Somehow being a dirty old man gets to be lauded. They are drunk! Whoppee doo. They have lots of meaningless and only satisfying for them sex with much younger women! Mmm…hurrah? They fall over and piss themselves, and work menial low paid jobs, and yet go home and write like filthy fallen angels where the manna of their twisted heavens taste of week-old Irish stew, and smells like cigar smoke and unwashed syph-infested genitals.
That schtick was cool for a while: new, edgy, brutally honest. It provided a window into the lives of the kind of men that bet on harness horse races, or the dogs and drink far too much dark beer, or hustle on the streets for their bag, or end up throwing boxes onto ships in an endless parade of meaningless hard labor, mundane addiction and petty crime. It was a peek through they keyhole into hopelessness. Hopelessness, destitution, addiction, were painted as essentially male attributes, and writing about them a male domain. Women were left out of conversations, though they were experiencing suffering and desperation on just as large a scale, larger in fact. For every rent boy out there in 53rd and 3rd, there is a drug addicted women having to sell herself to support both her habit and that of the man in her life that leeches off her.
No one is interested in vaguely embarrassing, desperation-soaked dirty old women. Maggie May is described by Lester Bangs in his witty and engaging imagining of the story behind Rod Stewart’s hit song, as a washed up and bloated 46 year old. 46 is barely middle aged. A 46 year old woman is no aged hag, but her fertility and desirability faded, it feels as if to Lester, she might as well be dead. There is no difference in his porn and pill addled brilliant mind between her and an 80 year old grandmother. Maggie is painted as both indulgent and giving, as well as with one foot in the grave, useless and desperately trying to free the young man from the chore of being with her and ‘the best sex of his life’. Maggie the hard drinking, hard partying, hard living survivor is not lauded like a Jim Carroll or a Bukowski, no, instead she is pitied and only celebrated for going away, for being silent, for not valuing herself or her body or her worth. In short, no one loves a dirty old woman.
Even the dirty young women, of which I was once, are not immune to being silenced. The old stereotypes of virgin, whore, mother or crone are still brutally applied to women. Either we are expected to be naïve and child-like, or dismissed as a whore, expected to sacrifice everything for our children, then fade into meaningless blank irrelevance as a crone. Nothing other than compliance to society’s presets is allowed. Woolf might have wanted her own room, and that is always nice, but I wanted my own life to live as I pleased! I wanted to drain the bottles dry with the boys, and gain entry to that hallowed man’s world of the bathrooms where men disappear with their little baggies and big habits. I wanted to pick up the guitar and plug it in, playing with feedback and fury. I wanted to write like my hair was on fire and I had a hell hound on my tail. I wanted to play the same games the boys played. I wanted to be able to embrace being a tomboy and be accepted in turn for it. The reality was somewhat different.
If I hadn’t had an attitude problem bigger than my oppression I never would have made it.
Fortunately I was spikey, grouchy, thoughtful but took no shit and gave no shits either. I got streetwise young enough to be able to cope, and was put through the wringer often enough to at least be able to pretend that I didn’t care what other people thought of me. It is not just men who judge. The women who want men’s approval, who zebras feed close to those lions in the hope they will be spared or at least deemed fuckable are just as toxic. I might be a clean middle aged woman now, but behind this present reality are years and years of feeling intense amounts of shame for simply being me. I was ashamed and deeply traumatized by society’s judgements when I was young and hadn’t built up a rhino-hide and a sufficient amount of anger to power past the horror of what people said about me and thought of me. Even though I was ashamed I did not possess a ‘please-her-pleaser-please-him’ kind of soul, and instead raised a single finger up to the world and carried on existing.
Now in these days of marginalized, fading into being totally unnoticeable middle aged clean womanhood I am still fighting, still raging against the constraints put upon me. I do not intend to sit quietly out, being decently silent and grey, no way. I might not drink, my days of raising Cain might be behind me, and I have no intention of ever doing anything more exciting and scuzzy than weed ever again, but I was never the kind to go gently into the night, or into a placid middle age.
The boys carouse and party, fight and spit their way through their later years with not a care in the world. It never seems to cross their minds that being ‘dirty’, or rough and tumble is something they should feel the need to hide or change. Perhaps all good Tomboys end up forming a punk band, pulling unsuitably feisty women for mad passionate flings, wearing their musical affiliations across their chests, and bleaching their hair Lou-Reed-trashy-blonde. There is absolutely no point in my becoming a nice girl at this late point in proceedings, the only way I have ever made it through life with a hint of a smile on my face is to grab onto whatever passing distraction is attracting me and seeing what shakes loose. I still like being clean though: soap and water, AA meetings and affirmations, kindness and a healthy dose of disrespect for conventions are a way of life that I can’t afford to quit.