Thoughts

Just Like Other Girls

This is a very long post on some thoughts I’ve been having with Women’s Day coming up. It also comes with a content warning: sexual assault, abuse, patriarchal bullshit. I’ll give you this picture of Bill Clinton pushing a car uphill if you need to click out before we begin. 

I wished I was a different type of girl. I wasn’t overly feminine or petite in any way. My limited talents were weird and unappreciated. I was opinionated and aggressive and unforgiving. I had a hard time building friendships with other girls. I wanted so badly to be the type of girl who had ten best friends. That wasn’t/ will not ever be the kind of girl I am. I had a few close friendships with other girls in childhood. Mostly these were forced by our parents. I was often a comparison friend, someone to stand beside to make yourself seem better, nicer, thinner. I was ok with it because I liked having someone to talk to even if they weren’t interested in anything I said. So yeah, I had friends that were girls when I was young, but it was never something that felt valuable or real.

I was much better at making friends with boys. I felt that boys were less judgemental. They determined if I was worthy of friendship by my actions. The boys didn’t care if I was weird, as long as I could keep up with them in class. In a world where girls are taught to stay out of the debate and not raise their hand, I spent all day schooling the boys in my class in almost every subject. I didn’t care if they thought I was pretty. I didn’t even care if they thought I was smart. The only thing I cared about was that their opinions were garbage and their answers were wrong, so I wanted to correct the information (petty from day one). It wasn’t until I realized that I was gay that this made sense. When you don’t give a shit if someone likes you, then you don’t care if you embarrass them. This set me up for almost a decade of being, “not like other girls.”

My best friend from high school often reminds me that there were days/weeks where I showed up to school unshowered, in pajamas, with unbrushed hair, and a shitty attitude. This was my teenage #aesthetic. I hated the town I lived in and my high school and everyone in it except like three people, so I gave no fucks how I looked. I knew that place was temporary. Do you give a shit if people see you looking less than your best at the airport? No. Because the chances that you will see any of those people again are slim to none. That town and school were my airports. I was also very gay, very feminist, and outraged in an ultra conservative small town. I looked at the other girls in my class who came to school showered, with makeup on, dressed appropriately, who liked boys and had boys who liked them back, who wanted to get married and reproduce, and I saw them as everything in direct opposition to my budding and flawed understanding of feminism. They were wary of me too.

The guys in my class were more welcoming. We both liked girls, swearing, heavy drinking, breaking the rules, pranking each other, and being assholes. I wanted friends, and the girls wouldn’t have me because I was weird and gay so I became one of the boys.

As one of the boys, I was super pumped to go on our senior trip which was supposed to be about history, culture, blah, blah, blah but which we saw as an opportunity to get drunk constantly and fuck shit up in places where no one knew our parents. The first night there one of my classmates raped me and left me in the hallway outside of my hotel room. Some of the girls from my class saw me laying on the floor and helped me. When they asked me what happened, I was so drunk/drugged that all I could say was “I said I didn’t want to. I told him I didn’t want to.”

I don’t remember any of this, but I woke up the next morning with a pounding head and the chaperoning teacher banging on my door. Instead of asking me what I thought happened or offering to take me to a clinic, this teacher threatened to call my parents and tell them I was drinking and to send me home from the trip immediately. One of the girls had told him what had happened and that she thought I was raped. It was clear that I was in trouble for this, which makes no sense but is sadly how the world works too often for too many women. I was in trouble because a boy in my class had raped me. It would take years for me to understand what happened. I kept justifying it in my head because it seemed so unlikely that one of my friends would do something like that and that none of my other guy friends would stop him.

After getting yelled at for an hour, I was allowed to get breakfast. I got my food and sat down at the table with my friends. All the boys but one got up and moved to another table. The remaining friend asked me if I thought that our other friend had raped me last night. I could tell he was upset as he asked, but I couldn’t tell if he was hurt because he knew what happened to me and was mad about it or hurt because I would accuse our friend of doing something so terrible. I said that I didn’t know what happened, I couldn’t remember, but that the girls told the teacher some stuff and no one had asked me what I thought happened, which was true. After that, he got up and moved with the other guys. For the rest of the trip, they avoided me and made rude comments every time I came near them. I approached them in a hotel lobby to ask when we needed to be ready for a day trip the next day and the boy who raped me said, “Don’t come over here. I don’t want to get accused of rape again.” Everyone laughed and walked away from me. I had the shorts I was found in that night, covered in blood. They were boy’s shorts. I left the hotel that night wearing a skirt; I even have a photograph of that outfit. My classmates found me on the hallway floor in bloodied boy’s shorts and no underwear. The last night of the trip I left the shorts outside the boy’s hotel room. The only proof I had of the assault I can’t remember I gave back because I just wanted to be one of the guys again. You can’t be one of the guys if one of them rapes you.

