You might have heard me mention that I grew up as a slightly feral farm child a time or two. Well it bears repeating. I also grew up learning the ins and outs of Southern etiquette. I took a manners class, and I also went through the debutante process. It can occasionally feel strange to have both the tomboy and the ultra feminine rattling around in my brain and my habits. But I’ve noticed that it doesn’t always feel like there’s room for both. So for the next few weeks, I’m going to look into some of those quirks.
I have to be honest here, I’ve been hesitant to dig into topics that are perceived as only relevant to females. I’ve been vacillating because I feel like the second I go there my work will be solidified as “for women”, and I find being pigeonholed by my gender unbelievably frustrating. I went to a writers’ conference at the very beginning of my career (ten whole months ago) and there was a panel discussion on why men don’t read female writers’ work (this conclusion was based on a survey that I can’t put my hands on). The discussion talked about book cover art, topics, amount of books each gender reads, and the effects that these variables can have on who picks up what book.
So, I have stayed away from writing about “women’s issues” up until now. I want to explore topics that are deeply relevant to being a human, not just the female or male experience. I believe that while our basic experiences may be different, if we dig down, we can find connections, relatability, and understanding. I also believe that it benefits us deeply to read the stories of people who do not share our experiences and to listen to what they have to say.
Take, for example, Born A Crime, Trevor Noah’s memoir. I did not grow up in apartheid South Africa and then become a famous comedian and late night TV host. I could not personally relate to many of the stories experientially. And yet, I was drawn into his stories and his experiences, partially because he is a compelling, hilarious, and eloquent storyteller, but also because he lived and felt those experiences as a human.
I know basically what it is to feel fear and delight and rejection and awkwardness, and so I felt those things along with him. And so, I feel that I know him in a weird way, even though we have never met. I mean, I saw him in the waiting room at my doctor’s office once. Don’t worry, I played it super cool, and by that I mean that I completely froze up and avoided eye contact at all costs.
And so I hope to write these stories, not with a “Hey girl hey” voice, but as a human made in the image of God first. I hope to ask questions that engage both male and female readers and encourage us all to dig past a superficial understanding of “girly” and “manly”. I’m going to take a week each to look at things like romantic comedies, make up, handwriting, and more.
My favorite way to come up with new blog ideas is to listen and observe others, but also to dig deep into my own inclinations and judgments and ask, “Huh, why did I react like that?” This series is about exploring why I think things like make up and high heels have anything to do with whether or not I am a real woman.
Why is that the message I’m absorbing? Why am I so obsessed with comparing my interior self to other women’s exteriors? So I’m inviting you into my wrestling and my questioning, not because my way of being a woman is better than anyone else’s, but rather to add to a conversation that has been going on since what seems like the beginning of time.
I’d love to hear y’all’s feedback along the way! Feel free to comment on the blogs.
Well, Miss Mary B…. you’re right that we’ve been struggling with these ideas forever and especially in my lifetime. I grew up a bit rebellious of the southern rules. I nicknamed them the “Greensboro rules”. Having the right clothes and Weejuns were important to me in fitting into a society where I felt accepted but not integrated. I was definitely a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. I played musical instruments, begged to take Latin (my mother had to speak to the counselor to make that happen) and were it not for close friends who accepted me as I was would have had a difficult time. Everyone else seemed to me to be self-assured in their bodies and lives.
I think it was also a part of my upbringing that I felt less than as a woman. Because my father was raised a certain way, I did not get the same perks as my brothers. I had to pay for gas for the family car when they did not. My father didn’t want to send me to college because I would just get married and have kids. Well, 5 kids and two degrees later, he was right and he was wrong.
Now when I visit my cousin in a community for the aging in Greensboro, there are dress rules when she takes me to dine in the restaurant there and I am not to speak to the men because it may infuriate their women. You have no idea how hard it is not to intentionally break those two rules.
I still think that many people don’t feel comfortable in their own skin – especially growing up. And I feel it is my purpose in life to recognize people for who they are and what they have accomplished.
Please don’t make this any more public than it is as I don’t want people I’ve talked about to recognize themselves.
Love your honesty and insightfulness.
Barbara, thanks for sharing this! I appreciate your heart for this topic and how you’ve been able to push back on some of these expectations.