Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Turning 30: 30 Things Every Woman Should Have and Should Know

I'm sure the minds behind the article "30 Things Every Woman Should Have And Should Know" weren't aiming to be stereotypical, petty, useless, heterocentrist, and empty of values despite writing an article about what we should be valuing, but I found this tripe to be an embarrassing load of garbage, and I'm gonna tell you why.

The link to the actual article is above. Below are these so-called essential 30 things, with my objections.

By 30, you should have ...

1. One old boyfriend you can imagine going back to and one who reminds you of how far you've come.

Great, let's define our human growth based on the people we've dated. At 30, we "should" have dated a man, stopped dating him, and can imagine going back to him. What? This is like an Ice Cream Koan. It doesn't mean diddly if you actually look at what it's saying. And by 30 we "should" have dated someone who was kind of a mistake? I mean sure that's a growing experience, and sure I have an ex I've sometimes fantasized about setting on fire, but we're going to define our successful maturity through romantic failures? Combine all this with the fact that this list specifies boyfriends, and lookie here, we seem to be leaving out lesbians. And people who date people who aren't women or men. And people who don't date. Sorry, over-thirty ladies who don't date or only date non-men! You have already begun to fail this list.

2. A decent piece of furniture not previously owned by anyone else in your family.

Are you serious? Now a sign of a successful post-thirty woman is her furniture? Come on, gals, look at your age . . . start classing up your house already. It's time, ladies. Don't be minimalists. Don't value other expensive items like high art or recording equipment. Get a really nice bedroom set. What's wrong with you?

3. Something perfect to wear if the employer or man of your dreams wants to see you in an hour.

Actually, guys, if there was an employer or man of my dreams in existence, he wouldn't give a crap what I was wearing. So I guess I have this covered. Oh wait, I don't? Oh. That's right. This is a sign of maturity--having an "it" thing to wear. That go-to outfit to make me look amazing. Girls, be ready to look your best--and get judged on it--with very little notice. This is something you need to have learned. 'Kay.

Here's what I'll be wearing.

4. A purse, a suitcase, and an umbrella you're not ashamed to be seen carrying.

Well I seem to have passed this one with flying colors too! I don't feel one shred of "shame" at the judgment of any passing jerks if they don't like my umbrella (bought at the local mass-market retailer) with happy faces all over it, which literally still has the "$2" tag hanging off it. And a guy on the bus once was really impressed by that. He asked me, "Where did you get that $2 umbrella??" Of course, the insinuation here is that there do exist purses, suitcases, and umbrellas of which we should be ashamed. And that by age thirty, we should "know better" and buy better accoutrements. What do you think of mine?

5. A youth you're content to move beyond.

Oh look, another Ice Cream Koan. We're supposed to nod our heads sagely and say we're supposed to "have" a youth we can happily move beyond, as if we can change that now if our youth kind of sucked. Perhaps this is their way of saying we should be ready at thirty to acknowledge that we're not young anymore? You know, that sappy, trite "Age is only a number!" platitude is starting to sound better by the second. "You're thirty now. Move beyond your youth and be content about it" sounds really arbitrary to me. Why not twenty? Why not forty? Why not never? Immaturity is a great thing to leave behind, but I've seen nine-year-olds do that. I like to think I'm plenty mature enough at thirty to know that this is attempting-to-sound-sage bullshit.

6. A past juicy enough that you're looking forward to retelling it in your old age.

Okay, what. First, what's "juicy"? It should be full of mishaps, shenanigans, narrow escapes, and sexual tidbits? What is this juice of which you speak? It seems to be insinuating that I should have had an adventurous past--with sultry and steamy stories and perhaps hilarious recountings of drunken weekends--which should have helped me get all that JUICE out of my system so I can settle down and be thirtyish. Whatever.

My juicy youth tastes of cranberry.
7. The realization that you are actually going to have an old age -- and some money set aside to help fund it.

