No More Broccoli

It’s strange to be a woman who doesn’t want to look pretty. It’s strange to be a woman who doesn’t own a skirt or a dress or a pair of women’s shoes. It’s strange to be a woman who doesn’t wear makeup. It’s strange to be a woman who doesn’t care for the company of men. It’s strange, at times – very strange.

I say these things knowing that many women who read them here might very well say, “That’s not strange! I’m just like that, too!”  And thank heavens for that, thank heavens I’ve finally found some kindred souls. But I say it’s strange relative to the women I see every day out in the world, on TV, in the media. Every time I leave the house I keep my eyes open for any woman like me, but seldom find them. I grew up without any female role models I could identify with. I grew up thinking I was strange and alone.

Not that I didn’t try to find role models, especially when I would run into a woman I found attractive and appealing in some way. We could even call it the League of Their Own Narrative. I was in high school when A League of Their Own hit the theaters and liked it so much I had the soundtrack on cassette (with James Taylor’s lovely It’s Only A Paper Moon) and the movie on VHS. We all remember Geena Davis in that movie, right? Before she got into archery and telling Hollywood to put more women in films. This wonderful woman:

a-league-of-their-own-geena-davis-13994961-853-480

I admit, I swooned. And not only swooned, I saw a woman I could relate to. Like her, I was a little taller, a little broader, than the girls around me. I too had big features (though I rounded out the set with a big nose, too) and was very good at throwing and catching baseballs. That movie – bless it – was designed to provide heroes for girls, and I so badly wanted that hero –

And then Bob came home from the war.

For those unfamiliar, Bob is the incredibly nice husband to Geena Davis’s Dottie, and she gives up her incredibly promising baseball career to go home with him. Nothing can change it or alter the storyline. Bob comes home and at that moment my heart would sink and I’d lose interest in the rest of the movie (except, of course, the part where the little sister yells at her for it. Good on you, little sister. I’m right with you there.)  She wasn’t my hero after all. She wasn’t really like me.

At some point I simply stopped trying to find women like me and gave in to the prevalence of men. After all, there were men who were “not like other men”, who were sensitive and creative and interesting, who seemed to exist outside of the usual roles. Those men became my role models, and I loved them dearly, always working very hard internally to keep them separated from mainstream male roles. So dedicated was I to keeping them separate that when I would find one of them was married to a woman – and, mind you, they were all celebrities or fictional characters, of course – I would be crestfallen. He wasn’t, after all, something different, something like me. He was just another man married to just another woman just like everyone else. Once again I was left with no one to relate to, no person anything like me anywhere. Just always men, either overshadowing the lives of the women I loved or simply existing instead of any alternative.

It was like finding a pile of broccoli on your dinner plate every day when broccoli turns your stomach and makes you gag.

But I ate my broccoli, because it was all I had. And I felt I had to. I ate so much broccoli I thought I might just become broccoli myself. There was just so much broccoli everywhere I turned, always shoved in my face, always at the end of every pursuit of something else. I look at it now and it feels somewhat like being an atheist in a room full of Christians. Everyone else is seeing something, believing in something, touched and comforted by something I just don’t comprehend. In my experience, going to church as an atheist is boring at best and alienating at worst. Heterosexuality and the overwhelming, pervasive influence of men is, as lesbian, boring at best and alienating at worst.

But what else is there?

It took me until almost sacrificing myself to realize that if I have to live on crumbs I find under the table then I will go under the table and find those crumbs. In fact, if I can get enough of them to strengthen myself, I will go in the kitchen and start cooking with the ingredients I can find. Because no one else is going to provide strong female role models if we don’t provide them ourselves. No one is going to write authentic lesbians if we don’t write them ourselves. No one is going to embrace and support and nurture us so that we don’t feel so strange if we don’t do it ourselves.

