It was several months ago when I tripped and face-planted into the most confusing “it’s complicated” relationship I’ve ever been in.
Practically overnight I realized a marked change in myself, particularly in the content of my conversations. Nearly every conversation I had veered to him — whether that meant I was cursing his name or singing his praises.
One way or another, he was the foremost thing I talked about. It didn’t take long for me to start feeling sorry for all my friends who had to listen to this, and it took even less time for me to be angry at myself for having nothing better to talk about than a silly boy.
At first I was consoled because I realized that other girls’ conversations revolved around much the same thing. When I passed two girls on campus, I overheard one of them lamenting what went wrong with her ex.
While drinking a cup of coffee, I listened to one woman give another advice on her marriage. It seemed I was far from the only heterosexual female who just couldn’t stop talking about the man in her life.
But, just as quickly as I was comforted, I was appalled. I found it almost horrifying that my generation of smart, educated, independent women was still abiding by the old adage that “girls only talk about boys.”
What about our careers? What about our ambitions? What about our hobbies? Why, after everything feminism has fought for, are we still so blatantly fulfilling the feminine stereotype? After careful research — in the form of obsessive eavesdropping — I realized I’d actually made a mistake: The key factor in women’s conversations wasn’t so much men as it was relationships.
And for us hetero women, the men in our lives tend to constitute hugely important relationships — not because they are men, but because they are our romantic relationships.
People who are important deserve to be talked about a great deal, as those are the people we are doing life with — or without, in some cases. The more I listened, the more I realized that women also talk about their friendships, their familial relationships, their work relationships, all their relationships, really.
And I realized it wasn’t just limited to women. Men also talk about relationships a shit ton; media and history just hasn’t stereotyped them for it the way it has stereotyped us. So, what does this mean then?
Should we force ourselves to stop talking so much about men just to prove we are more than the men in our lives? The ideological feminist in me wants to say “yes,” but the human being in me says “hell no.” I hate gender roles. I hate what they do to a society and to people’s freedoms.
However, I realized that by putting such emphasis on not being a stereotype I was doing myself a disservice. If I want to talk about my ridiculously complicated relationships, then I should be able to.
I shouldn’t forbid myself certain topics just because I’m a girl and I don’t want people to think I’m the stereotype. The point of breaking down stereotypes is to destroy them.
When we become so adamant about breaking a stereotype that we insist on being the total opposite in every aspect, all we do is create a new stereotype. In this case, the feminist stereotype: the woman who always stands up for women’s rights and refuses to adhere to female gender norms.
Yet, nothing is solved by simply creating a new stereotype to adhere to. Real freedom from gender roles comes when we decide to just be whoever the hell we want to be.
If who we want to be happens to overlay in some areas with an established stereotype, then so be it. If our relationships are important to us, then let’s talk about them.
Go ahead, be cliché in some ways and revolutionary in others, if that’s what makes your life fulfilling. Shock people by being both the stereotype and not the stereotype to the point that the stereotype cannot even exist anymore.
Talk about what you want to talk about and be who you want because that’s who you want to be — not because of anything else.
Lora Massey studies linguistics and Asian studies. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.