When girls are too strong

I left my home town when I was in my early 20s. I’m surprised it took me that long to leave.

Since then, I’ve lived in a different city in the same country, and in two other cities in other countries. But the crux of it all is I couldn’t stay in my home town. I was the cuckoo that had to leave the nest.

Our parents expectations of who we are and who we will be don’t stop when we become adults.

My parents wanted a daughter who would be pretty, feminine, traditional – and go on in life to do pretty, feminine, traditional things.

I was the exact opposite.

Born that way…

When a child arrives and they’re not who – and what – we expect and desperately want them to be, things get difficult. Especially for the child, if the parents insist on trying to mould them into becoming something they can never be.

There’s a reason why so many gay kids leave their home town, moving far away. I’m not gay, but in the same way as gay kids often do in traditional families, I didn’t meet expectations.

I was too strong to change who I was. The only way I could be true to who I am was to leave.

When a home is not a home

The best thing I ever did was leaving home. Looking back, I only wish I could have left before I even became an adult, had that been possible. My parents are good people, but my home was fiercely patriarchal.

Even now, when I go home to visit, I’m very much at the bottom of the pecking order. It’s expected that I’ll help with the household chores (together with my mother and brother’s wife), while my father and brother sit and drink whisky.

This isn’t a home in which I feel wanted, welcome or equal. I don’t feel loved there, or accepted for who and what I am. I feel like my parents try really hard, but that’s it – they’re just trying to love me.

My failure to accept my patriarchal roots was an expression of my own inner strength and who I truly am, which was only given a chance to develop once I left home and was no longer stifled.

Once I left home, I went on to become a community leader, a mentor to other women, an internationally-performed composer, a competitive athlete. A woman of strength. A person with purpose.

Why women are not equal yet

Again and again, I see articles in the media querying why women haven’t risen to equality across the board in society. After all, the articles argue, we achieved theoretical equality in the 1970s – surely it has been long enough since then?

Surely one generation should easily be able to erase the inequality of thousands of years of entrenched abuse and inequality? That’s not much! It can’t be that hard!

I know the answer: we’re still dealing with the legacy of inequality. We’re still unequal. We’re teaching what we knew ourselves to our daughters and sons.

I see it in the women who are spoken over in conversation, I see it in the absence of movies and media about women, I see it even in the programming club where I volunteer, and among the 9-12 year olds I teach only 1 of 15 is a girl, because it doesn’t occur to local parents that their daughters might like to learn how to program. Or be good at it.

We’re passing on a legacy of misogyny. It cuts to the core.

Strong-Woman-quote.-4jpg-300x300

Why strong girls leave home

Girls leave home when it ceases to support them. They don’t come back because there’s nothing to come back for. I moved cities because, away from home, I could finally be myself without my parents criticising everything I did. It felt like a breath of fresh air.

When I return home for visits, every two years or so, yet again I feel that stifling, patriarchal, controlling weight holding me down and crushing my spirit.

Family dynamics can be difficult, especially when you don’t fit in with your family’s expectations. In anyone else’s world I’d be a success: I’m a professional woman, I’ve achieved in my career and in my hobbies, I’ve made a positive difference for so many people.

But what I wanted to do and be just didn’t fit in with what my family wanted. I was never going to be subservient and feminine. I was never going to be the pretty girl. I was never going to be the perfect daughter – an exact copy of my mother, minus all her mistakes. I was always going to be my own person. I think that came as a shock.

Raising girls is just raising little humans

Our society has a real problem in raising girls, especially non-traditional girls. We’re fine with girls who want to follow traditional paths, and who are beautiful in traditional ways, but we struggle with women who want to be soldiers, or bodybuilders, or engineers, or programmers.

Or even with women who just want to speak their minds.

We do our best to push and shove our girls into a tiny box labelled “acceptable” and anything else we don’t know what to do with. It’s time we started accepting our daughters – especially our strong, unique, powerful daughters – as amazing human beings in their own right.

It’s time we honoured their strength.

It’s time we welcomed them home.

