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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.

Stand up and stand out.

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.

A strong woman pretending to be a weak is like a tiger trying to be a pigeon.”

—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.

22 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’m a bit older than Karyne and I remember looking forward to growing up and attending cocktail parties in pretty dresses, wearing my hair up in a French twist, getting married young and raising children. My own goals? I didn’t have any. Then along came the 60’s and my world turned upside-down. I’m not sure I was ready to burn my lacy bras or march for my equal rights but there was just no going back. Thank God!

    Some of us were born to be strong, some were raised to be strong and some, like me, were forced to be strong. Now young women have role models from all of us that bridged the gap. They have no doubt that they are tigers and not pigeons. At least, that is my hope.

    June 7, 2011
  2. I’m so glad you were supported by your family in your different-ness, Karyne. I always feel like whatever the world hands us, if family is behind us, we can persevere. And look where strong women stand now! Everywhere 🙂

    June 7, 2011
  3. Sunny,
    I love what you said about being forced to be strong. I think that life gives us the incentive we need to become the woman or man we are supposed to be. Deciding what to do with it is up to us, thank god so many of the women I know figured out just what to do with it!

    June 8, 2011
  4. Jenny,
    Indeed! I look around at the women who’ve risen to places that generations of women prior to them only dreamed of and think what a wonderful world this can be. I”m grateful for the role models so many strong women are providing for the young women today and I hope they take advantage of it.

    June 8, 2011
  5. Until I retired from academe I taught courses in psychology, the most important of which was psychology of women where I reminded the women and men in my class that today’s women owed their staus to the women who went before, breaking down barriers and paving the way for their little sisters. I despair that the term “feminist” has gone out of fashion or that women today don’t want to use it. I’m glad you see it as a compliment.

    June 8, 2011
  6. Profile photo of Sylvia Dickey Smith

    Lesley, I can identify with the ‘feminist’ title. When I first joined ranks, in the midst of a VERY conservative marriage/world, I was reluctant to claim so because I was still in the “people pleasing” role. It took me several years growth before I developed the confidence to wear the title proudly. I still do!

    As a part of that growth, early on, when I started college at 40 and took several courses in women’s studies and they truly began to open my eyes. Thank you for all your contributions for women.

    Thanks for dropping by. Next week we offer suggestions for young women today. Hope the post gets read by a number of them.

    Sylvia

    June 8, 2011
  7. Lesley,

    It’s taken me years to figure out that being a strong woman and being called one is the highest compliment I could ever receive. Thanks for reading!

    June 8, 2011
  8. Sylvia,

    I was beginning to despair that the forward motion of women in todays world was at a standstill. Seeing your site has given me great hope that young women and even us older ones can still get the party started and keep it going.

    June 8, 2011
  9. Great post. There used to be a saying that “it’s a man’s world.” I can remember commercials with that phrase in them. It seems like things change so slowly. Even today the commercials are mostly women in bras and panties or red, pouting lips, or dangerously skinny with big jewels around their necks. Things still need to change.

    June 8, 2011
  10. I grew up in a large Catholic family. I was supposed to the ‘Nun’ and save the family. Instead, I chose to follow a different path, I’m not sure which path would have been stronger.But I am stronger for the choices I’ve made. I also plan to grow stronger.

    Kat

    June 8, 2011
  11. Kudoes, Karyne, for leaping aboard the feminist bandwagon. I’m older than you, a country girl who led a very solitary life as a child. Consequently, I went my own way, had my own thoughts, did my own thing. Dad called me his second son because I have only one brother and I was the one who loved working with the livestock. Even then I would’ve preferred to keep my maiden name when I married, but of course, it just wasn’t done. Now it’s taken almost for granted. However, among the upsides I found is that I moved from the W line to the C line. Happy you, to have received the support from your family to make you into a strong woman.
    Carol

    June 8, 2011
  12. My grandmother, who raised me, used to tell me that no man was going to marry a woman who didn’t cook. My husband does most of the cooking in our house, and he’s great at it. It gives me an extra hour a day to write, for which he admires me. In gratitude, sometimes I bake him a pie, with grandma’s crust recipe. “There is no one alive who is Youer than You,” Karyne. Thanks for remembering that and inspiring others.

    June 9, 2011
  13. Helen, you are so right that there is still much to be changed. I really believe that alot of mothers have to help their daughters shed the body image issues that plague our society. It’s a scourge of the media generation that women are still portrayed as either lips, legs or how shall we say, upper assets?

    June 9, 2011
  14. Kat, the fact that you knew which path wasn’t for you seems to be the strongest choice of all. I was very lucky that my family supported me in whatever I chose to do, so many women never get that kind of help growing up. Although I do think Nuns have be extremely strong women, my mother was raised a staunch Catholic and she always told me the Nuns did all the work!

    June 9, 2011
  15. Carol,
    I moved from the L to the C line when I got married as well! Family support is really key to young women today, and I hope that more young women are getting it then back in the day.

    Thanks to everyone who’s stopping by and leaving a comment!

    June 9, 2011
  16. Love the quote! Fortunately I have a grandmother and a mother (and dad) who inspired me to be a strong woman and to believe I could do whatever I set out to do with perseverance, hard work and honesty.

    June 9, 2011
  17. Cara,
    Thanks. My husband is my biggest fan and he makes sure I get the time I need to write. Having a hubby like that is pure good fortune. It sounds like you have a true sweetheart there.

    June 9, 2011
  18. Heidi
    Sometimes I open my mouth and the craziest things just fall out. Fortunately this time they were worth keeping. lol I’m really glad you liked it.

    June 9, 2011
  19. Profile photo of Sylvia Dickey Smith

    Really enjoying all the great comments, Been in the air today flying to Milwaukee to attend my grandsons HS graduation this weekend. So not been able to sit and comment but now settled into a hotel and wanted to put in my two cents! Fantastic discussions. It is amazing how many strong women there are.

    My mom wasn’t one of those women who spoke up for herself as I was growing up. Quite the contrary. It took waking up at midlife when I started asking all the questions, studying and taking courses of study in women’s studies program at college (yes I took my first freshman class at40). Amazing what asking the right questions can do to wake up a person, Looking forward to the second half of Karyne’s guest appearance! Next week Wednesday.

    June 9, 2011
  20. Profile photo of Sylvia Dickey Smith

    Karyne, and thank you for sharing the word. glad u found us, I ‘d love to have a few young women, girls to jump in and join our discussions.

    June 9, 2011
  21. Slyvia,
    I’m so happy that I found this site. I’ts like finding sisters I never knew I had. Growing up, my voice was always the loudest and loneliest in the room when it came to speaking out against sexism etc. I hope we do get some young women in here to share what their going through.

    June 10, 2011

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