We are a collection of wonderful paradoxes, Walt Whitman might say. I am both a very shy person, and yet can be charismatic and outgoing. Choosing to be invisible is easy. Worn teeshirt, jeans, frumpy hair, no makeup, what I think of as my Coco Chanel glasses (large, plastic frames and glass bi-focal lenses), small silver earrings. Keen sandals. Wedding band. All this and I disappear. Literally. Counter clerks have to look twice, as if I appeared out of thin air from the first time they glanced. When I am done with my business and walk away, I doubt they could recall anything about me at all. Crossing the street, cars forget to stop.
When I make myself presentable”, people seem shocked. The mothers of the children at the preschool my son attends recently had lunch together. Many are academics, most over the age of 30. When I walked in, the organizer of the event looked stunned. She commented on how I appeared, positively. So did others. When I picked up my son from school his teacher could not stop asking about the large funky ring I wore (Did Husband make it? No.), the sweater, the black jeans, the BCBG black shoes, the silver bangles. I had makeup and less crazy glasses on as well. When she could not seem to stop, I interjected Yes. I clean up. She seemed embarrassed at that point. I usually drop him off and pick him up while cleaning or gardening, or any number of banal and mundane activities that require work clothes. Also, I know I am invisible when I dress down and no one bothers me. They avoid me actually, so I suppose my appearance is a few steps above bag lady.
I have a fantasy about my own super heroine. She is a late 50s retired chemist, widowed. She lives in a neat and orderly craftsman style house in an older neighborhood, in a university town. Her neighbor is a Native American man who looks after her garden when she travels. Her old grad assistant looks after her dog. She has become a finely attuned killer. She has educated herself about all manner of methods (very funny scenes in the beginning of the development of her alter ego when she is learning methods of how to kill). She scans various newspapers for people she believes deserve to be taken out of the gene pool as she says; child abusers who have gotten off on technicalities for example. She expertly hunts them down and erases them. She does so with relative ease because she is smart, but also because she is invisible. She is the kindly, graying older woman no one takes seriously. She slips through crowds without being seen, but without needing camouflage. Hey, men have their Spider-mans and Dark Knights. I have my Invisible Woman.
One sided dialogue from imagined film pitch:
No. Not like Ms. Marple.
“No. Not like Dexter.”
No. She does not have super powers.
No. She does not dress like a tart. I dont think you get the idea.
No. Not like Stephanie Plum.
No. No no no. The core demographic is not male 12-35.
Do you know what irony is?
We are done here.
Thats pretty much how life goes anyway.
I may not have the brains or nerve to BE my super heroine, but on a smaller scale I know how to manipulate my appearance and energy to achieve certain perceptions. You have to “work with what you have” my mother used to say. I was never beautiful, and youth is a great help in attractiveness. Middle age is another situation entirely. It was near the end of my graduate school experiences, at a conference, when a woman told me “you look like somebodys mother”. I had not dressed that way, and wondered why she got off on insulting me. She was older than I was and trying way too hard to be hip in her appearance. It was just another straw on the proverbial camels back for me regarding academia, and not really a surprise. People are just as messed up, petty, competitive, dim and prone to superficiality as in any other arena, they just have the skills to mask it better. Being invisible does not mean it is a good quality, and there are a lot of women whom it really chafes.
Most of us know as we slip into invisibility. Men cease to take the automatic sneak peek at our breasts, and we move beyond sexual opportunity into “safe” ; not yet grandmotherly, but not a sexual bulls eye to hit either. We gain a little social authority, but only when we are persistent in a goal. Otherwise we risk being called crazy, or threatening and are thus dismissed. As Husband says, that is a grave mistake- because a middle aged woman comfortable in her body and experienced is “a thing of wonder and pleasure”.
Try to remember: you never know about all those ladies you pass on the street. Dont underestimate us, because you really have no idea about all the things we are and who we can be. You have been given fair warning. Besides, isn’t it better to imagine a bunch of terrific Invisible Women out there fighting for the greater good in the world?