“I’m looking for a woman with values.”
Whenever I hear these words, I cringe.
I thumb the crosses on my bracelet and clutch my beer. I talk about charity, then I tell a dirty joke. Do these things cancel each other out?
Those words are powerful. They transform me into a little, obedient, people-pleasing ladytype. It doesn’t matter whether I’m actually interested in the person who wants a “woman with values” (usually, I’m not). It doesn’t matter how confident I am in what I stand for or what I do on any other day. There is a person in the room ready to judge if I am a good woman. If I would be a good mother. If I would be a good wife. And I don’t like that I respond to that by melting into conformity, but I do. I drip with semi-sweet small talk. I rarely seek approval, but the “woman with values” thing always hits me hard. No, I don’t want to have your babies. Yes, I do want you to think I would be “worthy” of that.
So I sit up straight. I make jokes that are edgy, but not too edgy. I remain mysterious and unspecific with the topics of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll. If my guitar comes out, I strum a G-rated country song. Save the vulgar rapping for another day; this person wants “values.”
Isn’t that disturbing?
Even if I don’t know a single thing about the person judging (let alone their personal “values”), I know exactly what they mean by “woman with values.” And what they mean, frankly, has very little to do with what actually makes me a good or interesting person. They don’t want to hear about my internship in DC, read my blog, or discuss my half-serious plans to buy a ukelele. They couldn’t care less about what makes my eyes light up.
Instead, the concerns are simple, and in many ways stupid: Does this girl do one night stands, or make out with strangers, or watch porn? Does she drink or smoke? Does she “take care of herself”? Did she grow up in a nice home?
In other words, the universal definition of “woman with values” is almost entirely based on what a Lady consumes, or lets into herself, rather than what she creates.
How weird is that? After all, women are born with epically creative bodies (see also: having babies). Women’s brains are typically wired for articulation, so we certainly have a lot of great things to say. It seems peculiar that to prove my worthiness to create (read: to be a good mother-and-wife), I need to prove the worthiness of what I consume.
The definition of a “man with values” is far less universal, as far as I can tell. It’s also quite different. Usually, when I seek a “man with values,” I am looking for the opposite–not what he consumes, but what he produces. What he offers to the world and its people, and how he offers it. How actively he loves and cares about things.
Now, I can totally understand wanting a partner who has a similar worldview and value system as you. If drug consumption or diet or sexuality enter your personal value system, I think you’re allowed to consider it with partner-choosing (though, pretty please, don’t use sexstuff to judge a person’s human value outside of that). You’re allowed to prefer partners with lots of experience, or prefer partners who have chosen to wait for marriage. You are also allowed to have a thing for blondes or Catholics or tattooed arms or, you know, “people I have things in common with.” I don’t see having preferences in partners, even silly ones, as overly oppressive.
I do, however, see the cross-your-legs-and-smile definition of “women with values” as oppressive. I don’t like that I immediately know “woman with values” means purity, or consumption control, rather than what I have to offer the world. I don’t like how it makes me act: Smile nicely. Share more about what you don’t do than what you do do. Sip slowly. Mention that you go to church, but don’t actually get into theology or make a smart historical reference.
“Girls with values” can read the Bible and teach Sunday school, but they shouldn’t be thinking too hard about it.
Of course, some people I know would have the opposite response to a person “looking for a woman with values.” They would not people-please. They would make it clear that they don’t fit into this box, loudly joking about their liquored up love affairs. They would swear. They would proudly pronounce their feminism because, well, fuck the system.
But that’s messed up, too. It’s messed up that they could be categorized as “women without values” for that. These friends do have values–values that are perhaps stronger mine, since I apparently hardcore crumble under the pressure of judgement. They’re women of valour. They answer the phone when someone calls, they care about their fellow human beings–whether or not they end up in bed with them. They respect relationships, their families, and themselves (though, like all of us, they fall down occasionally). They vote, pay taxes, recycle and help people. Most of all, they try not to judge others, which is a HUGE deal.
I think it’s time to redefine the term “woman with values.” Let’s try this out, shall we?
I am a woman with values not because I am chaste, but because I respect peoples’ bodies and emotions, regardless of the relationship we have.
I am a woman with values not because I am quiet or docile, but because I speak up when I see injustice.
I am a woman with values not because I go to church, but because I use the brain God gave me to consider the big questions in life.
I am a woman with values not because I “know what I stand for,” but because I recognize gray areas and am compassionate.
I am a woman with values not because I don’t drink or smoke, but because I respect peoples’ autonomy over their own bodies. Because I act in moderation, and pray for those suffering from addiction.
I am a woman with values not because I eat well or work out, but because I don’t make anyone else responsible for my happiness and I care about my physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
I am a woman with values not because I “don’t swear,” but because I speak honestly and with respect to those around me.
Yes, that is what a “woman with values” should be. Occasional f-bomb and all.