I'll invoke the aforementioned mature nine-year-old again and point out that I was able to acknowledge that I'd be a "granny" one day when I was in grade school. I actually never thought thirty (and beyond) sounded "old," and though it's not like I did any fantastic job planning for retirement from my crib, I was never one of those kids who thinks everything's going to be like college forever. Having money set aside for retirement's a nice idea. Not everyone can manage to do that by thirty--student loans and mortgage payments, anyone?--but considering the previous list items regaling me with advice about proper attire, accessories, and furniture, it's pretty clear this list is speaking from some pretty serious privilege.

8. An email address, a voice mailbox, and a bank account -- all of which nobody has access to but you.

I'm not sure what this has to do with anything. If it's insinuating that women at age thirty and beyond should have their privacy and an emergency fund that isn't controlled by anyone else, sure, that's a good idea. (Why this has anything to do with being thirty still escapes me, though.) I could see shared bank accounts being okay, though.

9. A résumé that is not even the slightest bit padded.

This is so arbitrary. Some people pop out of college and do one thing for twelve years before they have to get a new job. I'm sure their résumé would look pretty bare. So this is suggesting that the most acceptable career path for a woman of this age will have been to dip her toes into various careers and/or hopped around to collect experience? Or are they saying it's just better for people to know better than to pad résumés at age thirty? I just don't know anymore.

10. One friend who always makes you laugh and one who lets you cry.

Now the list judges our social relationships. Just what I wanted! Oops, I might lack one of these things. I will put out a Craigslist ad! Attention: Friend needed. I am 30 and seem to have failed to make a friend who makes me laugh. Funny friend needed immediately. Please e-mail me at least three jokes, to this e-mail address which no one has access to but me. Wait, what if I'm a loner? Or what if I have MORE THAN ONE friend who makes me laugh but none of them ever let me cry? I kinda think most of my friends do both of these things reasonably well. I've noticed that a lot of women my age who take contrived advice to heart seem to have done the good girl thing and found a fella and alienated all their friends during the infatuation phase and married the guy, finally realizing four years later that they don't know why their friends disappeared. Maybe we do need some very very basic instruction on non-romantic human relationships. Yes, ladies, your friends really should be able to roll with your emotions. Without considering it a check mark on a top thirty checklist, right up there in importance with getting the right umbrella.

11. A set of screwdrivers, a cordless drill, and a black lace bra.

I think I might actually have a black lace bra somewhere around here. It's uncomfortable as shit. But wait, what is this item about? It's trying to be clever by offsetting the femininity of the Bra You Should Own against the backdrop of the tools' masculine symbolism? To do what, tell us we should be able to take care of ourselves in a handy fashion but without losing our feminine gentleness? Or is the black lace bra also a "tool"? (Or is the only tool the person who suggested this?) You decide.

12. Something ridiculously expensive that you bought for yourself, just because you deserve it.

Ah, I see. Money is the way you define being indulgent. Let's see. When's the last time I got something really expensive because I deserved it?

Ah yes. My expensive $400 marker set.
I got this primarily with gift cards. Maybe it doesn't count, because I didn't throw money away on something "ridiculously" expensive that I wanted. Know what? I "deserve" good treatment and love and respect. I don't know if I "deserve" random expensive things I want. I like rewarding myself as much as anyone, but I don't think it's a particularly good idea to say that by age thirty you should have spent too much money on something in order to drive home the idea that you deserve nice things.

I love my markers. And I feel like buying them was indulgent. I do that sort of thing when I can handle it and when I really want something. I wouldn't if it would have been irresponsible to do so. I'm not sure why someone at age thirty should have found a window in her life where she decided the best use of her money would be to make herself feel deserving by buying something.

13. The belief that you deserve it. 

My self-esteem is sky-high without buying myself crap. I'm having trouble justifying the annoyance it would cost me to cough up a coherent rebuttal regarding what we're entitled to in our lives, so I'll just leave this here.

14. A skin-care regimen, an exercise routine, and a plan for dealing with those few other facets of life that don't get better after 30. 

