Monday, August 17, 2009

Constructing One's Life in Accordance with various Stereotypes and Cliches

As I have mentioned, I am going through a bit of an Atwood phase.

A friend of mine and I were speaking recently about the fact that one behaves differently at different stages of one's life, sometimes almost self-consciously so.

Having recently moved in with her man, she told me how she had over the weekend experienced her first flouncy female moment in the home, huffing under her breath as she did laundry and tidied while he remained napping in bed.

"The thing is," she said, "I wasn't really angry. I realised that I was probably behaving this way because it was how I thought one ought to behave in the circumstances."

Yes," I said. "It's very wifely."

In The Edible Woman, Atwood discusses the same phenomenon. Describing a man who has recently become engaged, she says that his set of friends has shifted and his image changed appropriately:

"...[he had] exchanged the free-bachelor image for the mature-fiance one and adjusted his responses and acquaintances accordingly..."

Why do we do this? It is, I think, part of the organising principle we employ against the world when faced with uncertainty.

Atwood poetically moves on to illustrate the unease behind the sterotypical actions/reactions of this newly formed couple:

"Before, in the summer, she used to think he didn't often look at her, didn't often really see her; in bed afterwards, he would stretch out beside her and press his face against her shoulder, and sometimes he would go to sleep. These days however he would focus his eyes on her face, concentrating on her as though if he looked hard enough he would be able to see through her flesh and her skull and into the workings of her brain. She couldn't tell what he was searching for when he looked at her like that. It made her uneasy. Frequently when they were lying side by side exhausted on the bed she would open her eyes and realise that he had been watching her like that, hoping perhaps to surprise a secret expression on that face. Then he would run his hand gently over her skin, without passion, almost clinically, as if he could learn by touch whatever it was that had escaped the probing of his eyes. Or as if he was trying to memorise her. It was when she would begin feeling that she was on a doctor's examination table that she would take hold of his hand to make him stop."

One of the most remarkable things about this passage is the clarity with which it conveys the aloneness of two people, even as they lie physically entwined, even as they embark on a legal entwining. One is always alone in one's own mind.

I think my friend is very astute to acknowledge the place from which her huffy tantrum emerged. If we are aware of the stereotypes we are mimicking, perhaps we can consciously decide to stand against them and behave the way we want to rather than the way we think we should.

Not that I have ever been terribly conventional, but today I am taking a stand against type.

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