Sometimes when I catch myself thinking about life and where I’ve been and how tumultuous that path sometimes was, I almost get overwhelmed when thinking it’s a wonder I’m even here today. Hundreds of memes and daily calendars and Tom Hanks movies will tell you what life is like. But here’s my explanation. We are rocks. Boring, everyday rocks that are eventually hurled towards this huge, scary body of water. It’s almost inevitable that eventually one of our crashes result in us sinking, settling to the bottom never to move further across the water again.
My first-grade year was I moved to Webb City and didn’t know anybody. That can be terrifying for a 6-year-old! I remember being so nervous. I wanted people to like me. And I wasn’t sure if it was easier to tell the popular kids from the normal kids then (hindsight it was their weather balloon sized hair bows), but I had noted who they were and was determined to fit in with them.
The art teacher pushed her cart into our room and I could not believe what was being rolled in front of me. The most handsome, red-haired, curly-bearded man I had ever seen. I’m hoping that, like me, while reading this, you all imagined Jesse Tyler Ferguson being wheeled into our first-grade room, but instead it was the most amazing construction paper Leprechaun that I have ever seen. He had cute little freckles and his beard had a .7 pencil taped to it and the curls were everywhere. I knew he would be mine. As the teacher started to pass out the supplies we would need to make our boy or girl leprechauns, I asked for the materials to make the boy.
“You HAVE to make a girl leprechaun,” a little girl at my table told me.
I looked at her waiting for her to laugh since I was about to. Did she not realize that weeks ago, in my old school, I picked a formal evening gown out of the JC penny catalog, informed my classmates that I was currently wearing it, then paraded it all over my first-grade room like royalty? I don’t HAVE to do anything. At least I that’s what I thought. I could feel the tears filling my eyes as my fingers fumbled making his beard.
“But his beard is so cute and fun. He looks so happy. I want to make the boy!”
I looked back up at them again but this time I was pleading. The shock was gone.
“Boys make boys and girls make girls. If you don’t make the girl one, we won’t be your friends.”
These were the harshest words any student could hear at their new school. It’s almost like a 6-year-old gang but instead of murder to test my loyalty, it was arts and crafts or putting up a fight when somebody pointed to the prettiest actress on the screen during pretend time and said, “I’m her.”
I caved. I made the girl leprechaun. She was boring and I hated her. It crushed me to give in to what I wanted just because the opposite was the expectation of me because of my gender. I didn’t think it was fair at the time, and I still hate thinking about it now. I didn’t know this was the start of feeling like an outcast when it came to the expectations other women had for me.
I learned something that day that has followed me for the rest of my life: conform or be left behind.
Flash forward to high school. I always felt different, heavy, like I was struggling not to drown but nobody noticed. I had sex in high school thus condemning me to be known as a “slut.” A lot of girls hated me, until they wanted to know what it was like and how many times and that they were thinking about doing it too. It felt like they wanted to live vicariously through me but didn’t want to have the association. Having a sex-ed that taught us you can get pregnant with your clothes on and the only good kind of sex is sex when you’re married (not true) didn’t help my case at all. There were times I felt so alone and depressed. I didn’t understand why choices I made that I was comfortable with took up so much time and emotions from people not involved. I had girls from other schools calling me to tell me they hated me because I supposedly slept with some guy. Sometimes, I had only just met the guy once, but that’s how labels work. And that’s how it works when women turn on each other. I remember one phone call, the girl wasn’t even dating the guy, nor had she ever been, but she hated that fact that he may have slept with me. I cried so hard after that phone call. These were girls that I could really see myself being friends with (I actually am with a few as an adult!) and I didn’t understand why they said such horrible things to me. After being treated by a psychiatrist for years now we’ve come to the conclusion. I was an untreated bi-polar sufferer as a teen, explaining my ability to have no emotion with intimate relationships, but I think it also helped me judge people less when it came to their choices about sexual acts or preferences. It wasn’t really a big deal to me so I never made it a big deal with other people. Well, not always outwardly. I too am guilty of calling girls sluts and bitches because of my ignorant assumptions.
