If I had to choose only one movie from the 80s that I could keep in my arsenal of nostalgia to watch again and again, it would be Sixteen Candles. I know it's cliché but Jake Ryan is, for me, a timeless heartthrob. I will undoubtedly end up a seventy-year-old woman, sitting in my rocker, squinting at the TV because even with glasses my eyes are awful, swooning over a khaki-wearing, loafer slow-dancing guy who longs to find a "serious" (read: love?) girlfriend.
Of course, not everyone in Jake's life sees the virtues of depth over ample breasts. "Come on, Jake," says his buddy in gym class. "You talk like you're hard up. You got Caroline, now she's a wow-man." It would be a stupid kind of funny if it wasn't still true thirty-three years later.
I just finished reading Girls and Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape by Peggy Orenstein. A friend recommended it after I mentioned I'd been reading feminist writers. I hesitated at first. What does a book about teenage girls and young women navigating the world of sex have to do with a married middle-aged woman with no children? As it turns out, everything. I would argue it's the sort of book that's helpful for all adults, of all ages, and of every gender. At its core the book is about how women (who begin as girls struggling to claim a healthy relationship to their bodies and to sex) are still quantified as either sex objects or virginal mothers in waiting because never the twain shall meet.
"She looks exactly like she did in high school," said a male who periodically runs into one of my former classmates. She has two children. It was said in a spirit of reverence, as though this were what all women should aspire to in their 30s. To look like our high school selves? Before our bodies and our brains were fully developed? To show no evidence of having given birth to children because somehow that makes a woman less sexy, not more? Perhaps this is one of the reasons why (as was mentioned in Orenstein's book) women in middle-age are much less likely, behind teenage girls and middle-aged men, to post selfies on social media. Instead, we post images of our beautiful homes, lovely children, and adorable pets. It's troubling on so many levels, not the least of which a woman is revered for either how she looks or what (and who) she produces.
The answer, says author Adrienne Rich in "Of Woman Born," lies in our bodies. Our power, she says, is in our changing, aging, blessed bodies. By claiming them, celebrating them, and honoring them, we define what makes a real wow-man. We declare that stretch marks, varicose veins, and C-section scars, along with all the other natural parts of us, are indeed beautiful because they tell our stories.