We lived at the edge of Lake Michigan for a brief time when I was around four years old. It got so cold that the waves froze in mid-crash that year. The great lake looked like an ice forest. My parents drove us to the shore, and we marveled at how magical it seemed. It was as though time had stopped the sea mid-tide. My parents walked onto its jagged surface and disappeared into the towering ice waves. I didn’t know what might happen if I journeyed into the unknown, so I stood at the edge, too afraid to follow.
Months later, after the waves melted and returned to their slapping and churning, spring arrived, and with it, a sparkly blue motorcycle. It was a present from my dad to himself. Its glittery paint flecks danced in the sun in direct proportion to the ferocity with which the motor growled and vibrated. Sometimes, Dad picked me up from daycare or a friend’s house on the blue beast. I became instantly horrified when I heard its roar in the distance.
“I don’t want to ride on the motorcycle,” I’d say.
“Why not?” Dad would reply.
“Young ladies don’t ride motorcycles.”
Dad would laugh at me and hoist me onto the leathery seat anyway. He would put my helmet on, which I was glad for because I wanted to disappear. My face would flush crimson as the humiliation of having to ride on a motorcycle swept over me. I would pray the other kids didn’t notice my transportation method.
Reflecting on this now, I wonder what I thought young ladies did. I’m pretty sure it involved tea parties, barbies, and makeup.
How to Take Up No Space
I was a greedy bedmate and stole all the covers in bed every night, my legs and arms splayed every which way. One morning, when I was around seven, my little sister had enough.
“You’re a bed hog,” she said as she shook her head, her mouth downturned in a pout.
What man would ever want to marry someone who hogged the whole bed?
After that, I slept in a sleeping bag in an effort to train myself to sleep in a more polite fashion. Even in my sleep, I practiced taking up less space. Eventually, I could go the whole night and barely displace any covers, a point of pride for me.
Years later, a friend of mine’s marriage was on the rocks. I was already divorced. She came for a visit, and we tried to make sense of how we both arrived at such an unhappy crossroads. Her husband worked full time while she stayed home, raised the kids, and pursued a photography business in her spare time. Her husband referred to her photography as her “hobby” because she didn’t make a full-time salary doing it, but she did make some money at it, and her full-time job was raising their kids. He didn’t see it that way. Her contribution to their family was not valued by him because, in his eyes, worth was directly tied to dollars. He didn’t view being a homemaker as valuable, and he wanted to know when she was going to get a job that paid real money.
“Why didn’t anyone tell us?” I sighed.
“Marriage sure isn’t like they make it look in Disney movies,” I said.
“Yeah. I wish I would have known what it was really like before I signed up,” she responded.
I know It sounds ridiculous to expect life to turn out like a Disney movie. I was kind of joking but kind of not. When we were growing up, our entire culture told women that we needed a man—that a man was going to ride in on a proverbial white horse, sweep us off our feet, and make sure we lived happily ever after. Well, that’s just not a fair expectation for either men or women. And what actually makes a great marriage is much cooler than that. But a lot of us had no idea because we had never heard those stories. Things are getting better, but we still have a long way to go in challenging the patriarchal norms enforced by our society.
Pirate Artist Women
As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a performer. I was painfully shy as a kid, so it wasn’t exactly clear how I would muster the courage to perform for others, but I felt called to it, nonetheless. I had no examples of how one became an artist. My mom had a dancer friend whom everyone labeled as ‘crazy’ because she swore like a pirate and lived a nomadic lifestyle. Another one of my friends had an aunt who returned to the small town we lived in after pursuing life as an actress in Hollywood. People whispered behind her back, “You know, she’s an artist, and she’s never been married.” They should have just said it to her face. She probably would have relished their comments. Her preoccupation with creating art and her lack of concern with getting a man made her an “other.” Technically, she was a part of the female tribe, but she lived at the edge of its acceptable bounds.
The Beauty of GXRL Dreams
Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” I didn’t know what was possible for my life. I didn’t have examples of how to believe in the beauty of my dreams when I was a girl, so I aimed to settle for the next best thing. It seemed like being a proper young lady and making a man happy were the two highest aims I could aspire to.
Thank god I figured out that was all bullshit. But it took me far too long to find my way, and I stumbled and fell too many times to count in a journey that was often painful and scary.
These are some of the reasons I started GXRL. My hope is that GXRL will be a conduit to gxrl dreams—a community where we can share our experiences and grow together—an example of what life can be when women show each other what is possible.