Gosh, I almost thought I was reading a parody when I got to this one. Okay, there's nothing wrong with having skin-care regimens or exercise routines. But . . . I don't. And I refuse to accept that this is just something women are supposed to know better about by my age. Does "wearing sunblock" count as a skin-care regimen? If so, I've got it covered. Does "riding my bike to work" (even though I do it because I don't know how to drive) count as an exercise routine? If so, bingo. But considering that my skin and my physical fitness were lumped in with "those few other facets of life that don't get better after 30," I'm imagining this to insinuate that I should have a plan for dealing with not looking young anymore. Well, my "plan for dealing with" that is looking old when I look old. I tend to think the whole "age is only a number" philosophy is doing pretty well for me. Don't you think?

Why yes, I am past thirty. u mad?

15. A solid start on a satisfying career, a satisfying relationship, and all those other facets of life that do get better.

I think we all make our own decisions on careers and relationships, and some of us change gears at different ages. I like to think I have "a solid start on a satisfying career"--which would be some of the headway I've made recently in the publishing world, including my published nonfiction and my prospects not yet in the hand for fiction--but the thing I actually make money from is a support position, and not exactly a "satisfying career." It's not going to develop into anything more than an admin position. I like it that way because it frees my creative energy for writing. As for the relationship, I'm by choice happily unattached. Have I failed to hit thirty properly? Because I don't have "a satisfying relationship"? (Considering the usual opinions of prescriptivists like the people who write these articles, I don't imagine the satisfying non-romantic relationships I hold dear would "count." I'm used to my capacity to love being called into doubt and dismissed as puppy love. We all know that what makes something REAL love is when sexual attraction gets involved!)

By 30, you should know ...

1. How to fall in love without losing yourself.

I actually like this one. It's not really something you study or plan, but turning into someone else or forgetting/neglecting everything you used to hold dear before your love relationship is indeed something immature people often do when they're infatuated. The only thing I don't like about this is that it suggests that by thirty I should be in love and/or know how to go about it. Meh.

2. How you feel about having kids.

Uh, sure. I guess it's good to know whether you want to have kids by thirty, if that decision wasn't already made for you in your teens or twenties. But I know people who are undecided about this and are past thirty. I don't like hearing that there's something wrong with that. Again, "by thirty" sounds so arbitrary.

3. How to quit a job, break up with a man, and confront a friend without ruining the friendship.

Did all of these successfully by the time I was eighteen, thanks. Any rules on breaking up with people who aren't men, though? I know a few thirty-somethings who are aching for this article's approval on their non-heterosexual relationships, you know.

4. When to try harder and when to walk away.

. . . This is always very nuanced. Phrasing it like this, and framing it like it's something you should have mastered by thirty when you're not likely to have encountered all the situations in which you will need to apply it by the time you're thirty, makes it seem very empty. And I think there are some situations we'll encounter for the rest of our lives after which we'll wonder whether we should have tried harder or should have walked away earlier.

5. How to kiss in a way that communicates perfectly what you would and wouldn't like to happen next.

Uh-oh. I have that "I'm reading a parody" feeling again. Maybe this is (again) because I don't do romance and therefore by the standards of this article I am probably a complete failure of a thirty-something woman, but I find myself thinking that the best way to "communicate perfectly," to everyone, regardless of that person's ability to read signals, would be to simply open one's mouth and say either "Okay, goodnight" or "all right, to the bedroom!" I'm sick of these Cosmo articles that tell us how to wiggle our tongues and move our lips to "tell him" what we're thinking, when those lips and tongues can seriously be used to communicate this EXPLICITLY. Dude. If the person you're kissing isn't doing what you wanted, don't hone your kissing techniques to figure out better ways of conveying this subtly. Just use words! It's not difficult!

