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.

Cinderella shoes: Why I, in my oversized body, said FUCK IT to the world

I’m a big woman. Not fat, not wobbly (which would be an entirely different sin of its own).

Just big.

I’m nearly six feet tall. I’m broad-shouldered, big-boned, and long-limbed.

There was absolutely no point in my life that I was not going to be large. Genetics decided that for me.

I take up space, which apparently in our society is a crime worthy of punishment if you’re a woman.

Because, in case you hadn’t noticed, we women are supposed to be small. Underweight, taking up no space, not making any noise or having any opinions. We’re supposed to be pretty, according to a very narrow definition of pretty.

Women are not supposed to eat.
Women are not supposed to eat.

The first time I was told I was too tall I was about 12. A guy I liked said I would be pretty if I wasn’t so huge. I was about an inch taller than him. We got on well as friends but he told me he couldn’t be seen with a girl who was taller than him.

Two years later my father started calling me “buffalo butt” and laughing at the “joke” because he thought he was a wit. I was medically underweight at the time. I started my first diet about then.

When you’re meant to be big, and your frame and your bones are big, and your feet are fast getting up to size 11, there is no diet in the world that will make you smaller.

My best friend said she was embarrassed when we went shoe shopping and the shop had nothing to fit me. My mother kept saying I should be more ladylike – whatever that meant.

I think it meant “less like me”. I think it meant less everything to do with me. Less of me.

I started to realise that’s what the world wants. It wasn’t just me either, with all my size. It wasn’t personal, even though it hurt like hell.

Women were supposed to be less than men. Not just less in our achievements and our abilities, but in our size, our space that we control, our earnings, our ideas, our voices. Everything.

We were supposed to be “assistants”, not the person being assisted.
We were nurses, not doctors.
We were teachers, not Principals – unless of a primary school or kindergarten.
We were secretaries, not the boss.
We were the scenery – the eye candy – in the movies.

Not the hero.

Nothing seems to have changed. We're still the "eye candy" and the "romatic interest".
Nothing seems to have changed. We’re still the “eye candy” and the “romatic interest”.

At school I remember asking about being an engineer, and being told, “Oh, you don’t want to do that! and being steered towards a career as a nurse or a teacher. I didn’t fancy cleaning, so I opted for teaching.

There weren’t many “acceptable” options for girls to choose from, after all.

Women live in a smaller world, and we’re supposed to be smaller to fit into it. But as I grew older, something clicked. I guess I started wondering what happens when a person demands a bigger world? What happens when we’re too big for the boundaries others set for us?

I sometimes wonder if I would be the same person today if I hadn’t been born too big to fit the role society wanted me to fit?

If I’d been born the “right” size, looked the “right” way, would I have challenged the role that I couldn’t fill?

Those Cinderella shoes were never going to fit me. So I created a new fairytale with myself as its champion. Would I have done so had the glass slipper fit?

cinderella

I don’t know. I don’t have answers. But I know one thing: I, in my oversized body, said Fuck It to the world.

The world as it was didn’t fit me, so I created a new world that suits me better. That I liked better.

And, as I look around, the Ugly Sisters – all of us who never, ever could fit the shoes we were told to wear – we are all creating our own worlds, side by side.

    They told me I was too big, so I used my height and strength as an asset and began to think of myself as an amazon, proud and strong, with a heritage that goes back thousands of years.

    They told me boys were smarter than girls, so I got myself a few degrees at University.

    They told me computers were for boys (I wasn’t allowed to touch my brother’s computer when it was bought for him, in case I – less than two years his junior and a teen at the time – “broke it”). So I created the largest online community for Pagans in Australia at the time of its creation, became a WebMistress, ran webpages and online forums, and learned my way around the internet, before taking on a Software Engineering degree.

    They told me I couldn’t fight because I was a girl, so I joined the Army.

    They told me sport was for boys and that I sucked at it, so I went to the State Championships in rowing.

    They told me girls were weak, so I became a bodybuilder and weightlifter.

    They told me girls couldn’t be Leaders, so I became a Leader of several communities, transforming them and removing previous corrupt leaderships.

    They told me I couldn’t write music, so I became a choral composer whose works have been performed worldwide.

    They told me girls couldn’t change the world, so I wrote stories with new worlds in them.

Be the change you want to see in the world

I’m just an ordinary woman, with no special abilities. Except I don’t believe in boundaries and rules, and I don’t believe in Impossible.

Maybe that’s what has made my world so amazing? Because only by believing in the impossible can we make it happen.

Women can do anything.
Too long we’ve been told to keep our horizons near, and our world small.
Too often we’ve believed it when we’ve been told what we supposedly can’t do.
The combination of being told to keep ourselves small and being told to appease others is deadly.

It’s time we all said Fuck It to the world, and made some noise. Because, by doing so, we might just discover who we truly are.

Hit like a girl…

This viral video came through on my Facebook feed the other day:

All i can think is, What are we doing in our society that is so, so wrong?

I remember the point in sport when I stopped trying. I also remember the point at school when “popularity quizzes” took over, and one of the girls was asking all the boys who they liked, and ranking the girls in the class, top to bottom. I was pretty much near the bottom. I remember trying to figure out why, and being told it was because I was a tomboy, and “didn’t even try to be pretty or act like a girl.”

I guess I was too busy, well, being me.

I was a late bloomer. Very late. All through school I was on the sidelines in the popularity stakes, mainly because I did my own thing and had my own interests. Girls weren’t supposed to do that. If you wanted to be popular, you had to focus your world around the guys. Everything had to revolve around them. And if you were better than them at anything, you really copped it hard.

There’s so much pressure on our kids – boys and girls – to behave certain ways, look certain ways, have certain interests. It seems to be getting worse. I worry about the effects porn will have on my kids as they move into their teenage years. How are they supposed to experiment safely with sex when there’s so much out there telling them what to do and how to do it? The world is a minefield.

But getting back to the clip above, yes, I remember the point at which I stopped trying. I remember the point at which I was told, in very strong social terms, that to try in sport was “lame” and “square” (the words of the era), and that I would certainly not be socially acceptable if I wanted to run well, throw well, play sport well.

I got over it. University was a blessing to me, because it was a world where doing our own thing was encouraged. I got right back into sport with a vengeance, and I haven’t looked back. More recently, I’ve got into weightlifting and bodybuilding, and I do things in the gym that are very “ungirly”. I lift more than most of the men at the gym, and I’m damn proud of that. I’ve earned my stripes.

I hope that my kids will be proud of who they are, and their interests, and their quirks. I hope they’ll learn that being a girl is a good thing, a powerful thing.

It’s time for change.