I went to church with my parents (dad & stepmom) last Sunday, as I’ve been doing off and on through Advent and the new year. I was early, reading a book (Vines’ God and the Gay Christian) while I waited. Near the front was a group of young people chatting, and I was struck by how much one young woman looked like a girl I’d gone to school with-tall, strong, with long, curly red hair. She exuded energy. As I watched, she laughed a loud, boisterous laugh. A voice somewhere in the back of mind chided, “too loud” and “not ladylike!”
I know that voice. I’ve heard it many a time.
It’s the voice that tells me not to dress too brightly because it will draw attention to me, to my size. It tells me not to talk too much. Not to sound too smart or sure of myself. It reminds me of the men who called me ‘intimidating.’ It recently told me that no matter how much I love the giant rainbow umbrella my kid gave me for Christmas, didn’t it make me look out of place on the college campus, among all the dreary ones?
A few weeks ago I went to my parents’ church without them. Here and there during the singing, I would catch someone turning to look at me. My grandmother hasn’t remembered my name or relationship to her for years, but if she’d been standing beside me in church, she’d have elbowed me and said, “Don’t be a show-off!” It’s okay, Grandma, the voice did it for you. Even as I type this story it cries, “Pride, pride!”
The voice is the combined weight of centuries of expectations, handed solemnly down from one generation of women to the next. It keeps us in our place, ensuring we are not Too Much for the men to handle.
I have decided that the appropriate response is to summon my inner Carrie Fisher, complete with middle finger extended.
So, Dear Girl with the Fiery Hair and Powerful Presence:
Be bold. Be cheerful. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are too much, or that you are not enough. Don’t worry about frightening people away; everyone needs a challenge now and then.
Do not try to fit in their boxes, for you cannot be contained.