I’m usually not one to complain about modern gender roles, but I’ve come to realize that women are not pulling our weight as a gender in the same way that we used to. It pains me to admit it, but there it is. All of the following paintings are named “Portrait of a Woman” (or a lady, or a young woman, or some minor variation); they are regular paintings of regular ladies doing regular things, and they put each and every one of us to shame.
Here’s “Portrait of a Woman,” by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. The sight of a woman bedecked in a shapeless silver gown, in turquoise slippers and a beehive crown who had mastered and tamed a noble beast of the hunt was once so commonplace it needed no additional title. Portrait of a Woman with Deer? No. People will instinctively understand that deer serve her, because she is a woman.
“Mother, how will I know when I am a woman?”
“You will wear a ruby the size of a bird, and clutch a baby unicorn with sad eyes to your breast. That is how you will know.”
When was the last time you read something this severely, while sprawled across an authentic Scottish tartan? You are scarcely worthy of the name Woman.
“Portrait of a Woman.” Standard-issue women, pearls and ivory-white headwraps and enigmatic smiles.
There are two things that separate a real woman from a girl: she has a tree growing out of her back, and she wraps everything but her right breast in red fur.
“There are two kinds of scarves: floor-length, and just fucking around.”
You don’t even own an umbrella, do you? And if you were given one, you would be unable to pose insouciantly with it, because we live in an age that is shamed. Rome, thou hast lost thy breed of noble bloods.
Just a regular woman in a regular gown holding a regular fan. I don’t know what’s on your floor right now, but I’m willing to bet it isn’t a single crushed white rose. Whatever is on your floor right now, I’m willing to bet it’s aggressively mediocre, just like your life.
Q: What does a lady wear?
A: A lady wears a green crushed-velvet cape, a cunning hat, and her own arms.
“Portrait of a Woman,” Paul César Helleu. Don’t you think if he had found her in the least unusual he would have called it “Portrait of a Remarkable Woman”? “Portrait of a Woman in White”? This woman was one step above garbage at the time. Women of this era spent so much time launching ocean vessels and inventing stevedores that they thought nothing of dressing like The White Witch of Narnia and sitting for portraits.
REAL WOMEN: wear linen togas and accent their headwraps with laurel wreaths and light-blue caps. REAL WOMEN: have exactly thirty-six strands of hair that coil in perfect unison. REAL WOMEN: always have exactly five flowers in their perfect grasps and never have more than one breast covered at a time.
This girl is a better woman than anyone I have ever met. That ferret draped over her shoulder is a better woman than I am, I’ll admit it. I’ll admit it.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.