A few days ago, I read Justine Musk's article '"Well-behaved women seldom make history": redefining what it means to be bad' on her website: Tribal Writer.
It deals with how our culture defines women, how women define themselves, the emphasis on desirability and attractiveness on the one hand, and traditional dictates of quiet, pleasant and unobtrusive behaviour on the other.
I don't agree with everything that is said, and I believe we sometimes confuse personality issues with women's issues, but the article is an interesting piece of writing, with insightful comments by both women and men. If you have some time, I would highly recommend reading it.
These past few days, much of what Justine and her readers wrote has been whirling around in my head. This is a topic close to my heart - and as it happens, to the title of my blog.
Ever since I started writing again, I've been confronted with this good girl / bad girl dichotomy on a daily basis. Writing makes it much harder to ignore or suppress parts of you that 'don't fit in', because it's exactly that wonderful source of 'self' we need to tap into to let our stories take root and to make our characters grow.
I was raised to be a Good Girl, yet trying to be one drained my energy for the bigger part of my life. Along the way I've discovered that I'll never be a Bad Girl either. I might not have many boundaries in my mind, but I keep my behaviour on a short lead, which is probably why I'm still alive and well.
This contrast fuels my writing and much of my life, and I've come to love it. It's hardly ever dull in the borderlands where a wild heart and an exacting mind co-exist.
In her article, Justine writes:
'I once said to someone, “I don’t know if I’m a good girl with a bad streak, or a bad girl with a good streak.” But I was being ironic. My real point was that, like any other woman (or man), I am both and neither.'I think she hits the nail on the head there: women as well as men are complex and diverse creatures. We live on a planet and in communities that don't necessarily have our individual best interests at heart, and we try to get by and live meaningful lives - whatever that means for us individually.
In living our lives, we need to understand that culture - like statistics - focuses on large numbers and quantifiable majorities. As a result, social norms and widely held views will rarely reflect or respond to minorities' needs.
That does not mean we need to accept this, shrug and keep silent.
To the contrary - we need our role models, our Maya Angelous, our Isabel Allendes and our Margaret Atwoods. We need our Neil Gaimans and Amanda Palmers to fly their freak flags proudly. We need them, not so much to confront majorities with an alternative, but to show those who don't fit in the standard moulds it's okay to be who you are.
I'm sure we first and foremost respond to a need within ourselves to create and to share with others. But could the driving force underneath our work be that we know first-hand what it feels like not to fit in?
Could that be the reason why we want to put our work out there – as beacons that might have given us strength, hope or courage at a given point in our own lives?
If that is the case, it only makes it more important that in our writing or whatever it is we do, we stay true to ourselves, with pride, dignity and confidence - an authentic, living, breathing tribute to our own uniqueness and to human diversity.
We are lucky. We have a voice, energy and an audience, be it big or small. That gives us great opportunities to show how within, underneath and on the side of mainstream culture there are other, valid ways to get by, to do well and to live meaningful, fulfilling and creative lives.
What makes you unique?
Photo 1: '365:299 Choices' by Jehane, available under a creative commons license. © 2008, Jehane.
Photo 2: '365:140 Fairy Liquid' by Jehane, available under a creative commons license. © 2007, Jehane.
(Check out her wonderful - and brave - photography project: 365 days (of me).