6. The names of the secretary of state, your great-grandmothers, and the best tailor in town.

::eyeroll:: Yes to being marginally politically aware, if you happen to live somewhere that has a Secretary of State. Yes to knowing your family history, if it isn't obscured by issues you can't help. But "the best tailor in town"? I have to admit that the only time I've ever needed some equivalent of a tailor was when I needed my bridesmaid dress shortened.

I don't remember the mall seamstress's name, but I guess it's moot since she definitely wasn't the best tailor in town. My shoulder straps looked weird.

I don't really get clothes tailored. Am I a failure of a thirty-something woman? Seriously, on the rare occasion that I want to get something altered, my go-to person is my mom.

7. How to live alone, even if you don't like to.

I do like to. I know how. Next.

8. Where to go -- be it your best friend's kitchen table or a yoga mat -- when your soul needs soothing.

Not really much of a revelation that it's a good idea to have coping strategies. I think it's a good idea to develop this long before age thirty. Mine, incidentally, usually involves a computer chair and a blinking cursor.

9. That you can't change the length of your legs, the width of your hips, or the nature of your parents.

Aww, how inspirational. All these years I've yearned for a way to change my legs and hips, and by thirty, you know, I figured out what matters and accepted it. As for the nature of my parents, that's not actually terrible advice--that we should learn to get along with people we're stuck with--but if you're not as fortunate as I am in having pretty great parents, I actually don't think the best way to deal with actual problematic issues is to shrug and decide "that's the way they are and they can't change."

As we mature, we figure out more about how to communicate with other people (hopefully), and while we can't change "the nature of" anyone, this item seems to be suggesting in a cutesy way that we're just going to have to accept how aggravating our parents are. Sure, I've had to agree to disagree a few times. But parents learn and grow and change too, even though mine are doing it in their fifties/sixties as I do it in my thirties. I hope they don't want to "change" my nature either, but this article isn't suggesting that mindsets can't be malleable if they belong to parents, is it?

10. That your childhood may not have been perfect, but it's over.

Oh, okay. Let's just ignore the fact that our childhoods are formative, wash our hands of it and consider our adult lives a clean slate, and get over it if our childhoods taught us lessons we can't unlearn. In my case, I had what would pass for an idyllic childhood when compared with that of most of my friends. I had a stable home with parents and family who loved me, and I felt safe there. I took it for granted and I flourished as a person. And despite the privilege within which I was cultivated as a person, I cannot look at others who were denied this and make a list instructing my fellow mid-thirties women to quit sulking and realize their childhoods are in the past. Ya think?

11. What you would and wouldn't do for money or love.

Am I supposed to have a list? Are the items on it restricted to those I'd perform under duress? What. I'd screw a guy dressed as a clown for $2000, but not $1500? I'd move across the country "for love," but not internationally? I'm not sure how you can have these things planned out until or unless the situations come up. I like the idea that the article is advocating women understanding their boundaries--deciding ahead of time how much bullshit we'll tolerate at a well-paying job, for instance--but phrased in this detached way, how does one make a plan for this? If a dude in a clown suit approaches me on the street, though, I definitely have my price picked out.

12. That nobody gets away with smoking, drinking, doing drugs, or not flossing for very long.

Nobody? Gets away with . . . ugh, I feel another "I can't even properly respond to this without making rude noises" rebuttal coming on. I'll try to work through it for you, though. So of course this is first insinuating that in my younger years I surely dabbled in these things, but in my thirties I'm to realize these are "things I can't get away with." But . . . first of all, drinking? This is a weird reversal because almost everyone I know who's an adult drinks (socially--some more than socially), and I'm often condescended to and mocked for not partaking because apparently this is just what grown-ups DO to have fun. I think people are generally getting away with drinking, thanks. As for smoking . . . I'm pretty sure my grandmother smoked until she died at age 84, or at least close to it. She got away with it. For long. Really long. She didn't die of anything smoking-related. She was a somebody. I get that they're saying it's an immature mindset that allows you to think abusing your body will never catch up with you, but it's incredibly poorly phrased and really taking a hardline stance on these things. But hang on a second, because I've got some flossing to do.