You would think that this behavior goes away after high school. It doesn’t. And what’s worse is that it expands to many more aspects of life. Money. Family. Career. Love life. We are constantly measuring ourselves up to others and knocking them down to feel like we propel higher. I am terrible about this. Recently, I have been living the exact way of people who make me feel meaningless. I judge them. I criticize them. I spend my good energy predicting what they think and feel. I’m jealous of the life they live and the things they have and I tell myself it’s not fair and that they have never done anything to deserve any of it. I get angry. And my anger towards them grows and even in those quick moments of hurtful thoughts, I feel better about how much I dislike them, I feel sadder long after. Who the hell am I to worry about how others feel about me? Why do I spend my time thinking negative and hurtful thoughts toward other women? One of the scariest feelings is to feel alone, but here I am trying to put them in this dark corner by themselves while I validate why nobody else should like them as well. It was when I started to feel like I was drowning that I gave up on this nonsense. And I don’t say this from the viewpoint of having it all figured out and that I am without fault.
After the election, almost everyone in my former social group, or extension of, shared that article about why they didn’t need the women’s march and how they were just fine without feminism. Many added in their own caption insulting women who supported the march. I lost it. Do they not know why we have the rights and choices we do today? Do they know that not long ago women didn’t even have the right to vote and how thankful we should be to the women who fought for those rights?
“There is absolutely no way I’m even associating with anybody like that!” I could feel myself getting mad and defensive.
I was consumed with negative thoughts about them and how one day they would realize the error of their ways and there I would be gloating and looking down on them saying “I told you so.” But then I realized my big ass head was floating off into space because I suddenly had on my popular girl hairbow made of unfilled balloons and streamers (not lying, it was like a contest to see what they could make hairbows out of.) I was being just as mean if not meaner than those girls who hurt my feelings in first grade. Here I was planning on discriminating and cutting out somebody who believed something different from me. I don’t want to ignore these women. Some of them I actually really like. But I’m learning the difference between friendship and civil acquaintances and walking the fine line between them. You don’t have to respect or support another woman’s viewpoint on any issue. I realize that’s easier said than done, but spending your time and energy worrying about how you are going to prove her wrong is only going to exhaust you. But you can be civil. You can be polite. You can be downright friendly. I don’t think this means you are sacrificing your own beliefs. If anything, I think you are putting the ball in their court. You’re drawing the line in the sand that states, “We clearly don’t see eye to eye on this but as a woman I am going to support you in your right to believe what you choose.” I try to keep my conversations with those who believe opposite of me civil for the most part or avoid hot topics altogether. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to punch them in the face when they say something asinine, it just means that I am fully aware only I would go to jail.
Growing up in a small town and having a social circle of mostly republican/conservative friends is difficult when having such different viewpoints on things. But there’s also a few of those same friends who I know would jump in if anybody ever said something negative about me. They are the ones who are fully aware of our opposite beliefs but have acknowledged they understand my concerns and respect my passion for what I believe in. My mood and mind are definitely in a better place when I focus on the things I love about my friends and not necessarily the things they do that drive me bat shit crazy. There are days I feel I am the luckiest person in the world to know such a group of diverse women and days I feel like the biggest hypocrite for associating with somebody who doesn’t support my political views. I’m trying to teach myself that I don’t have to agree with another woman on their beliefs or morals or behavior but from now on I am going to love the shit out of them. We as women have too many outside voices telling us how to behave, what to say and who to say it to, where we can go at what times and who with. We don’t need additional voices adding to the criticism we already out on ourselves.
Living the life you want to live can be scary. There are going to be times you will feel alone, scared, and hated. You’ll feel like nobody understands you and that it’s only fair to treat them the same way. You can’t control the way other women think about or treat you so try not to let it consume you. When you consume it, you sink. But if you send out that positivity and love, you can stay afloat and just keep skimming along. You may bounce a couple of times when you are being tested which will be the easiest time to sink. You’ll want to call her a name. You’ll want to judge her for who she’s sleeping with or dating or marrying. Why doesn’t she have kids? Why does she have so many kids? If she cut her hair she’d be prettier. If she lost weight she’d look better. Why would she even wear that? What. A. Slut.
Could you feel the weight piling on as you read that?
Constantly thinking this way will weigh you down. But there’s an upside to being tossed through life like a rock. All the bounces and hits you take are going to hurt. You’ll sometimes hit so hard and spin off into a direction so fast you won’t even know what’s happening. But sometimes, rocks can make it across the water. At the time, it might have seemed easier to just sink and settle at the bottom like a lot of other rocks, but you didn’t. You were on of the rare few who briskly skimmed through deep parts of life and made it across. And waiting there on the other side are several other rocks that are a lot like you. They know what it’s like to be hurled into situations they have no control over and feel like it’s easier to just give in. They too could have sunk to the bottom, but even in their most solitary moments, something pushed them further because, deep down, they know there was a group of rocks waiting for them that were really excited to hear about their journey.