The perfect woman is a conundrum of sorts. Not a prude, but not a slut. Smart, but not too opinionated. Kind, but not a pushover. Demure and feminine, but not a fool. And of course, conventionally attractive (filled with its own catch 22s). One might wonder, when faced with this harsh guide, if any human could attain this? And in reality, no one really can; however, this clearly unattainable set of standards are widely accepted goals. Most women know that they should, at least to a degree, fit inside this framework. And through diet, makeup, clothes, advice columns, and practice, we aim to be extraordinary. That was (and sometimes still “is”) my goal. To be the perfect woman.
I am not those things, though. At different moments (and to different standards) I am both a prude and a slut. I’m smart and wickedly opinionated. I’m the farthest thing from demure. I’m stubborn, brash, aggressive, and wild. I’m also quite masculine, at times. Jeans never fit me right. I laugh with a snort and don’t work out very often… Dresses seem strange on my biceps. Bigger than a size 12, I feel larger than every man I’ve ever fucked (even when I’m not). I speak frankly about most taboo subjects.
And of course, the reason I want these things is to gain the one thing I have been most obsessed with my whole life. The concept, the sometimes tangible thing, that our world sells woman (straight and not), ruthlessly: male attention. Male attention is a failed currency, but damn, it hurts to be broke. Women can be rich in it… the seemingly “perfect woman”. Extraordinary. They get super-liked by every guy on tinder and never have to look far for a boyfriend. But, they are rare. Of course their lives aren’t perfect and the admiration they receive from males can be flawed, but I can’t help but be jealous. They are demure and kind. Beautiful and sexually experienced (without having “too much” sex). While I am me. A girl who seems to have to beg for male attention. Ordinary in a world that demands extra.
I lay next to Jeremy after our first date (it was also our first time meeting in person) waiting to have sex. We’d gone bowling and I’d thrown the ball into the gutter every time (who knew that could be such a turn off). He told me he was “sorta hipster popular” in high school. He had a single ear piercing with an earring he’d bought in India. I wore my favorite skirt and sweater wondering as I drove to meet him, “if I’d displayed my body and face as it really was? Would he be disappointed? Did he know my stomach stuck out?”. But it went alright, I could tell I didn’t feel an instant connection and he wasn’t quite as weird as I hoped, even though his sexual preferences were for piss play (something I’d never done, but was open to trying for a guy who was “hipster popular”). I was interested in him nonetheless. We’d spoken about having sex (before meeting) and I believe he felt obligated to invite me back to his dorm. I was actually really excited because we both liked pegging. I’d already made assumptions about the sexually exciting night to come. He lit candles and I used the restroom (making sure my body was in pristine order). But, as I climbed into his bed and we began to watch tv, I quickly realized no moves were going to be made. I rubbed his arm, then his leg. Made -what I think of as- cute sideways eye contact. All my moves were met by gentle rebuffs. As if he felt bad rejecting me, but still was. I left by 11pm. He barely touched me as I hugged him goodbye. I never heard from him again.
The pain I felt on the way home, that night (and even now thinking of this rejection) is extreme. I gained no male attention that night. I lost the battle of the perfect woman, confirming the deepest fears I had about myself. An attractive man didn’t want me… even just for my body?! This seemed contrary to what I’d been told, that all men wanted sex all the time with anyone. But he hadn’t wanted sex with me. This blew my mind and broke my heart. At 18, Jeremy seemed like the 100th guy to turn his nose up at my offers of sex and love. I’m not extraordinary, then… right?
First, I want to say I am doing a disservice to Jeremy and every other boy who has chosen a girl to have or not have sex with. I am reverting back to a sexist notion that men just want sex and will have it with any girl available. I’m stripping them of taste, vulnerability, shyness, free will, and femininity. I don’t want to sleep with every guy, so how can I take that discernment away from men?
But more importantly, what I have realized, is that living authentically (as a stubborn, slutty, weirdo) makes my flavor more intense… more unique. If the “perfect woman” is vanilla ice cream, something everyone likes and wants, I am bubblegum. Not every guy will want me. Just as I will not want every guy. Because it’s ok to like mint, but not Oreo. When a woman lives authentically, as her true self, she isn’t an object or some abstraction of the ideal woman. She is a real, live person. Someone not universally palatable. I wasn’t always ok being bubblegum ice cream, maybe I’m still not, but I’ve accepted it as a reality of my life. And when I meet a flavor I like and offer him a bite and he says no, I simply have to grieve and move on. Because when you try ice cream and don’t like it, it doesn’t mean that ice cream is bad or wrong… it’s just not for you. Jeremy didn’t like my flavor, I was ok with his… I’ll just have to accept that and walk forward.
There are two things at the center of this pain women (and others) have. 1.) overvaluing male validation. 2.) the narrow allowance of what women are allowed to be. I’m striving to understand these two lies and unlearn them. I don’t want to live and die by what men think of me. I don’t want to be the perfect woman.
But I’ve barely begun to give up these battles. It will always hurt when they don’t like bubblegum and when they do like vanilla. But, it would be more painful to blindly accept male attention as the only thing that matters and to continue trying to be perfect. I’m not going to waste my time trying to be vanilla and neither should you.