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I’m not a partial human! Sidelined and disappeared…

I’ve always felt like a complete human. No matter whether you’re male or female, or what race or culture you’re from, I’m guessing you have too. Not a partial human.

So today I want to talk about this.

I'm sure there was *ANOTHER* Avenger...
I’m sure there was *ANOTHER* Avenger…

And this.

I seem to recall there being *FIVE* "Guardians"...
I seem to recall there being *FIVE* “Guardians”…

And this.

Something strange is going on here...ummm...do I remember an Avender in a black outfit called "Black" something...Black, black..it's clearly slipped everyone's mind...
Something strange is going on here…ummm…do I remember an Avenger in a black outfit called “Black” something…Black, black..it’s clearly slipped everyone’s mind…

And this.

Here's what to do. If you need to sideline or "disappear" a character, simply double over with more socially palatable characters.
Here’s what to do. If you need to sideline or “disappear” a character, simply double over with another white male character.

And this.

Looks like a bizarre racoon creature is more palatable than some genders of human...
Looks like a bizarre racoon creature is more palatable than some genders of human…

And I won’t even comment on this, which is so awful it just makes me furious.

The t-shirt in Disney girlswear on the left, and boyswear on the right.
The t-shirt in girlswear on the left, and boyswear on the right. This sucks.

Very occasionally, we won’t be “disappeared” but we’ll very definitely be sidelined…

Who is that character with the red hair in the far right? They couldn't possibly be a REAL Avenger! It's clear from their lack of space in the pic that they're a "helper", and "assistant" character, possibly only "eye candy" for the real stars, the males...
Who is that character with the red hair in the far right? They couldn’t possibly be a REAL Avenger! It’s clear from their lack of space in the pic that they’re a “helper”, and “assistant” character, possibly only “eye candy” for the real stars, the white males…(notice the other sidelined character on the extreme left)

Sidelined and disappeared…

I want to point out a few facts now.

We’re nearly 50% of the tickets. Women make up nearly 50% of movie sales at comic book movies (one recent survey suggested the figure of 44%). We’re a BIG market, not a tiny percentage of viewers and attendees and fans.

Women are attending ComicCons in large numbers. This year’s San Diego Comic-Con had 40% female attendance. These events aren’t all white male antisocial geeks from basements. The crowds have changed, if they ever were that stereotype to start with.

Women buy stuff. We want to buy merchandise, and we want that merchandise to feature our favourite characters. Not some of them. ALL of them.

We want fairness. Women are increasingly pissed at the way we’re being sidelined in comics. We want our female characters, and we’re pissed that they’re not appearing as the STARS of movies.

We want to be seen as real people. Women are also pissed at the way we’re being overly sexualized in comics and the movies that spring from them. We want accurate, diverse representation. We want to be seen as real, whole people, with real strengths and weaknesses, and real stories to tell. Because that is what we are.

Most of all, we don’t want to be seen as things. We want to be seen as people.

Speaking for myself and my daughter…and my daughter’s generation

It’s not hard to write real, strong women. Just write us as people, because that’s what we are. We screw up, we have frailties. We’re not governed by our relationships all the time. We are goal driven a lot of the time, especially if you’re writing a hero character.

Women can be heroes. Often we are.
Women can be leaders of men. Often we are.
Women can be strong, yet still completely feminine and powerful and amazing and uniquely beautiful. Often we are.

Even in real life, when I look at some of the strongest people I know, my mind often travels to the women I know rather than the men. We don’t typically hold higher career positions, because of the boundaries and limits that society has set us, but heck, we can be powerful.

So don’t sideline us. Don’t “disappear” us. It’s offensive and nasty and cheap and hurtful. It’s degrading and demeaning to some of the most incredible people I know.

Sure, these are superheroes I’m giving as examples, and you could claim it doesn’t matter. But it does. We all need our role models. We all need to believe we could be that hero on the screen. We all need to believe that we too can be the “chosen one”, the hero with a destiny greater than we thought possible.

We all need to dare to dream. Give us our dreams. We deserve them.