It was one of those in-between spring weather days: it had been sunny and warm all morning, and I stupidly had forgotten to check the weather to foresee that in the afternoon it would change seasons. It started pouring, and I was wearing a polka dot summer dress. I had a meeting at a public school to work on a video project, which involved moms of middle schoolers. When we were finished, we stood by the door of the school together, to wait out the rain. A few of the moms ordered an Uber. I knew that I was wearing a ridiculous outfit for the freezing, pouring New York rain, so I jokingly turned to the moms, and went, “Wow, I’m really not dressed for this weather!” One of the mothers promptly turned to me and scolded, “No, you’re really not, and if you were my daughter, I would be very annoyed at you right now!”
I turned red, and I giggled. The giggle was fake. The redness was my natural reaction to getting scolded.
In the bold, exaggerated movie character version of this story, this is what I would’ve said:
“Excuse me. I am 25. I am an adult. I am not stupid, so don’t speak to me in that tone. I’m am not related to you or your daughter. However If I was your daughter, I would tell you to go f**k yourself.”
Instead, I giggled. Because I felt nervous, and awkward, and angry, I giggled, so that everything would seem fine and she wouldn’t hate me, even though I didn’t know her and would probably never see her again. The giggle was weird, because she didn’t tell a joke or anything, she just made an awkwardly unnecessary comment about my appearance. Which is what a lot of older women seem to feel like they have the right to do.
For some reason, it is considered acceptable for all women to make comments about your body and your appearance, regardless of whether or not they know you. If they are related to you, these appearance and the need to give you advice about your life comments get a whole lot worse and more frequent. I started thinking about this when I was having a conversation with my grandmother, and realized that she and I likely will never be able to understand each other, because she was a 1950s housewife and it must be confusing for her to see the shift in what has been conventionally expected of women over the last 50 years.
With my grandmother’s generation, there is a huge emphasis on appearance, maintaining a home, being appropriately female, and landing Prince Charming. (“Brush your hair and smile!”) Then comes the generation of my mother and my aunts, who confuse me because they seem to think that women are supposed to do EVERYTHING. This ranges from looking gorgeous and keeping a pretty home, to having a killer career and being perfect moms who can do it all, and a lot of them feel guilty when they don’t seem to reach their impossible standards. Their comments are more supportive, but also sometimes they tell me to make sure I freeze my eggs so that I can do everything, too. They’re wonderful, and motivating, but sometimes, because they were taught by the generation before them, and the generation before that, they say something like, “Your skirt is too short,” or, “Hey! I think you could use a push-up bra!” and think they’re being helpful. Every time this happens, I’m just left with the feeling of wondering why they care what I look like.
I know, it’s an old story. “You kids are crazy! I’m old and I know better!” It’s happened to every generation so far, and probably will happen in the future. Older women bully younger women all the time. I’ve done it. I’ve been at work and totally reamed out a 19-year-old for very little else than being “stupid and 19.” That’s not a real reason. Age isn’t just a number, and older people do know a lot. I have so much to learn from those who are older than me, and I know that.
What I have a problem with is the entitlement that some older women seem to feel age gives them to cut down younger women. The argument, “Because you are younger, and could be my daughter, I have the right to be mean to you!” I get it. Your mom was mean to you and this is your unintentional payback. But aren’t we supposed to be empowering each other? So yeah, maybe it was just one snide remark, sundress hating mom, but we don’t need to scold each other for what we look like. I don’t know you. I’m sure you didn’t like it when older women scolded you for the choices that you made, so why are you passing that on to future generations? #stopthescold
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