Originally posted in November, 2009, it was called "Growing Up To Be A Girl"
You know how this happens, right? When I look at blog stats and see someone had been archive diving, and I have to review the materials to make sure I'm not about to get sued/fired/etc., I occasionally find some writing that I genuinely enjoyed.
This was inspired by a historical book about Mexican immigrants living in the Midwest, and it showed a very civilized slice of life for which I instantly became nostalgic. I was not alive in the 40's or 50's, but suddenly I wished I had been, when things were supposedly simpler for a girl--as much as it sucked that we were expected to know our place back then, it sure seemed a lot nicer than having to go it alone today, and definitely seemed easier than having to go it alone, despite the fact that you have people in your life. I guess the most important lesson is to make sure that the people in your life are the right people. Not only should they be near you, but, they should also be with you, and you with them. If you need them, they are there, and if they need you, you are there. Those people are the real deal, and the only ones worth keeping. So here it is....
I know that you are used to deep, insight-filled posts about important things like, How can there possibly be toilet paper all over the bathroom floor in the office? What person with a job is that lazy that they can't hit either a garbage can or the toilet? (and it's not used toilet paper, just...random strips of TP all over the floor. What the hell is that all about?)
But today, we're going to talk about something entirely different.
I was looking at a book of historical photos about families coming to the Midwest and was struck by a particular photo of three sisters walking together, on their way to an afternoon of shopping or a movie or whatever. The picture was from the 1940's or 50's, and these were grown, married women, all dressed in nice skirts and shoes, nylons, hair done, etc. Then there was a picture, taken 50-odd years later, same three sisters, now in their 70's or 80's, in which they are all wearing T-Shirts and casual pants, comfortable shoes.
Got me to thinking...
When I was a younger person, right after high school (and, obviously this was in the 80's and not the 40's), I stuck to jeans, T-shirts, sweatshirts, and any variety of "There's not really a girl under here" wear that I could find. I wore baseball caps. A lot. If I wasn't at work, and, sometimes when I was at work, I threw my hair under a cap. Working nights in radio was a beautiful thing--oh, I was supposed to get there before 5PM, but I rarely did, because that would mean that I would have to dress in "office casual", and I was having no part of that. I even had a weekend shift "uniform" that consisted of jeans, T-shirt under a hoodie, and favored cap d'jour. I delighted in the opportunity to wear that stuff into the office while the sun was still shining. Shortly after I met my husband, who worked in the same office as me, he admitted to me that he hadn't been sure if I was a woman, just based on the clothes.
Yes, I was hiding out. Duh.
When I was younger, lot of...being female...also meant, to me, anyway, being a victim. Sometimes it meant that in a literal sense, as some things were wrought upon me that would have never happened if I was male, but largely, it was just the time, and the family dynamic--four brothers pretty much had a lock on the place, not that my mother let them do whatever they wanted, but I don't recall them ever doing the dishes...that was for my sister and me. To my mind, the boys got away with more, without falling out of the good graces of my mom. I remember my brother coming home from a friend's house one Christmas Eve, completely stoned out of his mind, and my mother laughing and saying that there probably weren't any munchies in any of his gifts. That same woman literally kicked me in the butt one time when I was 24 years old and was smoking a cigarette in her presence. Hmmm....so...if I smoke this stuff, it's better than if I smoke this other stuff? Huh...who knew? And my brother (same brother) also drank himself a lot of booze (still does) and got maybe an eye roll or two from mom for that, but I get picked up on a minor with a bunch of friends on graduation night? I got the silence thing for about a month. I realize that my mother was probably very concerned about the fact that (insert Elayne Boosler joke) I had a vagina with me and could potentially get into all kinds of trouble--of course, that didn't mean she would ever speak to me about that sort of thing. No, no...my dirty whore-ness was only strongly implied--never spoken aloud. Awesome.
