A Tiger Pretending to be a Pigeon
Our blog guest today and next week is Karyne Corum. Her award winning short stories have been published at The Writers Village, Mysterical-E and Dark Valentine. Her story “Harbinger” took first place in the Saugus.net <http://Saugus.net> Annual Ghost Story 2007 and will be published this summer in From Nightmares and Shadows by Nightfall Publications. She runs a website called Jersey Wise Fiction devoted to New Jersey and the writers who love it. She is currently working on her first novel.
Wait until you read what she says. It is evident she taps into her passion. After reading today’s post, you surely won’t want to miss her next post, where she shares suggestions for young women today on how to develop into the woman you want to be. –Sylvia
“I used to believe I was born in the wrong era. When I was younger and almost always unguarded in my open expressions of opinion and will power, it seemed almost a certainty that I belonged to another time.
A suffragette? A bra-burning women’s libber? A foremost proponent of the ERA? Any one of these was vastly more appealing than what I was stuck with. An athletic little girl, often called a “tomboy” who was repeatedly asked, in regards to my short hair, if I was a boy or girl? I got the message, even at a young age, boys had short hair, and girls had long hair.
I didn’t want a Barbie doll unless Barbie wanted to help G.I Joe toss out the villains, my fleet of little green army men, of my second story bedroom window. She didn’t, after all, if she fell on that chest, she might never get up again.
My parents were two individuals who went their own way, usually against the tide of what was popular or socially acceptable in the seventies. They taught by who they were and raised their children to be as individualist and strong willed as they were. The idea of squelching our personalities to fit in was the antithesis of what they believed in.
Even my father, a man raised in a less liberal time, never once told me that I couldn’t do or be whatever I chose simply because I was girl. My sister was one of the strongest and most out spoken women I knew, next to my mother. She was cresting high on the surge of the women’s movement in the mid to late seventies. Seeing her wear a man’s shirt and pants when all the women I saw on the street wore dresses or skirts was forever etched into my consciousness.
I can’t speak truly for the theory that strong women are born or made, I can only say once you realize you are one, you can never go back. My mother made sure I only went forward, picking myself up after ever knockdown, humiliation, or setback. She was a force of nature who, burning with the power of a mother’s righteous fury would have fought the legions of hell itself to defend my right to be who I was. Her words resonate in my head to this day.
You can do anything and be anything you want.
If people won’t accept you as you are, it’s their problem, not yours.
I walked between two drastically different worlds as a strong girl. My home life, one of love, support and encouragement and the one outside where being a strong minded and vocal female was put down and laughed at. The tenets of what a girl should be were forever present, like luminous writing on the air used as markers to those of us who didn’t want to follow along.
Be more feminine.
Don’t answer questions in class, especially science or math.
Don’t be so outspoken.
Let the boys be the leaders.
Despite the bad press, I just kept going my own way. I won’t say I wasn’t hurt or scarred by the negative attention I got. I recall in particular, three boys in my seventh grade math class who absolutely despised the fact that I answered so many questions correctly. They used to chase me through the halls calling me names and generally making my life hell. No one stopped it or spoke to them. Not even the teachers who saw it happening.
I knew then as long as I was different, I’d be on my own in the world. At home I had the love and unconditional support of my family, as well as the role model of my mother and sister to look to. Out in the world, it would be much harder to keep my footing.
My strength, bolstered by my family, honed by years of being the toughest girl I knew, helped me be the one to step up when needed. To stop a bar fight in a women’s bathroom, to defend my friend from being assaulted by her abusive bully of a boyfriend, to speak out against sexist insults by men.
As a result, I’ve been called a feminist, a women’s libber, even a bitch, all with the same amount of emphasis. To the speaker, there was no difference between the three. When I was a younger woman I used to get upset, not understanding everyone’s need to put a name to what I was. Now, actually, I laugh and consider it a compliment. If you have to try and label me, then, clearly, you don’t have a clue as to what or who I am.
But I do.
It’s clear to me that strength, guts, even a tough attitude in a man is considered a normal biological inclination, but in a woman it’s an aberration. Unless a woman is using it to get a man, then it’s celebrated. Because of course, what else could we possibly want to be strong about?
There are lots of women I’ve known who pretended to be something else, someone else in fact. A weaker, watered down version, until after the wedding. Because they think that’s the way to go to get a man to marry them. Until he’s freaking out because he doesn’t recognize the strong minded woman as his wife. I’ve seen enough divorces to know it’s true.
—continued next week when Karyne shares suggestions for young women today who face unique challenges.
NOTE: Readers, please feel free to share your own walk and how it might parallel or differ from Karyne’s.