Consciously being a girl.
When I was growing up, my older sister and I went to Catholic school, but my older brother (who split the five-year difference between me and my sister) went to public school where he could get free speech therapy. As a five-year-old, I knew that public school was for kids who weren’t Catholic, who were other religions, with the exception of my brother who had a special reason, and could be forgiven for not going to Catholic school. I also knew that being Catholic meant that you had to dress up in uniforms for school and in “nice” clothes for church; but the kids at public school could wear whatever they wanted. Furthermore, even at age five, I had a peculiar sensitivity to others’ intimations of what a girl should be, how a girl should act, what a girl should wear. And let’s face it: regarding that last point, girl’s clothes were annoyingly uncomfortable. Dresses were okay, but they meant that you had to wear stiff shoes with no traction and that horrible leg-binding contraption known as “tights.” They were itchy and restrictive; they meant you had to behave. “Behave” meant not running around, not shouting, not making a mess — in short, the kinds of things that when boys do them, people shake their heads, smile, and say, “Boys will be boys.” At age five, I thought, “What difference does it make? I want to do those things, too.” The combination of this sense of gender injustice with my deep understanding of the differences between Catholic school kids and public school kids, caused me to freak out one Sunday morning, as my father struggled to put my tights on me. In exasperation at my tight-wearing fate, I shouted, “Why do we have to be Catholic? Why can’t we be Public?!” (Clearly, I was also a precocious expert in linguistics, too, transferring the knowledge that the suffix –lic indicated subscribing to a certain system of beliefs.) Public people are people who are not Catholic, right? When my parents expressed confusion at my outburst, I carefully explained how being a Catholic girl meant having to wear stupid dress-up clothes, whereas being a Public girl meant I could wear whatever I wanted. The choice was a no-brainer. I wanted out of the Catholic faith. But I never wanted out of being a girl.
Over the years since the tights-incident, circumstances have made me think a lot about what it means to be a girl. Sesame Street used to have a puppet skit about how women can be doctors, policemen, and astronauts. Again, my five-year-old self thought it was a dumb skit; I mean, duh, what jerks are saying we can’t do those things and why would anyone listen to them? Who needs a song about this? Let’s move on! My first grade teacher said I was not allowed to sit on the floor with one leg down and the other knee up because it wasn’t “ladylike.” Ugh! How I hated that word. As an adult, I understand perfectly well that not everyone wants to look at my crotch for an extended period of time, but as a kid, I rejoiced when my Catholic school finally accepted a pant-suit variation of the uniform, because it allowed me to be a girl and to sit any way I found comfortable. Once puberty hit, I became — like many other lasses with dark complexions — hirsute. That’s the short way of saying “effing hairy in all the wrong places.” I would walk to visit a friend, past my cousin’s house, who would send his twerpy friends to ride their bikes past me and ask if I was a boy or a girl. I still get that question from people under age 10. As a queer adult, I chuckle at being called “sir.” Yet, while I’m not particularly girly, I’m not totally boyish, either; I marvel at the bull-dykes and the F-to-Ms, who have fully traded one set of stereotyped images for another.
Upon reading Steve Pavlina’s article, How to be a Man, my initial reaction was, “You gotta be shitting me, Pavlina. You’re fucking pulling this gender bullshit?” After all, real women can swear like sailors. I let time pass and, in my mind, kept coming back to the article and his challenge. I agree that men and women have inherent differences beyond the physical ones. I wasn’t sure, however, that the points made in the article were those differences. Like others, I felt that you could simply use the find-and-replace function and you’d have the article. I let a little more time pass and thought, okay, let’s just pretend that this article has to be rewritten specifically to address women, and not because we only talk about our feelings, we don’t hold each other accountable for our ideas and actions, and we never make fun of each other (Mr. Pavlina, sir, might I suggest you are hanging around the wrong women?). We experience life differently for intrinsic and extrinsic reasons.
