I have been many things throughout my tenure at Princeton—a human, a tiger, a journalist, drunk—but I have never been a lady. Through no fault of their own, approximately one half of mankind never experiences the triumphs and challenges of womanhood, and I am destined to remain among them. Luckily, women speak to me on occasion, and I recorded one such conversation to edify myself and other males on the subject of femininity. Elizabeth “Bits” Sola ’15 has precisely two X chromosomes in each of her cells, and has lived as a woman since the day of her birth twenty long years ago. She grew up in London in the United Kingdom, and at Princeton, she majors in French and Italian and is earning a certificate in Theater. Bits and I got together to talk about various aspects of the life of a lady at Princeton and in the world, and I have transcribed and condensed our interview below. Bits makes no claim to be representative of all women, but she is just as worthy a speaker on womanhood as any other dame.
Without further ado, my interview with Lady Bits.
RA: So, what’s up Bits?
BS: Oh you know, not much, bro. Just, you know, went to McCosh.
BS: My period. No, I’m kidding.
RA: Laughs. You have to go to McCosh every time.
BS: Laughs. No, allergy medicine. Allergy medicine.
RA: So you’re a woman.
BS: Um, yes.
RA: We both know this.
RA: It’s clear to everyone.
RA: Secret’s out.
RA: If there’s one thing that most men don’t know about women and should know, what is it?
BS: I don’t know. Girls are like secretly gross, but guys might know that already.
RA: You mean like physically gross?
BS: Yeah, just like scales, and uh… Laughs. I don’t know. I know some boys who don’t think that girls…
BS: Or like burp, or like—
RA: I don’t think any boy really thinks that.
BS: Okay, I dated a boy who really thought that. He actually thought that. He actually once asked me, I wonder what it’s like to be you, and like not— and the kid was 18. Like, educated bloke. But no.
“A Boob Thing”
RA: Do you feel like, when you meet a man, that they look at you as a woman before [they consider] your personality?
BS: Yeah, for sure. I think that really also depends on what you look like. It’s so stereotypical, but there’s definitely a boob thing… [There are a lot of girls] who try to play up their womanliness [at job interviews with their choice in clothing], or play it down, and if you go far in either direction… it says a lot about you. Which is kind of unfair, because if you happen to have big boobs, no matter what you wear, it will be noticeable, and then people will make an assumption based on what you wear.
RA: Have you ever been interviewed by a woman?
BS: No. Just over the phone.
RA: Or how about office hours with a male professor [versus a] female professor. Does that apply in the same way?
BS: Not really. I don’t feel like the professors here are really like, fazed… They’re probably like seeing into your mind more than anything else.
RA: I hope so… Would you say you try to make an effort to attract attention away from your body? Or you don’t think about it too much? Or you do the opposite?
BS: I don’t know if it’s one or the other. But it’s kind of like being English here, the same principle seems to apply. At home, being English is not a character trait, it’s not an interesting characteristic for me at all. Here it is, and I had a hard time when I first came because people are thinking it says something about me when it says nothing about me really. Yes, something about where I grew up, maybe how I grew up, but not what I’m like. And I realized the only way to make that work and not be resentful— it’s not people’s fault, people are gonna do that, and [you just have to] work with it. It’s the same way about being a girl. You can try and make yourself be androgynous to try and downplay your body, but that’s something you just have to work with. I think it works in your favor.
RA: Have you ever tried to get something by playing up [your womanliness], maybe trying to get into an eating club or something more serious?
BS: More serious? I don’t know. Definitely getting into a club. When I was growing up, girls could go clubbing from when they were fifteen, and it was so much harder for boys. It’s this really funny thing, I feel like the older you get, the more comfortable you are not wearing tight short stuff out clubbing and excessive makeup and wearing a lot of jewelry, but that’s still a signal to bouncers that you’re old, and you’re fifteen. We used to have bouncers’ numbers in our phones… I don’t know, I feel like I’m probably really sexist.
BS: Literally all girls are on the pill. Cuz it’s like expected at this point.
RA: Are there adverse effects to being on it?
BS: You gain some weight. I know a couple people who—I’m not great friends with them—who went on it to make their boobs bigger. But for most girls it’s because you don’t want to have a baby. It’s quite funny, it’s like a time of your day, you have to do it the same time every day, within a two-hour time slot every day.
RA: What’s your time slot?
BS: Ten AM. So like between nine and eleven, because I normally wake up in that time anyway. So I just take it when I wake up. But it’s really funny, I’ve been at dinner before and someone’s alarm goes off like dingdingdingding, pill time! Me and my sisters are all on the same time, it’s really funny. I think it’s just genetic.
RA: Do you ever think about being married or having a baby?