Not that growing up was any uglier for me than it was for a lot of other people, but, something about all of those implications made me uncomfortable with girlness, like it was a bad thing, hence the tom-boy-ness. All of that not-so-girly stuff oozed into my radio career, as well, because I tended to take the same stance on things as the men and was just as aggressive when driving toward the punch line. Most of the men in the business would tell me "I hate female announcers--except for you. You don't sound like any girl I've ever heard." Good. That's what I wanted to hear. There was a reason why none of them liked women announcers: Women announcers sucked. A lot of them still do.
Anyway...as I said...it got me to thinking. There were the three sisters, in their dresses and hats and shiny shoes--what I would consider a uniform of vulnerability--doing some girly thing, like, getting their hair done. Yes, it was a different time, but I didn't get the impression that these women were as un-nerved about being female as I was. They seemed very strong, and, quite confident, walking along. They had each other, and, probably a husband or family member who would step in and makes things very, very clear, were there any questions about their honor.
I, on the other hand, grew up with a group of people that would more likely side with the questioner, believing me capable of just about anything. My response to that was...to become capable of just about anything.
Oh, I HAD honor, very much so, but I was also juuuuust off-kilter enough so that it wouldn't take much to convince anyone that I was up to no good.
If I only had a dollar for all of the strange, strange, untrue things that have been said about me...Funny, how, in my quest to not be a victim, I actually became one, many times over, because my own unconventional behavior laid the groundwork for a lot of character assassinations. Co-workers, step-children, etc, all had very receptive audiences when the topic was me and their made-up stories of my "bad" behavior. Might as well have tattooed the words "Easy Target" right across my forehead.
Which brings us to today. One of the reasons why I ended up leaving my husband was simply that he didn't have my back. To be fair, it's not something I ever asked of him for the first five years of us being together--I mean, send a man in to defend me? Not a chance in hell I would ever do that--I would put up my own dukes and take all the punches myself before I would ever ask anyone to fight my battles for me. Then, something changed. At some point, I noticed that, well, he didn't stand up for me, and at some point, it started to bother me. Other girls have guys who stand up for them and defend their honor. I have honor. Why can't I get some honor defending over here? Sure, it's possible that I had him fairly well trained not to, but what I was seeing was that he didn't even want to. The end came when I asked him to, and he wouldn't. I mean...he actually refused, even though helping me meant zero physical or economic danger to him.
Really? Refusing to defend a GIRL? A girl who is asking her man for help? Isn't NOT defending me, especially when I ask you to, the same things as agreeing with all the bad things being said?
That was when things fell completely and hopeless to pieces. I left.
For all intents and purposes, that was also when I grew up to become a girl.
Most women, the three sisters included, as they get older, they push a lot of girlish things to the side. They dress in comfortable shoes instead of high-heeled shiny ones. Or maybe they don't wear earrings anymore, or they don't pretty themselves up or wear a skirt to go shopping. I've gone a bit of the opposite direction. I look at my pre-break-up wardrobe and wonder what the hell I was even thinking. Huge, huge, huge clothes, chosen for my ability to disappear in them. 57 million sweatshirts (my gawd, I loved sweatshirts). An entire dresser-full of t-shirts, which are now an entire dresser of not terribly attractive pajama shirts. Yes, I might occasionally still leave the house in a baseball cap and hoodie--did it just this morning, as a matter of fact, to drive my kid to school--but it's pretty rare for me to want to hide anymore. My shoes are less comfortable and more shiny, and not only do my clothes fit, but most of them imply "female" without even hinting at the "easy" thing my mom was so afraid of.
Kind of a miracle.
It took me this long to be OK with my ability to walk around looking, well, like a girl, with my hair and make-up done most of the time, and curve hugging clothes on, and not think of it as inviting trouble. It is truly incredible what a parent, or anyone else, can do to your head if you let them, but much more incredible are the ways the universe shows you how much bullshit all that negativity is. All of those unexpected lessons about things to which you were barely conscious, but they ended up meaning so much. I'm truly thankful, every day.