In college, I was finally around girls who were also weird and artsy and sullen, and I made more friendships. I laugh at it now because all of my closest girlfriends in college were also girls who had long been considered “one of the guys.” We often talked about how we were the only girls we liked and much-preferred friendships with dudes. My largest friend group consisted of the weird artsy dudes from my school who were surprised when I hit a homemade six-foot bong and didn’t die (#blessed) and liked that no matter how drunk and embarrassing I was the night before I could always clean up my mess and laugh at myself. I started to take pride in this too because everyone acted like it was cool and rational behavior. My behavior was an early sign that my emotional maturity was underdeveloped and my mental health was in rapid decline. The girls I was/am friends with were all like this. We weren’t like other girls, except each other of course. We took pride in separating ourselves from the “other” girls who we saw as sloppy drunks who hit on and were obsessed with our guy friends in ways that were embarrassing. We hated the girls who cried in class and were just generally too emotional. Gross. Maybe I thought that if I could separate myself from them, then I could get ahead at school? Maybe I thought I would have more fun if I didn’t care about anyone but myself? I’m not sure. When my boyfriend’s friend (I was experimenting with heterosexuality. Listen, it was college, everyone experiments in college) told me that my friends and I were the coolest girls to hang with because we weren’t annoying like all the other girls, it made me proud.

Life came at me fast. I was the only girl in a very competitive creative writing program. My writing was getting torn to shreds in critique every week. When one of my best guy friends told me that people didn’t like my writing because “no one wants to read your diary entries,” it felt like a slap in the face. My professor told me that maybe I was better suited to magazine writing instead of traditional fiction and poetry. None of my guy friends went to bat for me. None of them stood up and said, hey, just because she writes from a feminine perspective doesn’t mean her writing is shitty. They sat silent.

When the relationship with the boyfriend mentioned above took a turn for the abusive, none of my dude friends said anything because my boyfriend was their friend too. The girlfriends I did have picked up my pieces and helped put me back together. That was the beginning of my becoming just like other girls. I couldn’t be one of the guys if I outed their friend as an abuser.

I would continue to focus on male friendships for years after that. I had my core group of female friends from college, but I believed that they were all I needed. I made no efforts to build friendships with other women I met through school or work, even if they seemed friendly and interesting. I was operating under the assumption that even though they seemed cool, they would be boring and terrible like the girls in high school or college. And some of them were boring and terrible which just made me feel even more right. I built new friendships with men all the time. We would go drinking together, take road trips, make art, and complain about the women that circled our friend group. Thirsty. Then a few weeks after one night of two pitchers of beer and million shots of tequila and yet another time where my ability to consent was questionable, I took a pregnancy test.

When I started telling my friends that I was pregnant and had decided to parent, the reaction was as expected. Most people were concerned to put it delicately. At this point in my life, I existed on a diet of alcohol and partying. One by one most of my friendships drifted away. When I started to call out the DNA contributor for being absent, verbally abusive and having sex with me when I was so drunk, he had to carry me home; it was all crickets from my male friends.  The same core group of female friends, who had always been there for me, came in to save the day again except this time we were all in different cities or states. They kept me alive in all the ways they could from a distance because they are awesome and I have never deserved them. Some of my guy friends stuck around and did the same. But those fast and fun, chug a beer, complain about basic bitches dude friends were gone. I couldn’t be one of the guys if I were going to have a baby.

Being a single mom is lonely. I had no one to talk to about it in a way that felt real. I was hyper aware that when my guy friends would ask how things were going, they didn’t want to hear about my crippling depression. They wanted me to say everything was okay or mildly complain about being tired. I was so desperate to save what friendships I had left that I didn’t ask for help and if I did, I would compromise what I needed, so it was a light lift for my friends. I didn’t tell anyone that I was suicidal. I wanted everything to go back to how it was. Having a baby is hard physically. Raising a baby is hard emotionally. I felt so isolated. I woke up every day hoping to get hit by a bus. I would write long journal entries about killing myself, about how much better off my daughter would be, about how I felt lied to about parenting.

I spent a lot of time at home. I didn’t want to take the baby out in public because when she cried, I would have panic attacks that everyone was looking at me and judging me for being a bad parent. I felt like a burden on all the other people bringing a grumpy baby in public, so I stayed home. For years, I barely left the house. I watched hours and hours and hours of Coronation Street, the longest running British soap drama. It was on when my mom was a teenager and is still on three times a week in the UK, so I didn’t have to worry about running out of episodes to watch. I lived vicariously through the characters. I was very into the friendship between Carla and Michelle Connor, two women who were friends in childhood and best friends in their adulthood. They had the same last name because Carla was married to Michelle’s brother at some point (soap drama relationships are never simple). The characters were fiercely loyal to each other, even when Carla was being terrible and drinking heavily, and it seemed like she was going to drive her successful business into the ground, Michelle was there for her. They had their falling outs, but no matter what happened, they couldn’t stay mad at each other. The characters were just like other girls: they had complicated love lives that made them do foolish things, they liked clothes and makeup and wine, they gossipped about other people on the street, they cried when they were upset. But the characters had been through some shitty stuff, abuse, addiction; you name it they had survived it. And instead of letting it isolate them, they leaned on each other to get through it. I started to really want that.

