It won’t surprise anyone in this blog that I was a tomboy. There is a picture of me at seven or eight I posted in the diner, holding hands with my 10 year older, dark, bearded brother. I was wearing shorts and a scruffy t-shirt. (It was scruffy on account of my having a mania for it, all through that summer. Mom washed it at night – sometimes sending me into the washtank afterwards so I wouldn’t track mud through the house – and it was dry in the morning. It was orange and had a green anchor. I don’t remember WHY I loved it.) I was either barefoot, wearing flip flops or wearing my shoes from the previous winter cunningly cut into “sandals” as my feet pressed front and back.
I had long hair, but mom kept it braided, which is to say out of my way.
I was never one of those girls who wanted to be called by boys names (my best friend’s nickname was Bill, which is a novel approach to Isabel. But she was the Louis L’Amour fanatic and enamoured of the American west. I miss her terribly.) because I never had any illusions or wanted to pretend to be what I wasn’t.
And what I was was trouble with a capital t rolled into a scruffy, skinny (hard to believe) body where the scars from various exploits were hidden under dirt and mud until an adult took a hand.
I read Tom Sawyer and identified with… Tom Sawyer, and not the rather insipid love interest.
At recess at school (we had lovely long recesses, because our teacher was in her seventies and got tired easy. Okay, maybe fifties or sixties, but to me she was ancient.) I invented LARPs. I didn’t know that’s what they were until I heard LARPs described. To me they were just a new way of playing because the way people played – chase? Hide and seek? The elastic jumping game? – either bored me to death or I couldn’t do, not being the most coordinated person around.
The LARP under progress was usually dependent on what I’d just read. The most enduringly popular was Robin Hood, because it had a role for everyone, even the girls who wanted to be pretty (more on that later) and well behaved. It even had a role for the other class (our school, one room, operated different classes morning and afternoon, first to fourth grade. First and fourth shared a class. Then fourth graduated, and we were second and acquired a first.) i.e., the babies, who could be given no account roles such as “other men of Robin Hood” (if we liked them. Rare.) “Townsfolk” “Poor Town’s folk” and more commonly “Men of the Sheriff.”) Because sheriff was an important role, my best friend – a slip of a thing with huge grey eyes and honey brown hair who weighed nothing – was the Sheriff. She routinely complained about the quality of men she got stuck with.
Oh – I should point out it was an all girl’s school. The boys’ school was next door, but we weren’t allowed to mingle at recess.
Most of the girls were only too eager to play something more fun. Because between Robin Hood and the Three Musketeers (second most popular LARP. Third was WWII) we used a lot of swords, we used to jump the wall into the bamboo field to acquire “swords.” And because of that and all the fights, we had more scrapes, bruises and skinned knees than most boys.
The teacher – she says proudly – said we were the rowdiest, smelliest, most ill-behaved girls she’d taught in a decades-spanning career.
I don’t know how much of me is me, and how much the fact that I was taught not to be weak and not to wait for anyone to solve my problems. One doesn’t. I know that though my mom deplored I could only be put in dresses for special occasions and then wore them without grace (At sixteen when the distant echoes of trying to attract boys arrived, I was afraid people would laugh at me for wearing skirts, and I spent any amount of time learning to walk) and had to be watched like a hawk, lest I tear all the embroidery and frills due to a sudden need to build mud pies or climb a wall.
On the other hand, when we visited people and their daughters were insipid sugar and water little girls, my parents would trade looks and on the way home say the equivalent of “Thank G-d our daughter isn’t useless.”
We had our share of sugar and water little girls in the school. In the LARPs they wanted to play the girl parts. They were forever wanting kissing scenes (okay, we were all under ten. Yeah, we were all girls, but I think in their minds they were kissing the men the girls played) and declarations of love. If they got captured you had to be careful not to tear their dresses or muss their hair. You had to be careful when you rescued them too. And no stray swords their way, or the teacher would hear about our transgressions.
It seemed all they did was sit around in between being captured, drawing or doing their embroidery, being “pretty” and picking on other girls.
It seemed horribly boring to me, but we didn’t care. Unless one of them didn’t get what she wanted, be it a kissing scene or an important role, and then – oh, then – she would take revenge by getting us in trouble with the teacher or even with our parents.
They quickly learned not to do this to me or my best friend, because we’d wait in an out of the way place and rain destruction to hair style and dress as well as a few bruises.
But mostly that was their function. Reign by scolding and back biting. Reign by spite and malice. It seemed like a weird way to live. Even their friends weren’t really friends. We – okay, possibly influenced by Dumas and such and their ideas of friendship – viewed “friend” as a sacred bond and obligation. They seemed to view it as “this week I like you better than her. Next week, who knows.”
These “good little girls” grew up to, in middle school and high school, be the sort who would take notes with four different kinds of pen and take more care of the illustrations and penmanship than content.
