Tell me, ladies, how many times have you been called a 'wonderful woman'?
I'm betting, if you're as young as me, it's not as many times as I've been called that.
I don't really get it, to be honest. I'm not particularly pretty. I'm smart, but that's more privilege and education than actual labour or talent. I'm not even particularly nice - Perthians are infamous for their sarcasm. But over and over, I hear it. You're so pretty. You're so smart. You're so nice, you're such a wonderful woman.
It's bullshit. All of it. Because I don't feel particularly wonderful, sitting in my tiny shoebox apartment in my dressing gown at five in the morning. I feel lucky and ungrateful and lonely, yes, but not wonderful. Because the thing is, I've met some truly wonderful women in my time, and people don't treat wonderful women like this. You don't say that a woman is wonderful and then leave her for dust; you don't adore someone and then don't care if they're alive or dead. I'm not as smart as people think I am, but I'm not completely stupid, either.
People really have no idea what they're talking about. They don't understand that it's a facade, a veneer; all of it. I'm cynical because I've been alone for too long in a world that privileges romantic love and treats single women like lepers - and apparently that makes me funny. But I don't have it all together - I don't think any twenty-something does. This is the first time in my life I've made my own decisions, and I'm terrified. I'm constantly doubting and second guessing myself, seeing my friends take different paths and wondering which of us is doing it right.
I really don't trust anyone who decides that I am a wonderful woman. My friends don't feel the need to sing my praises every five minutes; they see me for what I am, a very dysfunctional, slightly neurotic weirdo who hasn't quite got her shit together and has acne and crooked teeth under the makeup and lipstick. And I'm okay, really, with not being a wonderful woman. Because being treated like one has never been something I've enjoyed, never been something that made me happy. Your friends and family will love you even when you are too tired to say something clever, even when all your clothes are packed ready for Canberra and you show up wearing something quite bizarre, even when your lipstick rubs off and you leave tear tracks in your foundation. I think all the people who started to imagine that I was so much smarter, so much prettier, so much nicer than the norm were so disappointed to find out that I am, in fact, just your average sack of bones and skin and organs, that they have no qualms about washing their hands clean - because the fairytale has finished, and the illusion has been shattered. But even when the day is over, when I put on my sweatpants and run out of money for silk stockings and wash off my makeup and play Candy Crush instead of quoting Shakespeare - I still exist. I still remember things, and people, and all the words that were said.I exist separate to people's imaginary versions of me.
People get very caught up in things - they like to put you on a pedestal. In high school I skipped a grade and did very well in some subjects (and fairly terribly in everything else), so I managed to garner some mild notoriety; and that was all people could see. It was like I didn't exist beyond my grades. I loved English and I loved my teacher and my ego liked topping the class, but dear God, I detested it sometimes. I was young. I was restless. I wanted people to see that I was a teenage girl like the rest of them, with spots and chubby hips and a ferocious need for a boyfriend.
In my undergrad I was fairly un-extraordinary. I did well, but not well enough to have my name splashed across fancy scholarships or whatever. I sometimes failed shit and sometimes didn't finish my assignments and sometimes got a little too drunk, just like everyone else. And it was an adjustment, sure between being a top high school student to a uni kid who has to forge their own lives based on something other than numbers scrawled on papers, but I survived. It was wonderful. I went to parties and wore crazy things and bought makeup I couldn't afford and ditched class with my friends to go eat pasta in the city. I woke up in strange beds with pretty boys.
But I was still intellectual; I started to speak my mind, more, as I got older and slightly less concerned with what people thought of me, or at least gaining the wisdom to realize that sometimes people hate you on principle rather than over that one thing you said that one time. I enjoyed my reputation as a very crass, very outspoken feminist; it was an image almost entirely independent of my academic work, but it still felt meaningful and authentic. And it wrapped around my life, both public and private, and gave me structure and meaning above and beyond arbitrary grades and paltry schoolyard rubbish.
But now I feel like I am back where I started. People here get very caught up in the whole 'honours' thing. And I am proud of myself, to be twenty and an honours student at ANU - even though the actual work of an honours student, as an apprentice academic, is actually very humbling. But people get so caught up in it I don't really feel human anymore. I don't feel real. I don't feel like the kind of girl some mildly drunk bricklayer will shimmy towards on a dance floor. I feel like I've killed off a part of myself to let the rest of me take flight; and although I understand sacrifice in the abstract it is difficult in reality.
I want to, one day, be a wonderful woman. But I don't like being treated like one, especially when I am far from it. Because to be a wonderful woman is a woman people are incapable of seeing as an actual human being; people claim to care, but they care so aggressively about one tiny part of my existence that I feel suffocated and adored but lonely and neglected all at once. The boys who met me in the heat of the blue hours, who didn't know anything about me or my life or my grades, were some of the kindest, sweetest people I've ever met, because their kindness was not contingent on or inspired by some specific talent or privilege that I happen to have at any given point in time. Because I don't think wonderful women - or even young, stupid, slightly drunk women - should have to pick up the pieces, alone, because people are incapable of imagining them complexly. That's no way to treat people; especially wonderful ones.