During my teenage years, I spent a lot of time writing about a “strange farm girl no man could ever love” and the man – not like other men, of course – who proves her wrong. With a new perspective I revisited this story, this tome of wishful thinking, and I snapped my fingers: why not do what Geena Davis recommends, and make that male role a female role? If I did so, if I wrote the story of two women learning they are worthy of each other’s love, it would become the story I had so needed to read when I was fifteen years old and feeling so helpless and alone. I started rewriting the story (which, coincidentally or not, now made so much more sense) with Nanowrimo in November. I’m about halfway through now and nothing has been more healing. It’s like finally having good food and pure water and a warm bed to sleep in. It is a joy every time I sit down with it. If I try to express in words how inspiring and beautiful it has been I will take far too much of your time.

In my last post I wrote about wanting to center women in my artwork as well, and over the past weeks began to put that resolution into practical application. Could I practice figure drawing, for example, with no male models? Could I only draw and paint women – not as a creative pursuit but in everyday practice? It took some doing to find references of female nudes that weren’t affected by the male gaze, that weren’t pornographic in some way, all breasts and bottoms and arched backs and slightly-parted lips. I don’t want women who have been turned into men’s playthings. I don’t want men in any way involved.

Because now when I draw a woman I’m drawing a person I would love to love. I am drawing her in all her physical presence and all her expressed personality – and without makeup, without high heels, without men. I am drawing the women I needed to see when I was young. My art has never been better and I’ve never enjoyed it more or intensely cared about it more. I keep asking myself, can I get away with this?  Can I state as an artist that I focus my creative energy on female subjects alone? Will there be backlash?  Will there be criticism? Will there be someone telling me to eat my broccoli?

In the back of my mind, I still feel guilty about that broccoli. I still feel I’m doing something wrong, that I’m disrespecting all the good men out there, that I’m being selfish and indulgent, that maybe – oh, perhaps maybe – I feel they will always condemn me for succumbing to this “twisted perversion” called homosexuality. But if we don’t get selfish and indulgent and give ourselves what we need for the sake of who we are, who will?

I’ve spent most of my life feeling entirely alone, sitting in a corner sadly poking at the broccoli on my plate. And that diet of broccoli lead me down a path I never want to revisit again. Can a person be blamed for saying “No more”? No more broccoli, please. I have something else that nourishes me so much more.

This past week I saw a post on tumblr of Captain Phasma from The Force Awakens, claiming she is “genderfluid.” As if there is some part of her that might not be a woman, some broccoli wedged under her stormtrooper helmet, apparently because her armor has no giant breasts. Step off. Just step off. We will take back every crumb that is our own.

captainphasma

And in the meantime, I’ve got a few things cooking.

 

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11 thoughts on “No More Broccoli

  1. You are a wonderful writer. This rings so true for me, too. Especially the crumbs from the table. I realised recently that I’ve been scrabbling for those forever, that this has taken me away from myelf, and that it is time for me too to start cooking. Your novel sounds amazing 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  2. I was always eager to look pretty. But growing up not caring for the company of men I can totally relate to. I “dealt” with this from puberty onwards by an obsession with Victorian times, because I’d heard male teachers banging on about how disgraceful Victorian women were because these allegedly disapproved of sex – they even covered piano legs, one teacher said, because they were so prudish – and because at that time and place it was supposed to be such a terrible thing to be sexually chaste as a young girl or woman, and, one of the insults used against girls like that was “Victorian”.

    This lead me to thinking that maybe in Victorian times I’d have fit in with other chaste girls and women who were uninterested in sex, and after reading tons of stuff about the 19th Century, I was convinced of that. This was stoked by there being a lot of young girls literature available at that time about girls of about my age going back in time to the 19th Century, or encountering the ghosts of Victorian girls and becoming close to them. I read tons of these, it seems, and my favourite one was even made into a TV series I watched, which was very popular -here’s a link about it – http://vknid.com/2015/06/05/forgotten-tv-come-back-lucy/ Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a You Tube video of it any more, apart from the German version, which is here – episode one – https://m.youtube.com/?#/watch?v=kmjcAVv_fbo

    The ghost in it is desperate for Lucy to leave her family and join her forever in the 19th century.