That was when I realized that the only people who were ever consistently there for me were the women in my life and they had been there because without each other we have no one to lean on. Men will never sacrifice their patriarchal power to serve a woman, no matter how woke they claim to be. It has never happened in all of world history, and it will never happen to me. Women have spent decades on decades figuring out how to help each other survive in a world that is designed to shut them up and keep them docile so that men can hold all the power. Fuck that.

The patriarchy is so good at oppressing women, that it even convinced me (a woman) to not like other women for acting the way they tell women they should act. If that ain’t some shit. And the worst part is that I had no idea how deep it went. I’d been calling myself a feminist in one breath and then saying I didn’t like being friends with girls in another and thinking that was all right. I couldn’t see how wrong that was, and it makes me sad to think that I missed out on so many great friendships because I pushed people away. It makes me sad to think how much better my first few years of motherhood would have been if I had allowed the women in my life offering to help me to help me.

Over the past three years, I’ve been prioritizing my female friendships. I didn’t just cast aside my friendships with men. Some of my best friends in the world are men, and they will stay there (unless they become Trump supporters or apologists at which point they can clearly see the exit sign). I started by renewing my friendships with the girls I knew in college who lived far from me. I engaged more on social media; I sent people letters, I called, I made trips. I found the people who I thought would be good friends in the past and made an effort there too. When I met a new girl through a friend, I would bite back my assumptions and try to engage them in conversation. And yeah, there are some boring ass people in this world, and I still like very few people, but at least now I try. If I meet a woman that I like, I put in the effort to build that friendship.

It has been a wild ride. The patriarchy sucks for everybody, but it especially sucks for women. Even the most aware women can hold onto internalized sexism and not even realize it. Being a good friend is hard, and it took me a long time to learn how to be vulnerable around other women. I’ve had to make hard decisions about how I want to live my life and who I want to be part of it. I have had hard conversations with male friends about how they treat women. I even drove to fucking Utah to tell a girl I didn’t know that her boyfriend, one of my best friends, was putting her health at risk and manipulating her out of money. She was thankful at first, but then she decided she hated me for telling her that. It sucked, but I knew that it was the right things to do, not just for me but for all the women in my life who have been fucked up by shitty men whose friends covered for them.

I’m happy to report that my girl gang is thriving. When I’m feeling crappy, I know that I have a whole contact list full of hilarious and brilliant women who can make me laugh or whip my ass in gear if I need it. I have friends who will cry with me and friends who will drink with me. I have friends who want to talk for hours about how we will overthrow the patriarchy and bring the full realization of the feminist agenda and friends who want to come with me to get our nails done or do both at the same time. I have an amazing group of women in my life who live all over the country and do all kinds of work and yes, some of them are even the type of girls I thought were terrible in high school and I love them for it. I think my friends would also say that they benefit from being friends with me too (or at least I hope so, and they don’t secretly hate me in which case this whole post is very embarrassing).

I’m just like other girls because girls are not all the same. We are complicated in unique ways. We like different things, and our experiences inform us in various ways. There are plenty of girls out there who I don’t like, but now I can give a solid reason. I don’t like some women, like I wouldn’t like a person of any gender, because of differences in the way we view the world or the way we treat people. I no longer operate from a place where I think because another woman wants to get married someday she must be brainless because I think marriage is bogus and I’m right about everything. I don’t have to agree with other women. I’m not saying I’m here for some soul sharing around a fire with every damn girl I meet. I’m saying that now I see the way the patriarchy (the devil) was working on me, and I’m trying to do better. I don’t have to like another woman for me to think she deserves respect. We don’t have to believe the same things or make the same choices. She has probably been through all kinds, and I try to see that in every woman. Do I think she is gonna be my best friend? Nope. But she has my respect.

I’ve changed for the better because I let myself be like other girls. I am not afraid to be feminine anymore. I’m not afraid to dance to pop music or slap makeup all over my face. I’m not afraid to say when things are hurtful. I’m not afraid to complain. I don’t think those things make me weak anymore. I’m not afraid because I know that I have the best defense against anything that life throws at me, I have badass women friends. Women are complex, survivors, storytellers, and magicians. I want to be just like that. I want to be just like other girls.