April 16, 2011

Being a girl


I was thinking about this this morning—about being a girl—because I pulled a few forum comments about it out last night, and then went off in some other direction in last night’s blog, as I am wont to do.  But this morning I was thinking about it as I stared at the cardigan I was planning on wearing, which has a lot of different colours in it*, and deciding which t-shirt—a nice, pretty, girlie t-shirt—would look best under it, the blue?  the turquoise? the orange? the yellow?**  I settled on the blue, but with the orange coral bead necklace.  All of this matters to me, you see.  And it matters whether anyone is going to see me but Peter*** and the hellhounds or not;  I dress for me.  Although dressing for me includes that I waste enough time on articles of clothing, which are frequently as possessed by demons as technology ever is†, so I’m damned if I’m going to tangle with make up too, so I don’t††, and that from the waist down I’m always in jeans or a jeans-equivalent because of the whole hellhounds/gardening/outdoor/messy thing.  I love skirts, especially big full swirly ones, but trousers are easier.  And All Stars, of course.  I’m what you might call a practical girlie girl.  Still . . . girlie.  This was one of my shattering moments of late, reluctant self-acceptance . . . oh, in my late thirties somewhere.  I’M A GIRL!  GET USED TO IT! 

          These are all from Silly Day, Part the First . . . and this first one’s not about girlyness at all, but forgive me for succumbing to the temptation . . .


. . . My favorite Diana Wynne Jones book is probably The Dark Lord of Derkholm 

Which is dedicated to MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE.  Just by the way.  Although anyone with the first American ed won’t have it.  The British does.  I’ve posted a photo of the dedication page of—I think it’s the Finnish—edition, haven’t I?  For some reason it amuses me immoderately. 


I spent most of my adolescence & early adulthood struggling with ‘femininity.’ I have wider-than usual shoulders & ribcage, so no matter what I weighed, I always felt ‘sturdy’ – more like a football player than a cheerleader. Then add to that a number of ‘masculine’ traits (good at math & science; never wore make-up; independent; read sf & mystery novels; shopping for clothes was a chore) – there were times when I questioned my gender.

I’m certainly with you on the struggle, but my angle, somewhat curiously, has been rather different than most of you who posted about yours.  I prided myself on being a tomboy but I was also quite a bit girlier a girl than I was at all happy about.  I’ve always loved clothes and jewellery and dressing up—as above—even if I’ve learnt a compromise that allows me to be in gardening-and-hurtling jeans too—and I’ve always loved cooking;  I was about eleven when I started spending Saturday mornings making pies while I watched the cartoons.   And while I failed on the knitting front the first time, I did an awful lot of embroidery, and enjoyed it too.  But I wanted to be a boy.  Oh, gods and glory, did I ever want to be a boy.  I knew I wasn’t one—this has nothing to do with questions of transgender—I was a girl, that low, despicable, nearly useless thing.  I grew up in an old-fashioned military family and I’m telling you, girls were nothing.  Girls were less than nothing.  And of course—as I’ve written elsewhere—all the best books were about boys having adventures and girls staying at home.  (As I’ve written elsewhere:  one of the places THE BLUE SWORD comes blazing from is THE SHEIK by EM Hull, where a girl dares to have adventures . . . and is kidnapped by a sheik and raped, which is to say punished and broken until she likes it, because, after all, she’s a girl, and it is not for girls to go out and do things . . . and then it’s okay after all because he’s really a scion of a fine old English family.  This is an English novel, you know, with a nice English heroine.  INSERT THE EXTREMES OF BAD LANGUAGE HERE.  And it was a gigantico-gazilliono-monstero best seller in its day.)  

          In hindsight I wonder how much my extreme allergy to (most) science and (most) maths was learnt rather than innate;  by the time I got to school I already knew that I was a girl and doomed.   Peter, by the way, thinks there’s nothing wrong with my maths brains, only with my attitude.


I came to hate the term “feminine” because it always seemed to mean someone else. I have two X chromosomes, never wanted to “be” a boy, but was always drawn to “traditionally” more male interests–outdoors (YES!), active (YES!), science (YES!), etc. I like the colors men are supposed to like (dark or intense colors) rather than pastels most of the time. It took decades to believe that since I am, in fact, female…what I am is female ENOUGH.

Which is interesting, because you’re my age, so I can’t just blame it on my era.  But then your mum was a single mum, I think?  And an engineer.  Mine was a housewife.  I was raised to believe that a woman should have a college degree in case her husband died and she had to go to work to  support her children.  I’m not joking. 

