Sat 20 Mar 2010
…they say goldfish have no memory
i guess their lives are much like mine
and the little plastic castle
is a surprise every time
– Little Plastic Castle, Ani diFranco, 1998
it takes about ten years for hindsight to focus, for the dirty judgement we call clarity to settle on a bygone era.
before that, it’s just yesterday. then suddenly, you wake up and note that everything’s incontrovertibly different. that most of the clothing refugees your closet harbours from that era look suspiciously dated. that you had bad hair then. the photos prove it. you blush.
the times, it occurs to you, with a slight queasy nod to mortality, they have a-changed.
this past week, with all the kerfuffle and brouhaha pinging back and forth between the blogosphere and mainstream media on the subject of mothers and bloggers and bears, oh my, i’ve realized that a part of me pines for that suddenly historic epoch: the 1990s.
the 90s were an ugly decade, i thought while they were happening. perms and big hair and the square, boxy shapes left over from the 80s hung on far too long into the decade. i wore a lot of army boots with flowy skirts then, plus thrift-shop shirts with the sleeves cut off at the shoulders and those giant, scratchy sweaters from Guatemala. my hair was by turns geometrically puffy and super short, except for 1999 when i grew it long and parted it straight down the middle, my ironic homage to Pocahontas. or Crystal Gayle.
i didn’t know what i was doing much, in those years. i was in my first year of university when we rang the decade in, and at the tail end of a short and not-so-stabilizing-as-i’d-hoped marriage when it all rang out ten years later. i was a student most of those years; a teacher in between. i lost my virginity in the first days of the 90s. i took up smoking somewhere in those strange seasons of eternal, cynical youth, and learned to play guitar. i hiked mountains, slept on trains, backpacked my way coast to coast. i was bulimic, then recovering, then vegetarian. between 1989 and 2000, the 90s plus a shoulder on each side, i experimented with whatever remnants of drug culture landed in my lap. before and since, clean as snow.
i thought i was extraordinary, a unique marvel waiting to be discovered. but i was a fucking caricature, just a child of my times trying to muddle my way through to adulthood with a whole generation of others like me.
in the rearview mirror, it’s clear as day. i grew up in a bygone era.
i spent whole chunks of the 90s – in my early 20s, my peak pick-up years, here, people – without shaving my legs. i catch sight of young women today with their flat-ironed hair and their ubiquitous spray tans and their waxed eyebrows and suspect their legs and nethers are equally primped and smooth, to a one. they make me feel vaguely Neanderthal, those nubile hairless wonders, and yet merciful free. to my eyes, their uniforms of mandatory perfect flesh look as confining as corsets, as pointy 50s Maidenforms.
in the 90s, girls got to be angry. our boobs were mostly our own business, as far as fashion went. our words, though, were pointy. especially the ones accompanied by music.
Ani diFranco and Liz Phair were sister-goddesses in heavy boots, with big words and loud chords, and every time i gave the finger to The Man i was cool as Kim Deal, baby. the Indigo Girls sang me into an un-selfconscious social consciousness, and for all the problems of the world, it was just plain powerful to be a young woman with a voice.
even the papers said so.
and i thought this was normal, even a bit trite. the mid-decade platinum-selling angst of Alanis Morrisette embarrassed me. i took the privilege of disdain for granted. i still believed, then, in the modern myth of progress…that we were inching ever closer to a world where equality and complexity would be prized; where anger would make way for better things.
i was so fucking cute i make my teeth ache.
it took me well into the next decade to find a venue for my voice. i knew, even as i fumbled painstakingly over my F chord and my Janis Joplin renditions back in my first days with my very own guitar, that nobody was ever gonna pay to hear me sing. and i had a journal, all those long transient winters of finding my way into adulthood, but the concept of a public journal via the Internets was years ahead of me, back then.
still, the voice i eventually wrote into being here was a voice shaped more by the 1990s than by this era i’m living through, in many ways. and i think an awful lot of the so-called mommyblogs are similar, just by virtue of their writers’ demographics.
we are the girls of the 90s grown into women, writing our lives with the expectation that it is right and proper to use the voices we have.
times change, though, and with them, the bounds of propriety, most especially for women. today we live in a world of Hannah Montana and her young, sleek, interchangeable ilk, each of them more hairless and bland than the last. the angry girls are gone, for the most part, and if the media fixes its gaze on them now it’s because they’ve pulled an Amy Winehouse and self-destructed. again.
we live in a world of blogs and social media, but many mainstream media stories still make women’s use of these out to be frivoulous, or marginal: relegated to the domain of the domestic alone. anything else is gold-digging; any run on capital and perks by a female can still be positioned as inherently suspect and unjustified.
we live in a time when being labelled overtly feminist is, for many, more cringe-inducing than Facebook photos of our early-90s snowplow bangs.
given these foundations, the furor over mommybloggers – whatever particular furor it may be, and whatever particular outrage of the week it may engender – shouldn’t be such a surprise. look back through the rearview mirrors of history: these are old stories, elderly tropes and narratives, rendered powerful again by uncertainty. they make me nostalgic for the good old days of my day when the bad girls were media darlings.
the belittling stories and the omissions are worth taking on, challenging, absolutely. that’s part of the point of having a voice.
but in the long run, having a whole generation of us out here writing our own stories has the potential to be far more subversive to those narratives of how dismissable we all are than our protests against them.
we get to write our rebuttals every day.
because the pendulum will swing, sooner or later. the hairless beauties will give way to the natural glory of the furry crotch once again, and girls will don boots instead of heels for awhile. and maybe that next generation will get somewhere with it all, or maybe they won’t, but maybe somewhere along the line some of them will find our words out here and realize that womanhood in this decade, whatever the heck it ends up looking like in hindsight, wasn’t entirely sleekness and sippy cups.
that we were more. that we hadn’t entirely forgotten that we grew up in the 90s, even if we did eventually get better hair. and learn to wax.
so. confess. do you miss your Guatemalan sweaters? do you depillate in a 90s or contemporary fashion? and do you care what people in the New York Times or Globe and Mail say about blogging by women and mothers?