That they often had better grades than I was not something to be endured, as I endured people who actually knew or did better than I. It was an offense because they had better grades by sucking up to teach and repeating teach’s opinions back at him/her.
I understood how to do it. I even knew the wisdom of it. It just seemed to me a low and spiteful type of trick, offensive to all my notions of honor.
I argued with the teachers, had notebooks even I couldn’t read (thank heavens for eidetic memory) and spent half the classes reading sf under the table, or writing my own novels (Bill, who by 12 started to go by Isa, has them somewhere. Don’t ask me. I lost contact with her years ago.) BUT I knew the subjects cold and I EXPECTED the best grade (Got it astonishingly often, too. A witness to the fairness of teachers.)
And I despised the whining and the manipulation of the “good little girls.”
By then I was old enough to know they weren’t “good” at all, or at least they weren’t what the adults expected.
Also, as politics in the country changed, they added both victimhood and social consciousness to their tricks. These girls who would ostracize you for wearing “last year’s fashion” would talk about otherizing and compassion for the other, and talk about how much they loved the poor (who wouldn’t be allowed near their frilly dresses for all the tea in China.)
My friends, of course, were the others. The people who actually studied, who actually cared for the subject, and who often didn’t scruple to show the teacher they found their behavior reprehensible. (Among these, throwing my shoes – repeatedly – at the head of the representative of the association Portugal-Russia must rank up there in bad behavior. But the teacher knew that bringing a commie in was something I’d make her pay for, party member or not. Which I suspect kept her in check. Certainly after that there were no more commie-speakers. [Repeatedly: I’d throw a shoe then the other, when he said something that annoyed me particularly. Then I’d go collect them, put them on, and go back to sitting. When he held a shoe – commie or not, poor man, being hit by a 12 year old girl – and asked what I’d do if he didn’t give it back, I pointed out I had dictionaries. Heavy ones. And that by rules he wasn’t supposed to be in the school. I got my shoe back.])
Some of them were terribly neurotic. Some were just Odd. But none of them spent their lives copying the notes in four colors in their best handwriting. And none of them would tell on you to teacher or your parents if, say, you cut art class to go watch the pro soccer club practice. (What, men in skimpy shorts. You got a problem with that?)
And we were united in rolling our eyes when a good little girl started saying stuff the teacher would approve of, and posing and pitching her voice just right.
I thought – I was naïve – that when I was an adult I wouldn’t have to deal with good little girls. They’d marry their trophy husbands, get out of my face, and let me pursue my interests in peace. The guys I liked had no use for their way of going limp and asking for help, and whining when dissatisfied, or their tricks of playing “poor helpless little me.” So, I thought—
Heaven help me. Had I been born earlier, this might have been true.
But by the time I was an adult, the “good little girls” had switched to being “feminists” because this allowed them to cry and scream about being victims, and have someone help them and given them things.
In my field of endeavor they were, once more the favorites. More infuriatingly, they weren’t even all girls. There were any number of men associating themselves with them, whining and screaming about how women were mistreated and how they, white males, had it easy, as a way of claiming victimhood by proxy and also of acquiring power to decide who are the victims and who the heretics.
I was aware – I’m strange, not stupid – from the moment I entered the field that the way of making your way to was speaking mealy-mouth to power and to repeat back at the editors what they wanted to hear: mostly neo Marxist clap trap.
But of course, that would be “cheating”. I’d make it on merit despite their hating me every inch of the way.
Well, that didn’t work at all. Or it is working, but slowly. Depends on how you look at it.
But I knew too by then that speaking mealy to power just gave us very boring stories. And I entered this field because I loved stories, so that wasn’t going to happen.
I watched the good little girls (even those with penises) preen and pose and try to outdo each other in how “other-friendly” and special they were while keeping (with the gatekeepers’ help) everyone away who had an original thought. And of course, everyone who was better than them. Good little girls are the original crab bucket. They know they’re mediocre and fear real talent. (Not talking about myself, here, but I have friends.)
And I watched circulation tank, and wished there was a place where I could wait for them, and rip their frills and muss up their hair and say “you leave me and my friends alone, or else.”
And then there was indie. (And Baen, of course, but Baen is only sf/f and only one house.) And then we were free. We could jump the wall to the next house, get bamboo for swords and play in our way. Even if it exasperated teacher/the gatekeepers.
No wonder the good little girls scream so much. They want what they always wanted. Someone to do all the dirty work for them, while they preen and pose and hold the “I’ll tell” (you hold non-approved opinions) over our heads. Instead they find themselves in an increasingly tinier ghetto, telling each other how pretty they are (with Nebulas) while the real action moves on.
I say it’s a wonderful thing. I don’t care if they’re pretty or admire themselves a lot. I care that we don’t give them power over us.
Good little girls and the people who love them are fine. In their place. Far away from the real fun and the real work. Where nothing challenging ever happens. And they can play their crab bucket games in peace.
And I’m okay with that.
As for me, and my friends… we’re going to have us some fun.