13. Who you can trust, who you can't, and why you shouldn't take it personally.

I shouldn't take it personally if I can't trust someone? Well, that's an awfully broad statement, isn't it? I have people of both descriptions in my life. I know who they are. I've never had trouble figuring out if I could trust people. If they betray me, I damn well do take it personally. Without a lot more context, I don't think it makes a lot of sense to say nodding, smiling, and shrugging is the proper, impersonal way to handle a breach of trust.

14. Not to apologize for something that isn't your fault.

I'm not sure what this has to do with the maturity of age thirty. I mean, some of us say "I'm sorry" when we know we're not at fault to express sadness for someone's situation, but that can't be what they mean here. Do they mean we're likely to have had to shake the tendency to blame ourselves for things that aren't our fault? Some of us have learned this behavior and can't so easily shake it. Some of us (like me) never had this problem. I think it's a good thing to learn if you can, but I don't quite see its purpose on this list.

15. Why they say life begins at 30.

Who says that? The people who wrote this list? I disagree. My life began when I was born, and lest you think I'm cheeky for saying so, I firmly believe that we become who we are through everything we experience. That includes life before thirty. That includes the childhood we can't discard and call "over." That includes our possibly juicy past, our boyfriends in their proper slots, our non-embarrassing purse collection, our collected knowledge which has enabled us to make that start on a fulfilling career, our experiences throughout life which have led us to form our attitudes. Life doesn't begin at thirty, and chucking it out there as an empty motivation called from the sidelines by vapid cheerleaders feels very insincere and meaningless to me.

30 Things I Have and Know

The thirty things I've acquired and learned by age 30. That I don't generalize and hand down with "shoulds."

By 30, I had. . . .

1. About 2.5 metric shit tons of books.
2. A college degree.
3. Incredible friends I can tell anything to.
4. A collection of filled handwritten journals.
5. At least ten recipes that have been repeatedly requested by friends and family.
6. A living space of my own that suits my needs and displays my personality.
7. A fearless approach to writing.
8. The confidence to tell other people they were hurting me and the communication skills to make them stop.
9. Dedication to my creative projects.
10. Adorable children on the planet who consider me their auntie.
11. Good comebacks for guys who hit on me while staring at my boobs.
12. An appreciation for the rights, privileges, and abilities I possess.
13. A strong ability to edit for others without hurting their feelings.
14. A realistic understanding of my limitations.
15. A burning drive to get my messages out there.

By 30, I knew. . . .

1. How much sleep I needed, and how to schedule my life so I could get it.
2. That I don't have to find fulfillment through the same means by which I earn my living.
3. The power that clear communication and a calm disposition hold.
4. When to let a creative project take priority over nearly everything, and how to stay basically functional in the throes of such immersion.
5. How to write a proposal or ask for a favor, and how to be courageous in an interview or audition.
6. That it isn't bizarre, weird, or dysfunctional to value non-romantic relationships on par with those that are romantic.
7. When it's okay to be selfish.
8. When to get angry, and how to do it in a constructive way.
9. That grief changes a person, and that I don't have to "get over" those I've lost.
10. That my family members are very different from each other and from me in some ways, and that they're worth the extra effort it sometimes takes to see eye to eye.
11. That I can be liked without trying to impress anyone.
12. When I should just listen.
13. How to organize nearly anything in ways that make sense.
14. That maturity isn't a status that someone else confers upon you . . . that childish and childlike are two different things.
15. What other people's expectations of me are, and when I can ignore them.

Sounds at least a little more fulfilling than owning a really nice piece of furniture, right?

But get back to me when you've bought that black lace bra and the right power tools, ladies.


  1. You totally made me laugh. But it's all so true. You've got a lot of awesome points!

  2. I love this so much! I love it more than I hate those "should" lists (and I hate them extravagantly). I love your list, too. I wish lists like yours would go viral more often than those offensive, appalling, thoughtless "should" lists.