    Being so young, I wondered if this scenario was actually possible, and if love lay for me with ghosts or spirits. I can’t say that was the only reason I grew up obsessed with the paranormal, but that was part of it. Then, later on, I was thinking of trying to recreate the Victorian ideal in the present era, of being at home with women. Getting into the Gothic Victorian fashion thing. It’s worked for me.

    I hope all this has typed out correctly because I’m on my phone and it’s difficult to read previous lines and correct.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so fascinating these corners we find to escape into, time periods and historical cultures that seem to offer an alternative to whatever uncomfortable place we find ourselves in. I was always accused – well, probably still accused by many – of being a bit of an escape-into-fantasy-worlds person. And yet, where would we be if we hadn’t seen that alternative? If we hadn’t known there were SOME kind of people like us at SOME period in history.

      Your connection with Victorian attitudes on sex makes me think of my own fondness for nuns. I never understood why Maria wanted to leave the abbey for Captain Von Trapp – seemed like a great place to me. In more recent years I’ve said “If things don’t work out I’ll find a Buddhist abbey.” Granted, there’s religion involved, but at least it’s a different way of life.

      That connection with the spiritual is another thing, too, and that TV show must have been entrancing. I had an obsession with the late 1700’s myself (American Revolutionary times) and in 8th grade wrote a story about a girl who makes friends with a ghost in an old barn (he happened to be one of those sensitive “different” men) and she ends up dying trying to save the barn from destruction because ending up with him seemed better than her present life with her family. I wonder sometimes how no one picked up on these things and asked “Are you happy? Are you okay??” and instead mostly ignored it or made fun of me for my “obsessions.”

      At the same time I think it all was a matter of survival – we find what we can to sustain us and keep going.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Being brought up Catholic becoming a nun was always an option discussion point but I always knew it was not for me due to my infatuation with frilly and lacey costumes and fancy long hair styles, to look at and wear – plus the non childbearing angle, even though that was also scary n off putting n it was hard not to be able to gain sympathy n acceptance for fear of pregnancy n childbirth as well. But starting from an early age of about 11, the church was hurting too many people I knew also so I left it at 15. Growing up there was always a big emphasis on how it was possible to dress prettily without looking sexual though, and I think that was a help, plus the chastity model of emulation was helpful at 13 14 when a lot of my peers were being pressured into sexual activity too soon, it being definitely too soon for me.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I was one of the few Protestants around in a very Catholic area growing up, and always felt there was a very big chasm between myself and my peers – I did have a few friends who struggled with sexuality in several ways in high school and after, so much influenced by religion, so your perspective is very insightful.

          It’s kind of fascinating to look at the questions we faced as kids but never really asked ourselves… could we live like a nun but dress how we want, could we do this and not do that – navigating all these confusing waterways, then finally in adulthood somewhere hearing a vague “Yes, you can, you can do just about anything you like.” But the years of confusion still take their unwinding.

