Wild is Not Necessarily Free
Sept. 5, 2007
So what’s up with “the Brit pack?” The group—Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, etc.—seems inordinately influential with the current generation of young women. But it’s a cultural phenomena that hasn’t changed a whole lot since I was a teenager: young people prize freedom of expression. Often this means drinking and drugging, being sexually liberated and free to “hook up.”
I, too, spent my twenties drinking and sexing my way through law school; I answered to no one and did as I pleased. But in truth, much of my behavior was motivated by the big lie: I don’t care what anybody thinks. As far as I can tell, that “big lie” is still alive and well with young people today. I use the term “big lie” as Carl Jung used the term “big dream” to emphasize the particular lies that transcend any one person or individual life. I think of them as cultural mindsets or feeling-states common to large groups of people.
Do young women today really “not care” about what others think?
Perhaps allowing the world to zoom in on her genitalia is Britney’s way of telling us she doesn’t need our approval. Is drinking, drugging, and sleeping around proof of their freedom? No, it just seems that way at first. Most of us figure out fairly quickly that it’s a dead end. Paris had a glimmer of that while she was in jail, but being young and appropriately self-absorbed, it appears she may have already forgotten what she learned there. I would venture a guess that neither Britney nor Lindsey have had even had a passing thought about whether or not their current lifestyle is taking them anywhere. For both of them, rehab has been a place to position themselves vis-à-vis the law, rather than effect any real life changes.
Like it or not, famous or not, women have been inducted into some specific beliefs: 1) their sexuality has a certain value, and 2) they are less of a woman or incomplete without a man. The issue is not whether or not these beliefs are true; the issue here is to become aware of how these beliefs may affect you. These particular “big lies” have been part of our cultural landscape for over 5,000 years. It’s like wallpaper or muzak—we are totally unconscious of them. Watching the antics of the Brit Pack gives us all a chance, though, to get in touch with it. The more awareness we all have that we really deeply believe that woman are “less” than, the less acting out young women will find necessary.
The first time I met a woman who was really free (rather than like Britney or my younger self), I was totally entranced. This woman was not self-absorbed; she was self-possessed and completely at home in her skin. She was so sure of herself that she seemed like another species. She exhibited none of the attention seeking, self-conscious, controlling, or flirtatious ways I associated with being a desirable woman. Her very presence startled something deep inside me awake.
I had to do a great deal of inner work before I built that type of solid foundation in myself. I had to face the fact that I would do anything to secure male approval. I had to look at my motives for choosing provocative attire and learn the fine art of knowing when a sexy look suited me and when it diminished me. I had to confront the many ways I was still invested in the idea that a woman with a man is somehow more complete.
A woman who truly “doesn’t care what anybody thinks” in a positive sense gets her personal power from inside herself. Generally, she is highly regarded and has built her self-esteem through estimable acts. She doesn’t care what people think because she is on purpose, has some accomplishment under her belt, knows her own mind, and has proved to herself and those around her that she has a strong moral core. That was not true of me in my twenties, nor is that what today’s “prostitots” demonstrate when they flaunt their misbehavior in society’s face.
Women experience true freedom when they discover the ability to exercise choice by applying their will. Sometimes we gain more self-respect by exercising self-restraint than by “doing whatever I want.” Then we stand at the threshold of a whole new kind of personal freedom.