Ugly truth: I’ve never been proud of being a woman. In fact, I’ve been rather un-fond of it most of the time. And that’s not, completely, because women aren’t treated as men’s equal (which, by the way, is a reality). It’s because women annoy me. Like a lot.
Hold the stones.
I dressed like a boy often as I was growing up. I didn’t want to be boy, but I didn’t want to be girly either. Between my dislike for feminine style and the ridiculous burden of boys’ pure thoughts, I wore flattening sports bras and just-in-case spandex shorts under everything I wore in high school. I didn’t start listening to music with female vocals until I was near 18. I find most heroines inanely annoying. Anne Hathaway’s Cat Woman, in particular, makes me want to claw my shoe off and launch it at her face. I can’t even create a heroine; when I try to write fiction, I invariably end up with a male lead. It can’t be helped.
Women’s conferences? I can’t. Physically you cannot get me there. Bridal showers? If I really really love the bride and/or don’t have to play a single game. Baby showers? Tell me the words I need to say to get rid of all of my clothes pins so I can go sit with my grapes and cheese on the outskirts. Mom’s group? I’m trying. Honestly, I am. But if anyone calls me girl or hun or sister in that super-white-girl-sister-in-Christ way I’m gone. I’m trying to psych myself up for a foster mom retreat. But I’m terrified I’ll fly out there all by myself, end up in the middle of nowhere surrounded by women with colourful clothes and MLM pamphlets, and be left desperately crawling out of my skin. So.
For any woman reading this, I like you. I like women. I just struggle excessively with being, figuratively and literally, in a large group of women. I can’t tell you what it is, but anything directed toward women makes me shudder. Motivational quotes for women are just yuck. I don’t like any of it. Why don’t I like being part of my gender, a gender I thoroughly identify with? I don’t know.
But here’s what I do know: there are some women I wish I could be. Although I said there are many heroines I don’t like, there are some I do. For instance, Grey’s Anatomy’s Christina and Downton Abbey’s Mary. Even more, Cate Blanchett’s Marion Loxley and, of course, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman. These female leads are relentlessly bold, straight-shouldered with confidence, and yet… woundable, vulnerable, and somehow soft.
I had a professor like that at the very end of my undergrad. She was a grandma and she was it. She taught only one class: the class that capped off my degree. She wore all black, she leaned on her podium with straight arms and strong shoulders, she had dry humour and high expectations, and she worked in a literal prison with literal criminals. It was all I could do, seriously, not to ask her to mentor me. She is who I want to be when I grow up.
I obviously never met Ruth Bader Ginsburg. But I’ve read a lot about her in this last week. And she sounds like that kind of woman. Whether you agree with what she stood for or not, she was a woman to admire. She survived childhood grief, stared down unjust opposition, and thrived her way into making history. She triumphed in competitive universities and jobs while being a mom and caring for a husband with cancer. She excelled in her field and reached the heights of accomplishment. She was personal friends with her professional rival and she interminably stood her ground on behalf of those she represented. She embraced a loving nickname modelled after a rapper and she didn’t waver in the shadow of disappointments. When Bill Clinton nominated her for the Supreme Court, he said, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg cannot be called a liberal or conservative; she has proved herself too thoughtful for such labels.” That incandescent recommendation can scarcely be given these days, but it’s one to zealously pursue. I don’t know what she was really like as a person, but she said she wanted to be remembered as “someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability.” I think she did that and did it very well.
She, and women like her, motivate me not just to fight for those causes I care for and advocate for those I serve, but to be me. Women like her give the rest of us permission to be all of it. To work and be a mom. To scribble corrections into our husbands’ love letters (she did that). To shamelessly chase all the big dreams. To keep getting up and facing down the things that don’t go away. To be more dauntless and indomitable than our barriers and adversaries. To love and partner with men who think our work is as important as theirs and to share our summit moments with them. To choose service as the meaning of our lives and the way by which we lead. To humbly accept the love and perspective of those who think we’re better than we actually are. To hope and work and hope and work and hope and work. To be kind and uncompromising at once.
To be soft-as-hell badasses.
To give no quarter in being who we are.
Women like her make me proud of being a woman.
They make me proud — and brave and ready — to be who I am.
I hope my legacy is like that: a woman who was relentless, courageous, and gracious. A woman who served and led and loved without a single damn reservation.