"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, November 18, 2021

From Little Princess To Hot Décolleté –So Much For The Gender Spectrum

Holly Marshall grew up in a happy family – supportive, loving father; concerned, attentive, but respectful mother; and appropriately distant but engaged teachers, nuns, and swim instructors.

When she was old enough to dress up for Halloween, Holly asked her mother to buy her a princess costume, “One with lots of glitter, a magic wand, silver slippers, and a dress that will sparkle when I twirl”; and so, excited as she could be, and bedecked in crinoline, lace, and ribbons, dressed to the nines and finished with a touch of lipstick and rouge, she was ready for the evening.

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She gave herself one more look in the hall mirror before stepping out.  “I’m so pretty”, she said as she twirled and spun and made her sequined skirt fly up and around.  “I’m the belle of the ball, Cinderella, and the prettiest princess in New Brighton.”

She took to wearing her princess outfit long after Halloween, accessorizing with pieces of her mother’s wardrobe, treasures from her grandmother’s hope chest, and frilly, silly things from Bruce Variety.  She danced and sang for her after-school friends, put on plays where she was the damsel in distress, the beautiful maiden awaiting rescue by her golden knight, the vestal virgin sacrificed on the altar of love. 

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She was a princess at the dinner table, a princess scattering fairy dust over the guests at her parents’ lawn parties, and a princess for every school performance.

This was at time when most girls, much to the consternation of their feminist mothers, went through a princess phase.  No matter how much the mothers tried to discouraged their daughters from such sexist tomfoolery, they persisted.  Hundreds of dollars were spent and wasted on gender-neutral costumes, drab, grey affairs, summarily dumped in the trash after one look. Holly’s mother and her teatime friends all wondered how their daughters were becoming exactly what they had fought against in an earlier day – frilly, girly-girl, coy and classically feminine.

They must have been sending subtle signals which suggested or reinforced stereotypical female behavior.  Despite their clamor for gender neutrality and the disassembly of the patriarchal two-sex system, they must have inadvertently noticed and praised their daughters’ beauty, grace, and emerging charm.

More than likely their husbands were the culprits, bestowing special kisses on their special little girls and making them feel desirable and beautiful without ever saying a word.  The social system for the continuation of gender stereotypes was still solidly in place, and it would take at least one generation more to completely dismantle it.

If the truth be known, there wasn’t a mother in the lot who didn’t love the fact that their daughters were becoming beautiful, and they delighted in their  bright, innocent sexiness, sense of allure and temptation, and cheerful pre-seductive smiles.  These lovely daughters might turn out to be what their mothers had always hoped to become; but nine out of ten times, had roped the wrong cowboy.

After a few more princess Halloweens, Holly upped the ante.  She had been watching her older brother’s film noir collection, and wanted to dress like the femme fatales of the genre.  Tailored suits, fox furs, rakish hats, crimson lipstick, high heels and a no-nonsense come-hither, darkly inviting glance.  She was a natural costumer, a girl with a savvy, perceptive eye for the grab-bag eclecticism of pre-adolescence.  She looked great, a mini-Garbo, complete with long cigarette holder, smoldering looks, and a proud, defiant walk.

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Her mother was nonplussed, stunned by what she saw as Holly came slowly and seductively down the stairs.  She was the image of noir, of Garbo, and of the 30s.  Not only had she mimicked the look and the style, but the female ethos of the time.  She was a tough-as-nails, bed-me-if-you-can vamp of all vamps.  She was marvelous – desirable, unapproachable to all but the one she chose, a prime catch for the worthy.

This persona was not enough for Holly who wanted a more sexy, feminine look and once again she fashioned herself after the great Hollywood sex goddesses of the Fifties.  She became Marilyn Monroe – blonde wig, tight fitting dresses, and a sexy sashay worthy of the goddess.

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By the time she was old enough to leave costumes and make believe behind, she had matured into the very women she admired.  There was no sexual ambiguity about her, no wondering or second thoughts about gender identity.  She was as determinedly and decidedly sexual as Cleopatra and Nefertiti, Rosalind and Viola, Emma Bovary, Lady Chatterley, and Maggie the Cat.  There wasn’t a male bone in her body and being so primordially female, she had her pick of the male crop.  She was canny, deft, and ingenious in the use of her wiles, intelligence, and ambition. 

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Her mother, as parents are wont, reflected on nature-nurture; and despite her reluctance to reveal her nature tilt in public, she could come to no other conclusion.  Her daughter was naturally, instinctively, biologically determined to be a no-doubt woman, the best in show, the queen of all courtiers. 

Those friends of Holly’s mother who had boys, reported the same thing; although there was no familiar trajectory for them as there was for girls.  It was enough to roughhouse, play with trucks and soldiers without having to dress the part, to flaunt their emerging masculinity.  Boys’ sexual character was a given, unchallenged, and predictable.  

The mothers of girls who for decades had been channeled, filtered, and put through the sieve of feminism never expected stereotypical sexual behavior.  They were not prepared for princess costumes, Greta Garbo and Marilyn Monroe look-alikes; and taken aback by their sexy, ambling walks, the inviting smiles, and hooker posture.  This was not what they were promised!

You can’t fool around with nature, of course, and once the ur-woman was formed, there were no brakes to her development.  Holly could not stop at allure+intelligence+savvy as a successful woman’s persona.  There was something more basic, more a part of the tightly wound XX chromosomes in her DNA strands, which made sex a potent ambition.  She was indeed Mme. Bovary, Connie Chatterley, the vamps and sexual vixens of Stendhal and Zola.

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Pearl, the little girl in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and Lo Hayes of Nabokov’s Lolita are perhaps the best-drawn characters of fiction which suggest this powerful, natural, genetic force determining sexuality.  Pearl, while not overtly sexual, is preternaturally sensitive to men, to men’s ambitions and sexual desires.  She is considered by the good folk of 17th century Salem to be a witch, so precocious was she, so far from the character of her principled and moral mother; but she was only fulfilling her sexual destiny.

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Lolita, as Nabokov describes her was born a nymphet, a girl who without instruction, formation, or particular social education is by nature sexual and powerfully and desirously so.

Holly was a Lolita, but gifted also with intelligence and a precocious savoir-faire.  She was irresistible.

The gender-obsessed young women at her college were perplexed by Holly.  She was exactly what they relegated to the lowest, most inferior place on the gender spectrum.  Fully heterosexual females they said were a dying breed, not to be admired or emulated, and only tolerated until their demise. 

At the same time many of these woman, many of whom were as well formed sexually as Holly but far more timid about expressing their femininity were envious and desperately jealous.  They wanted no part of the dour, serious, politically correct, unattractive women of their campus activist groups.  They still, to their own chagrin, wanted knights in shining armor – strong, sexually confident, mature, authoritative, beautiful men. 

Holly turned heads wherever she walked – past admiring men, lesbians, and the politically functional but emotionally lost women at the barricades.

Her end was as predictable as her beginning.  Her looks, appeal, and seductive charm got her fast tracked in business and married to wealth, family and privilege.  Her mother was delighted, for like many women who had always hoped for a fabled life but never had it, reveled in the reflected glory of her daughter. 

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