I was never a good little girl. It wasn’t that I was bad, exactly, or at least I never had evil intent. But I was never very good at obeying, or at doing what I was expected to do, expressed or assumed.
I could adduce several reasons, including the fact that I lived at odds with my strong willed mother, but I don’t think that’s it. I think it’s more a fault in ourselves — or in this case, in myself — that I was not put together right from early on.
Oh, sure, I liked baby dolls — for a while, though mostly I liked doing their hair until they were bald — but I also liked cars, and trains, and I really liked making stuff out of wood. And while I could sort of kind of like pretty dresses and clothes, I couldn’t be bothered to stay in them or keep them clean very long. Mom said the only way to keep clean after putting me in a pretty dress was to sit me down somewhere and have two adults keep an eye on me. The wall or the tree or the mud puddle might have been there for months, but the minute I was put in a clean, frilly dress, I felt an irresistible desire to meddle with it.
It got worse when I entered middle school, and when most girls were trying to impress boys — and teachers — with how pretty and sweet and gentle they were.
It was as though I hadn’t got the memo. I knew very well that teachers preferred girls who obeyed and parroted back their line than girls who actually learned, learned more than was required and thought for themselves.
And of course there was sexism. Look this was a Latin culture in the sixties and seventies. Some teachers might pay lip service to women being as smart as men, and everyone paid lip service to women having the same rights as men. But every day, in interaction, men were expected to be smarter and more rational than women. In school even the teachers who tried not to acted like it was very strange I could compete with boys. And because boys had the advantage of being expected to be right and smart, it was pretty hard to compete.
I was expected to be smart but not so smart. Which is part of the reason I felt the need to be smarter than all of them.
Somewhere at the back of my mind, I had the idea that people would like me DESPITE the fact I wouldn’t play their game? Adolescent rebellion, perhaps.
It grew into something different: a decision to do and fight for what is right, regardless of what people wanted me to do. If you always rebel against what people want or expect, they control you as completely as though you always did what they wanted.
As an adult, not feeling the need to be liked, or approved of, I developed my opinions and ideas with no reference to what those with power wanted me to believe. And most of all I prize the right to be left alone.
Oh, sure, I played the game when I was first published (and to get published) but that was different. I was doing it not just for me but for the kids. To be blunt, we needed the money, and for various reasons that was my best choice. Also, of course, I felt I should be writing, and this was the only way to get published. (It seems like another world now.)
But as soon as I could, I walked away from those houses in which uniformity of opinion and behavior was expected. I still am not very good at being a good girl.
Which is good.
Because recently there is a lot of talk — and action. Has anyone forgotten the all-woman Nebulas — about giving prizes to women, about women only now breaking into science fiction (an insult to all the women who came before) about the Importance of Recognizing Women.
And every time they talk about this, every time they ignore the pioneering women, every time they recognize inferior work because it was wirtten by a person who happens to have a vagina and SAY WHAT THEY WANT TO HEAR, I see my teachers smirking about girls who wore jeans and enjoining us to wear nice dresses and behave in a feminine manner. I hear “Nice Prizes For Good Little Girls.”
I wouldn’t want a prize given in those conditions. I guess the adolescent still lives in me. me. I want to win on my intellect, on my work, on the qualities of mind and personality that mean a lot more than what I was born with.
Note I was born into a sexist society, yes, but I’ve never been oppressed. I’ve never given anyone the right to oppress me, and I’ve yet to meet the man I can’t compete with on more than equal terms.
I don’t need anyone and certainly not people who think they’re superior to the rest of us, to “improve my lot” or make up for supposed oppression. I do not need Nice Prizes For Good Little Girls.
This is good, since I’ll never manage to be a good little girl.
But just like I wondered, when I was in first grade, about the berribonned girls in frills who never stepped wrong, never felt the need to jump in a mud puddle, and never climbed a tree, I wonder about the women in the field, those women who babble about being liberated and about how they don’t need men, and about whatever the party line is, and who don’t view it as an insult that others assume the right to reward them for being good little girls.
Liberated? They’re just doing what is expected of them, like any Victorian housewife.
Self-sufficient women who think for themselves don’t get these pats on the back. And this is good because we’d break the arms of those patting us.
We make our own way, we think our own thoughts, and we do not feel the need to attack men or hate them. Those men who compete with us on equal terms are our brothers. The others we ignore.
Because like those men we are free. And that’s all we ask for.