To have your goals and ambitions laid out before you, the goals and ambitions of somebody else, fully vetted to be non-controversial, for social acceptability, to be inconsequential. To be cast as a barren old maid. To be cast as the difficult one. To be told, you will never marry a doctor. To be told to have light skinned children. To have men talk over you constantly. To have them raise their voices to drown you out. They won’t let you finish. To be told, you shouldn’t speak in the first place. To have women back away from you, no one come to your defense. To have women also chastise you, for being too much this, not enough that. To be told you have brought all of this upon yourself. You are alone and this is of your own making. To be told, you should have just married well, become a mother. To be told, you have to make nice. To be told, don’t make waves.
When I was young, I was rebellious. I didn’t know yet, exactly the heart of what I was rebelling against. I was rebellious because I wanted to be cool. Like James Dean Rebel Without a Cause cool. I didn’t know any rebellious girls, and so my role models were rebellious boys, rockstars. The alternative was to want to be a video girl, a flirty, sexy, skimpy dressed girl in high heels and make-up. That was also appealing, but more appealing was The Rockstar. The Lyricist. The Romantic Poet, a someone who could speak and write the words no one else around me was saying.
I realize now I was rebelling against having to be a girl shoved into the small boxes of others. I realize also, so much of the conflict I experienced with others had to do with what I was learning I truly wanted for myself (that whole long and painful process, a necessary one), not being aligned with what others wanted for me. Here, I don’t exactly mean my parents. I mean, my peers, wanting also to fit me in a box they could understand. The kind of alone feeling I had a lot, as a 20-something year old college drop out and then a 30-something grad student had to do with not being able to meet their expectations. I didn’t know then about the long game; I just knew about the alienation I felt, because I didn’t want to be what others wanted me to be. A lot of these expectations, dare I say, even coming from 20-something, 30-something feminists and artists of color, were gendered, i.e. if patriarchy was this, then feminism was that. I didn’t want to be ladylike, and I didn’t want to be motherly. I found myself making distance between myself and those who needed me to meet their expectations and their needs.
(Re: long game, I write and talk a lot about how my parents both came to understand, through a long period of conflict and growing pains, what it is I meant to do with my life, as a writer, as an educator, as someone who learned how to take care of myself and thrive. I think the people in my life who I haven’t distanced myself from are the ones who get and accept that about me.)
Anyway, this is where I am this morning. I started watching Julia! America’s Favorite Chef: Biography of Julia Child, thinking about what it meant to have no goals and ambitions of one’s own, as was said of her earlier life in finishing school, in which a young lady meets a well-bred man to “finish her.” More writing must happen.