          I felt too female in the wrong ways.  I wanted to be more of a tomboy, since that was the nearest I was going to get to being the True Autonomous Power Thing, which was a real boy.  Sure I liked the outdoors, but even girls could go for long walks and love horses.  In fact loving horses was one of those despised girlie things, which is kind of interesting, since what’s wussyish about horses, for pity’s sake?  And I liked colour, full stop.  I like dark colours, I like bright colours, I like pastels.  I like COLOUR.  This is also girlie.  So I gathered.  Men were allowed to be faintly concerned about the precise crease of their trousers, and to choose the tie with the narrow navy stripe or the muted red plaid.  But a preoccupation with colour and pattern and style and so on was . . . girlie.  Whichever gender you belonged to.  And I still read certain clothing and jewellery catalogues the way romance readers read Mills & Boon. 

B_twin said and white_roses responded: 

Yeah, that. Nothing like being told “gee, you have really good swimmer’s shoulders” …. But by then I had been reading about Girls Who Do Things and I knew I wanted to be on the farm. Big shoulders were GOOD I told myself. (Handy for bell ringing too! mwahahaha)

I understand these feelings very well. Working with horses helped me stop hating my figure: there is nothing in this world to make you grateful for atypical physique like a 17-hand draft stallion who utterly ignores your tugs on the longline.

One of the strikes against me as a functioning human being is that I’m, you know, thin.  I look like a . . . girl.  Mind you, I’m ex-fat, so I know more than I want to about being fat in a world that despises fatness;  but I’ve been thin now for a long time—and am not yielding to frelling menopause’s zero-metabolism without one hell of a struggle—and the problem with being able to pass is that you’re assumed to be what you are superficially presenting as.  When you’re really weary of the struggle it’s just so easy to put a dress on and let the guys carry your parcels for you.   This phase doesn’t last long with me:  I have never patronised well:  say that again, mister, and I’ll hand you your head, and possibly some other body parts, on a platter.  But the temptation to fold, when you can, can be rough on tired days. 

HeiQ responded to Diane in MN: 

You are not alone in this. Do you know Peggy Seeger’s song “I’m Gonna be an Engineer”?

Nope, I can’t say I ever have. I just read the words, and there were some pretty good lines in there . . . but it was a bit TOO angry for me, and I never actually wanted to be a boy haha… I never felt like I had those sorts of decisions forced on me by anyone I really cared about, so it’s a little hard to relate to the song.

How times change.  Although you don’t get the full flavour just reading the words on a page, and she sings it so deliciously;  you could dance to the tune.  I loved this song;  it was my national anthem for years.  Too angry?  Are you kidding?  It wasn’t angry enough.  It was only the truth. 

           And that truth still hasn’t anything like gone away.  There’s probably someone who reads this blog who knows it in her own skin right now.  I’ve escaped;  Diane in MN and E Moon have escaped;  apparently you didn’t have to escape.  But women are still not getting equal pay for equal work in the first world, never mind the third.

            Oh, and:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCRRe72mwwY

. . . And, on the subject of my girlie liking for things to be pretty, this came from my I-told-you-I-was-knitting post the other night: 

Cathy R 

Wow! I am impressed!
And not only by the quantity of the knitting  . . . but by the quality of the stash bags!
No plastic supermarket bags—slides two such stash bags out of sight under the table—for you, I see. Very classy!

Start a blog.  Start needing to dust off and brush up as much as your life as you can bear to flourish in public.   You will find it has an electrifying effect on many of the more admissible ways you spend your time (and possibly your money).  Although I admit I’ve always had a weakness for tote bags, and I’m delighted to have so clearly perfect a use for that Kew Gardens bag.

            . . . She says, rummaging for her square-in-progress. . . . 

* * *

* Intarsia, if you want to know^, and I was also staring at it and thinking I like multicoloured yarn that does this for you . . . if perhaps not in quite such fetching patterns. 

^ Where all the colours are knitted together as one thing, rather than over each other—for you nonknitters.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intarsia_(knitting)  Which article I find pretty confusing, but then I’m only a baby knitter. 

** Yes, lots of colours.  On a muted khaki background.  Mmmm. 

*** Whose idea of a happy relationship with his wardrobe is getting dressed in the nearest three garments hanging dry on the washing-line.  Occasionally I envy him—when I’ve just emerged, bloody and considerably bowed, from an epic struggle with my wardrobe.  Mostly I think he’s missing a gigantic treat.  You have to wear clothes—society demands it^—why not have some fun

^ I am so not built to be a nudist/naturist.  No clothing:  what a waste.  Besides, I would be cold all the time.  Or sunburnt.  

† Makes me wonder where technology got the idea. . . . 

†† Besides, all that getting it off again at night?  Uggh.


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