“Just be a lady.”
It’s a classic phrase but I feel it like a punch to the gut.
We women are all too familiar with the demands behind the unassuming words.
Sit still with your legs crossed. Talk softly and use your manners. Apologize for asking questions, for interrupting, for suggesting you might have anything to add…… And for crying out loud brush your hair....
In fourth grade I was dragged into the hallway by a teacher who scolded me for kicking boys in the shins at recess. I remember her asking me why I would do such a thing; I wanted to ask why they were such tattletales (though the bruises I left, spoke for themselves), but instead I responded with: the boys were mean. They wouldn’t let me play kickball or soccer or tag, so I kicked them in the shins. I knew it was wrong, but it all seemed straightforward enough to me.
She offered a well-intentioned suggestion:
“Boys will be boys. Why don’t you play four square with the girls?” But then the kicker: “I’m disappointed in you. I really thought you were a little lady.”
Well, you thought wrong.
Even as a little girl I was never interested in fitting myself into the so called standard, that is “being a lady.” Sure, I absolutely loved American Girl Dolls and tea with my Mimi when she visited town. I loved fashion as I still do, but there was so much more to me than that, even at a young age. I grew up with an older brother, Tyler. I learned how to compete at an early age and in dresses grass-stained from football. When we ran, we raced. My brother would push me down, watch me struggle, and then encourage me to get back up. Resilience. When I saw him talking back and speaking up, I learned to do the same. Confidence. I played basketball with his friends, I swam in his lane with the big kids at practice, and when I was picked on, I fought back. Self-advocacy. He was protective, as big brothers are, but he always let me fight my own battles and that’s because he knew I could. So there was no question to why I kicked mean boys in their shins. I was blessed to have a relationship with my brother where he saw me as strong, smart, and relentless. But, it was puzzling and frustrating when I left my house and other boys didn’t see it the same way....
“Just be a lady.”
I didn’t know the word “feminism” when I was younger, I just knew I didn’t like the way I was talked to.
“I don’t know if you’ll like this, seeing as you’re a girl.”
“Let the men take care of it, honey.”
“I’m not sure you can you handle it, can you?”
“No, I wasn’t listening.”
"You throw like a girl."
"Wow, you're such a blonde."
Or the way I was talked about.
“Do you hear something? Like a buzzing noise? Oh, it’s just a woman talking.”
“She’s a bitch, she’s such a bitch.”
"She's a cunt."
"She shouldn't talk so much."
And then how my body was treated.
“She looks like a man.”
“More cushion for the push-in”
“Don’t worry about it, he was just drunk.”
"Clothes like that are made for like.....skinny girls."
Or even just the look of surprise on people's faces when I discussed intellectual theories on books and movies, or even conversations about politics as if it was so "different" of me to be educated.
I never thought to put a label on my dislike of misogyny, my uneasiness about making jokes out of women and their bodies, my refusal to be talked down to, my refusal for my friends to be talked down to, or just my general intolerance for disrespect simply because of my gender. But then one day someone did it for me.
“I wouldn’t say things like that in front of Brie. Pst. Feminist.”
It was more than a little ironic that what to them was name-calling was to me a moment of epiphany. Feminist. The label fit as well as an old jean jacket and your favorite sneakers. Feminist. They glanced at me and I felt electricity running through my muscles. Feminist. Damn straight.
How about this one for you all… “Just be a Feminist”
Oh the Irony, Oh the Angst
I had been reminded all week (via @womensmarch) that International Women’s Day would be celebrated all around the world by women wearing red. I woke up Wednesday morning eager to join the ranks by donning my classic red turtleneck sweater and adding some bright red lipstick as an extra accessory to reinforce my support.
This year for the first time, International Women’s Day actually felt like a holiday to me. I had been energized by involvement in recent women’s movements, my own recognition of self-strength and I was more than ready to celebrate.
I left the house beaming, ready to go, looking forward to showing off my red ensemble.
I hopped on my bike, glowing, and make it not even one block before I heard a whistle. Not just any whistle. The whistle.
My heart jumped into my throat and my face flushed with a fiery heat until it matched my celebratory red turtleneck. I screeched my bicycle to a halt, tire tracks burning onto the pavement and slammed a foot down. I whipped my head around to see a man painting a fence and staring at me. My eyes narrowed as we made eye contact and his smug grin dropped from his face.
Not today, not tomorrow, not any damn day.
“I AM NOT A DOG. I AM A WOMAN.”
I screamed so loud my lungs hurt and my veins in my temples popped. My voice rang in my own ears. I didn’t wait long enough to see his reaction, because my energy was not to be wasted on him. I did it for myself.
I could talk for ages about the importance of feminism, equal pay, the vitality of Planned Parenthood or even rape culture in America, but what it really truly comes down to, is just day to day treatment of respect.
It isn’t hard to recognize the need or desire for respect but dammit, sometimes it’s hard to speak up. Sometimes you lose friends, because your outspoken, hard-headed, demand for respect is too difficult for them to understand. What they see is a correction of their character; a dent in their pride is what I see as standing up for my own well-deserved pride. Sometimes your strength and voice is intimidating and you’re called a “bitch”, which is a difficult word to hear even if you don’t believe it is true. Even so, it starts to become worth it when the people that love you stand by you. My family has learned to call me strong before they call me beautiful. They’ve learned to listen to what I say, and love my strong spirit. They’ve learned to trust that I stand up for myself and never back down. I’ve also embraced their nickname for me as Badass Brie.
My hope in all of my inner sunshine and optimism is that the experiences and interactions I have are truly out of ignorance and not malice. My hope we can recognize each other as humans (which may solve a couple other problems along the way) and we can grow. And finally, I hope we can find our inner badass, fight like a girl, and redefine “being a lady”.
I'd like to re-define "Lady" as the women who inspire me everyday. The strangers and friends who marched, poster in hand, voices strong. Women like my mom, (Shoutout to Cher) who have shown me what it's like to endure sexism at its finest, be beautifully independent, face the harshest of obstacles and still never show defeat. I want "Lady" to be defined as persistent as hell, tougher than nails, and a feminist.