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          • I think as a Roman Catholic you’re brought up as a girl with the Blessed Virgin as a role model, and, the whole point of her is she’s a) a virgin, i.e., non sexual, and, b), a mother, so, She’s nurturing, sympathetic, sacrificial, a guide, compassionate, etc So, you’re basically urged to be emotionally supportive and caring, and, inspirationally kind and compassionate – but, also eternally unsexy. How you’re supposed to be unsexy differs between the “pretty but modest, long skirts – no low cuts – lots of lace, (and especially, mantillas/veils!), school, popular with some mums such as my mammy, to, the “plain as blue denim with cropped hair” school that a lot of the nuns promoted. To be sexy, is not the default image for a good Catholic girl, so there’s always a sense for one that to dress prettily is to be rebellious, really strongly rebellious, not just on age terms, i.e. of being too young for make up or a short skirt, for example, but on womanly/gender terms, (though rebellious, is paradoxically popular with a lot of raised Catholics). That’s why it was strange to me, to have grown up a little, be a young woman newly out a little in the world, and meet some rad fems, (no offence meant here please), and overhear them talking about how they were defying society’s norms by wearing short hair, no make up or jewellery, flat boots, and unisex wear. I realised at the time Catholics were a minority in British society, perhaps 8 per cent of the population of the time, but, my overwhelming thought still was, “Sister, (She Shall Be Nameless) “- a much feared teacher – “would totally approve of your look! … In pink lace skirts, with flowing hair and eye shadow, and lipstick, I’m the one who looks naughty”. Just my thoughts, impressions.

            Liked by 2 people

      • Just some thoughts, having been raised Catholic and having run as far away as possible for all of the obvious reason: The Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Abnegation and Self-Loathing after being demoted from Goddess took on the role of severely depressed role model and consolation palliative for the newly converted masses who would not accept the “universal” religion without her. Her main job is to keep the women in check but also to offer men a boob to cry on in their despair, when faced with the inhumanity of their brethren who are known to be created in the image of their god.. To women and girls she points the way clearly to the acceptance of all sorts of abuse at the hands of men, abuses and violations for which they of course are themselves the culprits. She is traditionally depicted as standing on a globe, crushing a serpent (THE serpent) underfoot. Thus she colludes with the patriarchy in the dominion over the natural world. Indeed, they could have never done it without her. In a way she’s the original handmaiden. No fierce Goddess of old, this Mary.

        The apparent similarities between tradcath and radfem women are actually pretty superficial in my opinion. The former (though they may sometimes inculcate rebellion – how not to?) are all about suppression and self deprivation. A girl growing up in a traditional Catholic upbringing is expected to learn to put everyone else first and herself last. She is taught to feel shame for her body and her desires, to suppress her instincts and her wants, to give in. That is the exact opposite of what radical feminism is a all about. The reason they may look similar from the outside is because both seek to avert the male gaze albeit for different reasons. For us rfs it’s a matter of being acknowledged and validated on our own terms. For the Catholics it’s about protecting a man’s property and keeping it pure enough to have around to cook his food, raise his kids and be his slave.

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  3. MaryMacha I realise Rad Fems have a different mindset to Catholics but imagine the mindset of a young Catholic-brought-up woman like I was, who’s told by some that her lace and frills and curls and pretty fashions are obedience to patriarchy when they’ve always been her and her one-time schoolmates rebellious pleasures, encouraged by a mother who’s said, “You can wear girlie fashions and not look sexy – it’s just showing flesh which is impure”, when that seems to be the case, (men would prefer, ideally, a bikini or less, a sleeveless halter top and mini skirt, to say a frilly ball gown).

    ThisSoftSpace, as Catholic girls I remember us agreeing we dressed for our friends not for boys – it was a feminine bonding thing – and we didn’t think males even liked our fashions much. The contemporary-ish Sweet Lolita youth sub culture seems to have the same idea.

    I put being Catholic behind me at 16 but I’m sure Catholicism has encouraged a lot of people into thinking that the default for a female is sympathetic and supportive behaviour and roles, and that these are not necessarily about arousing sexual desire and being sexy. I think perhaps I’ve taken that away from Catholicism but not unconsciously because I’ve thought about it and I think it’s true. And I’ve dressed in a trad femme way always to project a nurturing, sympathetic and supportive look, not a sexy one primarily. Incidentally most of the men in my life have focussed their own lives around alcohol and drugs, not women. I come from a culture of male self medicators and wanderers and can’t relate to home and family men, most of the women I’ve ever known, Catholic growing up or since, have had no choice but to assume total family responsibility in a man’s alternating absence or incapacity.

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