makes me cringe.  To me, a proposal is an intimate thing to be shared with your lover & no one else.  In any case, my point is that a proposal that isn’t public or elaborately planned out isn’t any less romantic at all.

When I got engaged I remember the inevitable questions about how it happened, & part of me regretted that I didn’t have a better “story” to share, but deep down I was so glad I didn’t.  I’m still so glad that my husband proposed to me in a very casual way without even having bought a ring yet.  I love that so much because it implies that the decision was very much something we arrived at together & he’ll never have to feel like he “bought me” with a ring.

Coming back to the ring discussion, my husband & I were “engaged” in our hearts for a long time before we actually got engaged.  We knew for years that we wanted to get married but we didn’t want to officially get engaged till we were much closer to graduating from college & coming close to a time at which we could realistically get married.  Naturally we had discussed the issue of an engagement ring long before he actually proposed & part of me hated the idea of a ring altogether.  It just feels like some sort of ancient tradition that labels me as property, & therefore part of me wanted to skip it altogether.  But I also recognized that this is such an established cultural tradition that skipping it would cause people to say & think all kinds of horrible things about us, so in the end we decided it wasn’t worth that risk.  So we discussed the kinds of rings we liked & discovered that we had very different ideas about what makes a pretty ring (I didn’t even want a diamond because I much prefer green or blue stones but we decided not to buck that tradition too).  I refused to let my husband spend more than a certain amount on the ring because I knew that we had more important things to spend money on than a piece of jewelry that realistically I knew I wouldn’t even wear that often (as a nurse, there is too much risk of losing it at work or worse yet of carrying germs on the ring).  In the end it worked out perfectly that my husband proposed to me on Black Friday (three years ago tomorrow!!) because we were able to pick out a ring together that we both really liked & that would have ordinarily been way out of our price range (he swears he didn’t plan that on purpose & as little as he thinks about shopping, I believe him).  Some people think it’s very odd that we picked out the ring together but I loved doing it that way.  To me, it represents the way we try to make all important (& sometimes even not so important) decisions in our relationship.  We discuss the pros & cons of various actions & then arrive at a decision that we feel to be mutually beneficial.

In summary, what I’m trying to say is that the focus on rings & other such “symbols” of love is absurd.  Some people are horrified when I say that my husband & I rarely wear our wedding rings (ok, actually, he never wears his & I wear mine once or twice a week when I’m not at work & remember to put them on), but my response is always this: a ring is just a symbol & what it stands for is FAR more important than the ring itself.  I hope this post hasn’t come across as arrogant or as if I’m trying to say that my relationship is perfect.  Of course it isn’t.  There is no such thing as a perfect relationship because people, like life, aren’t perfect.  It just horrifies me to think that enough women are so obsessed with getting “the perfect ring” that entire articles are written to help them in this quest.  How ludicrous!  If we as women want men to see us as more than superficial brats, we have got to realize that obsessing over engagement rings needs to stop.  The deeper message here is that we must realize that expensive gifts are not the greatest expressions of love.  The greatest expression of love involves spending the greatest gift any of us can ever give to anyone: time, the one gift we can never get back.  The greatest way to prove your love to someone, regardless of gender, is to spend time with them even when they are sick, sad, depressed, or generally not at their best.  (This applies to romantic or non-romantic relationships alike.)  Engagement rings are just a symbol of the eternal nature of that love.  Nothing more, nothing less.  As a society, I think we would do well to understand this.