As my younger brother enters (full-flood) his teenage years, it leaves me thinking more and more about my age. In particular, this summer I spent several days with him, my father and my step-mother in Italy. Several times, I was mistaken for the young teen and he for the ‘grown-up’. Waiters in restaurants (and this is in Europe, so surely says even more than if this were to take place in England) would hesitate to give me wine. Why?
Well, the only reason I think I can give is that I, quite resolutely, never wear make-up. This is not a particularly meaningful choice. I rarely do anything more with my hair than wash it (I don’t even dry it), I don’t wear uncomfortable clothes (because surely that’s just silly?), and I just don’t have the general inclination to spend half an hour (or more) applying chemicals to my face that will starve my skin of oxygen and clog my pores. In short, then, I am really rather rubbish at being a woman.
And the waiters agree. I’m obviously a very poor actress, failing at playing the part of a woman already beginning to stride through her twenties. Am I? The notion of performativity, of constantly having to play out your identity lest people not recognise it, suggests that I am. (I still like Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble as my road map for this concept and would recommend it.) So I’m failing at playing out the identity of a modern woman? What do I think I’m playing at, then?
Well, I had thought I was playing at being me. Wholeheartedly, nothing but me. Not particularly interested in dressing (and dolling) myself up to attract attention, not so ugly as to be a truly shocking sight. I am twenty-one (legal to drink in almost all countries, particularly Western European ones!). I am a woman. I suspect that’s fairly obvious from looking at me. At that age, do I still need to be playing the school-girl trick of ‘if you wear enough make-up, they’ll let you in the pub’? Does society expect me to, or else it’ll be confused about who or what I am? I think Judith Butler, and many others in the field, would say ‘yes’, and so I suppose it’s about time I started making myself up again.