RA: A lot?
RA: What about it?
BS: It’s gonna be awesome. I’m a bit worried that I’m gonna be a spinster. I think everybody has that. Wanting a baby is quite funny because it’s like the vainest activity, right? I want more of me. So I’m gonna make a baby one.
RA: When you are dating a guy, do you think about, what if this dude was my husband? Not necessarily in a serious way—
BS: Yeah. I’ve actually talked to most of them about it to. Most of my boyfriends. I’ve had the conversation. Not like The Conversation… There’s this odd bit when you’re in a relationship because we all have so many now, like people have millions of relationships before they get married in general, so there’s this awkward bit where you’re talking about some future thing, or you see your boyfriend or girlfriend around a baby, and they’ll be playing with it, and [it’s] really cute, and you’ll be like, You’re gonna be a great dad, and they’re like “What’s the connotation of that, eh? You want to reproduce with me?”
RA: Do you feel like if you want to talk about that, even in the abstract, like you feel if you did it could scare a guy?
BS: I worry about that for sure, I don’t bring it up that much, I generally wait for them to say something first… One of my ex-boyfriends, his mom built this house, this vacation house, and on the basement floor there were just rooms of bunk beds, and I’m like, “Do you have a lot of guests,” and she says, “No it’s for the grandkids,” and like, your oldest son is 18. This is kinda weird. And then you end up having conversation, like “So, the twenty children we’ll be having.” Guys like kids, right? I think guys like kids more than girls. It’s because we’re all so scared of getting pregnant all the time. I’ve realized, pregnant jokes, never funny. With boys, never funny.
RA: What’s a pregnant joke?
BS: Just like, “I’m pregnant.”
RA: Have you made that joke?
BS: A million times.
RA: And you never got a laugh.
BS: No. Just a lot of anxiety.
RA: Do you think that girls have lower physical standards for guys than guys have for girls?
BS: Probably. Girls have more at their disposal, and it’s more acceptable for them to do a lot of things to enhance their appearance. If you’re more average as a girl, you can make yourself look nicer. And guys can’t really do that.
RA: Do you find that that’s a problem?
BS: Kind of. Here it’s more than in other places. People get manicures, and get their hair done for events, and whiten teeth. It really depends where you’re coming from. If you think you won’t be socially accepted without it, then that’s a problem.
RA: How much makeup did you put on before this interview?
BS: Like a few hours. Woke up at five, just been going at it for hours. Laughs.
RA: How long is it going to take you before formals?
BS: I’m really bad at makeup. I have one eye shadow palette, and like two lipsticks, and no blusher, and no bronzer, and none of that. I can’t even straighten my hair because it’s straight already! Apparently that’s a look. Or curl it, because it doesn’t all curl. Pretty dire. I could cut it myself. Shave my beard. Wax my eyebrows, just off.
RA: Would you rather live in a world where everyone was just natural all the time?
BS: Yeah. I feel like I’m really going against the American mentality here, where it’s like, if you want to change something, just go change it. It isn’t worth it to me to make the effort to not do the things that I do, to not shave or not put on makeup, whatever it is, not wear a dress. I just think there are more important things to be worried about. Recently I’ve been very busy, incredibly busy, I’m taking five classes, stage-managing a show, trying to sort out stuff for this summer. I just have a lot to deal with already, getting through my life, and I think that stuff is just way more important than trying to make some stand on the fact that I should be like, shaving my head or something. And I don’t think you should have to make some physical protest. If you don’t like wearing makeup, don’t wear makeup by all means. I’m fine doing it. I don’t some days, but I do others… I didn’t know beforehand how much I fit into the gender stereotype that I’m describing. Who doesn’t want to look pretty? That sounds really bad.
RA: When you see a girl who has short hair, or dresses differently for that reason, how do you react?
BS: I think it’s hard for that person going to a school like this, probably. A lot of people are judgmental. And it stands out here. Like if you have dyed hair, there are maybe five people in this school—very few, and it’s more for a practical joke than anything else.
* * *
Speaking with Bits illuminated the quotidian trials of a twenty-year-old heterosexual woman’s life in America. She did not use this interview as an opportunity to lament institutionalized misogyny or hegemonic masculinity, but simply to reveal the types of personal issues that comprise her life. Dressing for a prospective employer, talking with a boyfriend about babies, wearing or not wearing makeup— these are undeniable aspects of womanhood that men like myself know little about because we don’t live them and we rarely ask. For Bits, being a woman “is not an interesting characteristic… at all,” but for a lifelong male like myself, learning about her day-to-day experience of life as a lady was among the more fascinating and insightful lessons that college has afforded me. I shall graduate wiser on the subject of women by at least a few bits.