This article originally appeared in the March 1994 issue of playboy magazine.
Oh, God, my tits hurt so bad,“ said Kitty. She was dressed slickly chic but looked wan and frazzled. "Weaning a baby is the end of the world. I want to die.” She put her head on my shoulder. “I feel like something scraped off the bottom of a shoe.”
Jane, swathed in Armani, tsk–tsked smugly. She herself had just become pregnant and she was irradiated with her secret.
“Don’t wean,” I said to Kitty. “If it hurts that much it’s too quick and too early. Leave it for a couple months.” Kitty’s eyes filled with tears, maybe of joy.
“Easy for you to say, you had only one,” said Sarah. “The second time, you’re ready to wean ten minutes after your milk comes in.”
“Don’t you hate it when the milk comes in so quickly that you suddenly have two rocks on your chest?” said Valerie, who had been silent until now.
We were at an official girls’ night out, and I couldn’t figure out what I was doing there.
You too may have noticed the constant features in “women’s pages” of newspapers about the groovy new phenomenon of girls’ night out. How everybody who’s anybody is eschewing men for one night a month, when they all get together and, I guess, let their hair down. How liberating and refreshing it is not to have stupid guys around belching and farting and talking football. How wonderful it is to bond with other females, to be able to speak out on any topic you want to without those judgmental, masculine scowls.
I find the whole notion profoundly depressing. It’s so very ladies-protesting-too-much. The general tone, and the women quoted, in these articles sound so upbeat, perky and utterly desperate. “Oh, no,” the women say, “we don’t need men, we can be perfectly happy with just one another.” Which, decoded, means “Get me a boyfriend before I go out of my mind,” or, if you have one, “Lay a finger on my man and I’ll break your leg.”
To make such a fuss of girls’ night out, to use words like “just one another,” means there is an ugly subtext going on, a depraved presupposition that men are the superior sex. That women have to use all kinds of special props and pep talks to define themselves without men.
Not that I had actually been to one or anything. I figured it would be just like when you see women watching male strippers (that I’ve done once, OK?) and they clap and carry on and act the way they think men act, the way men watching strippers in movies act. Actual men watching actual strippers just sit there quietly with hard-ons. They do not squeal.
Women are still, or are again, very male-centered. They still ape their oppressors. They still feel deeply unsafe and disoriented when engaged in a non-male-sanctioned activity.
Plus, I had been to the original girls’ night out, thank you. We called them consciousness-raising groups. They were the greatest mind-altering experience a woman could have. Much better than mescaline. A consciousness-raising group in the early Seventies was an evening of unconditional support punctuated by searing insights. We ate fondue and realized we didn’t have to be a servant class if we didn’t want to. It was liberating. Once we were talking about masturbation and–no, never mind, it’s still none of your business. Suffice it to say it could not be anything like this Nineties version.
But I went anyway. It was not at all what I expected. Except for the outfits. We were all glamourous, impeccably sophisticated visions. For men we just try to look skinnier so they won’t think we have enormous butts or anything. For women we pull out all the stops because, let’s face it, is a guy going to know that the black velvet number with the standing boat neckline and taffeta frills around the hem is actually a work of art? Men don’t even know what clothes are called. They think everything that isn’t pants is a dress, for God’s sake. I personally got up four times to twirl around the room to be admired by my eagle-eyed peers.
But there were no single women on the prowl while pretending not to be. Instead I found myself in a group of tired women who were trying to be supportive companions to their men, nurturing mothers and successful career women. Married women.
Married women are most in need of girls’ night out. Tell a husband you’re going to dinner with women friends and either he just assumes he’s invited or sulks because what the hell is he supposed to eat? But tell him you’re going to girls’ night out and he gets a fond, condescending gleam in his eye. A husband assumes just what I’d assumed, that it’s really about them.
We talked politics, art, gossip. We argued about whether Kitty should wean or not. We stuffed ourselves with bread and wine and many of us put our heads down on the table for a little nap. Men were somehow not mentioned.
At first I felt all pompous. I am an independent woman, and all my nights are girls’ nights out, even if there are guys around. We never bothered labeling it. It was a way of life, and a mighty good one at that.
Then I went wistful. Was this independence I had carved for myself really mighty good? Wasn’t I just sublimating with freedom and career my real needs for a husband and child? Wait a minute, I have a child. A husband then? Was I jealous?
No, I wasn’t. Everyone has an albatross round her neck. And as the evening progressed and we got more and more relaxed (i.e., plastered), those feelings of warm and supportive sisterhood rose up within us and we started carousing. It can still happen, even in the Nineties.