My favorite Cosmo “How to Please Your Man” sex tip suggests you wrap a scrunchie around your boyfriend’s penis. The women I know who still use scrunchies are lesbians and the women who want to please their boyfriends are straight. American Apparel may have altered this equation, but there’s a definite disconnect here. And don’t even get me started on all that’s wrong with the suggestion to hook a donut around some dude’s penis—sex is not an arcade game and whose penis is that slim anyway?
Why am I keeping track of Cosmo sex tips? Fair question. Cultural anthropology, I guess. More pressing however, is why did I think I could suck down women’s magazines like frothy frappucinos and remain unaffected by what I imbibed?
Recently I’ve been working to correct a number of dysfunctional thought patterns and belief systems; things I assumed were specific to my personality, products of my singular past. However, I’ve begun to suspect that although some items on my list (for example #11: my irrational fear of puppet shows) are just mine, others have a systemic source. I came to this conclusion after a Huffington Post piece called Things Women Need to Stop Doing popped up on my Facebook feed. I’d clicked through, figuring the list would feature things like wearing makeup to bed and being too excited about frozen yogurt—two things you’ll have to pry from my cold, dead hands. But reading, I started feeling like a giant magnifying glass was hovering over my apartment building. There were my, personal issues on this generic, mainstream list—maybe not word for word, but the gist was the same.
A few of mine:
I don’t point a finger at pop culture in an attempt to absolve myself of the responsibility to sort through my shortcomings, mostly because it would have to be a giant finger, bigger than Miley’s foam one, even. However, this realization prompted me to explore just why I’d believed I was different. Sure, I’d been alert to the impact of culture on my relationship with my body, but somehow I’d discounted its effect on my mind. Now, I’m also a former women’s studies major, a harsh critic and a focused observer of pop culture and its feminist implications. At least that’s what it says on my OkCupid profile (which explains why the only people messaging me are angry poets and grad students from the University of Chicago.) You’d think this cavalcade of credentials would have primed me for self-critique.
You know what got in the way? My queerness. I thought dating women kept me safe, a sidelined observer, free to observe without absorbing. Unconsciously, I’d assumed my sexual identity created a built-in disconnect. If my relationships functioned in the countercultural realm, I could listen to Robin Thicke sing about a “good girl” who “wants it” without positioning myself as that girl vis a vie a man. I could watch What Not to Wear, knowing I wasn’t dressing for the male gaze. (Although let’s be real, most women are actually dressing for the male gays.)
But being queer isn’t a sexism hazmat suit. It can’t insulate me from the mainstream. Assuming it can is the isolation cherry on top of the craziness sundae, a surefire way to feel like a failure while everyone else is doing just fine. By acknowledging that my behaviors and assumptions find some of their source beyond my borders, I feel like less of an outlier, and thus more equipped to make internal change. It’s a relief to understand I’m not uniquely crazy; I’m a woman functioning in 21st Century America. Perhaps you can relate.