I thought about the women I know and respect (and yes, the ones I find attractive, too), and how they’re sassy go-getters, who don’t let other people step on them and also don’t step on other people, who talk shop (not shopping), who can hold their own in a group of guys or a group of girls. I thought about a male friend who told me I turned him on when I pointed out he was falsely using a voiced instead of an unvoiced consonant; later on that evening, he called me a bitch (with a laugh and a smile) for beating the guys at their own game of ragging on one another (I can be an evil instigator, if I think it’ll be funny, which it was). I thought about what I enjoy about being a girl, how I’ve handled being a girl, how my panties get all bunched up when told what is and isn’t “ladylike,” and how wrong it is that women are considered defeminized (Learn it, Microsoft: it’s the girl equivalent of emasculated) for not wearing shoes that actively ruin their feet. Needless to say, I avoid those kind of employment situations. Yet, if a girl really digs wearing those kind of shoes, if a girl feels powerful in those shoes, who am I to say boo? I want help out all women — girls, bois, drag queens, goddesses — and those who love them. I put a buck into my own self-help vending machine, pushed the living-consciously-for-women button, and here’s what came out:
Define what you want.
Dig deep inside yourself, talk to people, read a lot, ask a lot of questions, write stuff down, stand on your head — whatever you need to do, but figure it out for yourself. You dictate the terms, not your mom, not the cool girl excluding you from her clique, not your boyfriend, not Madonna. You will attract the right people into your life by sticking to your guns and being yourself. If some folks don’t like what you like, then they ain’t the folks you want to hang with, dig? Yes, you have the right to change your mind. The right people will be supportive (which is not always the same thing as agreeing with you), the wrong people will ditch you. Good riddance.
Go for what you want.
If you know what you want, get it yourself. Others’ opinions are useful for sharpening your critical thinking and seeing things from multiple perspectives, but you’re not meat waiting for FDA approval. When you know what you want, you’re ready for the market — to run the market, that is. Step up!
Be your own best friend/life-partner/husband/wife/lover first and always.
I’m talking emotionally, domestically, career-wise, and sexually. Please yourself, accept your faults, support yourself, improve yourself, provide for the family of one. You don’t get together with other people because you need help all the time; you get together with other people because you like to share your awesomeness and discover other people’s awesomeness. Taking care of yourself prepares you to take care of whomever you wish to bestow that gift upon.
Discover, develop, and display your talents proudly.
As a teacher, it breaks my little heart to see people pretend to not be interested in something they’re otherwise clearly into because they think someone else thinks it’s uncool. It makes me want to barf when that thing is intelligence or interest in academia. I had a parent tell me once that if she had a son, she would never let him play flute, because it’s a girl’s instrument. I was struck dumb from amazement that people still say these things (then I did try to gently argue; she wouldn’t have any of it). Instruments don’t have gender preferences, nor does math or science or knitting or welding. For further reading, see the first point I made about defining what you want.
Ditch the virgin-whore paradigm.
We all know that if you have sex you’re a lousy, cheap whore and if you save yourself for marriage you’re a lame-ass übergeek whom no one wants anyway. Or is that if you have sex you hate yourself and if you wait then you’re delusional? Or maybe you’re hurting Jesus either way? I, for one, fail to see not only why this meme has lasted so long, but, even worse, why women (and men!) continue to use it to manipulate each other. It’s a lose-lose situation and it’s time for it to go. Only you know when you are ready to share your sandbox with others and only you should get to make that decision. And because that is so, then it follows that there’s no reason to criticize or pressure people for waiting or going for it. Call people out when they pull that virgin-whore crap. Kill this meme.
Define feminine for yourself.
Worry not what feminine is, my dear, because guess what: if you identify yourself as a girl and you do something, it’s automatically, magically, totally feminine! Ta daaaaa! Pick your nose, drive a truck, peel a banana, sport a dildo, wear a tutu, rock out on drum set, plant cucumbers, lift weights, talk all day on the phone, hide in your room, wear all black, and write evil poetry, or hide in your room, wear all pink, and write love letters, it’s all good, it’s all girl.
andrea at reloadsanear dot com