Today’s post is by Friday Fellow and blogger Kana Tyler. She was one of my first friends on WordPress, and she has been an inspiration to me since she first discovered my blog. Kana is a survivor and a fabulous writer, and I urge you to all check out her blog. I know you will love her words as much as I do.
A Learning-Journey Toward Valuing my Gender… And Those who Share it!
I labored for a lot of years under the weight of an odd prejudice. I was determined not to be considered a girl. And I don’t mean that in the girl-vs-woman sense of politically-correct nomenclature; rather, I made it a point in every possible situation to take my place as “one of the guys.”
I think it started in junior high, when I realized that the easiest way to talk with boys was to skip the awkwardness of girl-talking-to-boy conversation attempts and jump right into their football talk. Football games were sort of my daddy-daughter bonding thing at home, and it turned out to be a natural way to hang out with the boys who would otherwise have been entirely unapproachable. And it wasn’t a façade, actually—I found the boys easier to be around than the girls. None of the drama, the back-stabbing, the barbed nastiness and cruelty I dealt with in the junior high girls’ locker room (a location which, I’m pretty sure, rates a placement among Dante’s Circles of Hell)…
I wasn’t a tomboy, or even athletic—I’m too uncoordinated to manage anything involving a ball, but I was nonetheless fiercely competitive about proving my “guy-ness.” Every summer I spent a week on a 50-mile canoe trip around Lake Coeur d’Alene with my church camp, and I spent every trip out-paddling, out-firebuilding, out-knot-tying, and out-woodsman-ing every boy who attempted to rise to the challenge. In high school it was the height of coolness to wear a boyfriend’s letter jacket—and although my sophomore year I was dating the Senior captain of the cross-country team who made a regular habit of ambushing me in the hallways with his jacket, I was stubbornly determined to wear my own goddamn letter jacket. Being too uncoordinated for most sports, I figured I was at least stubborn enough to run in circles for a long time, so (to the boyfriend’s chagrin) I earned my own track letter and bought my own jacket.
At University of Hawai’i I hung out with four local guys, one of whom owned a junker jeep, and every weekend the five of us would pile our Scuba gear in the back (with me perched on top of the dive bags) and drive around to the sunny side of the island to dive all weekend and sleep on beaches. It was a “no girls” club, they insisted, and I was pleased to qualify for inclusion by virtue of my low-maintenance guy-qualities.
In my first marriage, my ex-husband often said (sometimes in jest, sometimes in anger) that I was The Guy in the relationship. Facing any conflict, I tended to address facts and attempt calm problem-solving, while he tended to go off on illogical tangents about how he felt. (And if you detect my dismissive attitude about dealing in the currency of emotion, you can see how that didn’t help things as that marriage unraveled…)
On a biology field trip in college I brought breakfast to the motel room of one my guy classmates, and while we sat on the bed eating cinnamon rolls and reading the paper, his roommate hollered from the shower to make sure there were no chicks in the room. “Nope,” my friend answered complacently—and when his roommate emerged and yelped, “You said there were no chicks!” my friend answered (in a Duh sort of tone), “That’s not a chick. It’s Kana.” For years, I considered that the highest of compliments.
And when my teenage stepsons ruled that the “Tyler Boys” designation included me—because they consider me one of the guys—I took that as a compliment as well. In fairness, they did intend it as such. But in fairness to my extra X chromosome, I have too long slighted and dismissed the strengths of women. Or my own strengths AS a woman.
I went through the first three and a half decades of my life with only a single close female friend, sticking fiercely to the notion that I didn’t like girls. My own strengths I attributed for years to guy-ness rather than valuing the fact that I was a woman with those strengths. And it was an ironic attitude, given how readily I would rise to rage whenever I ran up against limitations other people tried to place on me based on my gender.
When my current husband and I ran a Hawai’ian restaurant, I practically took the head off a salesman who came in and asked if I, by chance, knew who the manager was. It was a regular enough occurrence for salesmen to ask me if they could speak with the manager or owner (never mind the neon sign above the door reading “Kana Girl’s Hawai’ian BBQ,” and the name “Kana” embroidered across my apron—clearly the tattooed gal in the pigtails and tank-top wouldn’t be the one in charge), but this guy took it to a whole new level with his implication that I might not even know who the manager might be. .. Another salesman, even after I had introduced myself, insisted on waiting for my husband to return from a supply-run before he would start his pitch. I didn’t tell him he had already lost his sale; I let him sit for half an hour until Keoni returned to tell him, “You’ll have to talk to Kana Girl about that. She’s the owner—I just cook.” Priceless look of chagrin when the guy realized his error of judgment… But truly, it’s an error I’d been making in some form myself for decades.
In short, I spent decades devaluing my own extra X chromosome, and devaluing the company of other people with the double-X, even while bristling at people who didn’t take me seriously because of that very characteristic.
Enter Alcoholics Anonymous, which I approached as a place to be saved from my drinking, and which has turned out instead to be a Program of Living which is saving me from myself in a multitude of ways. When I first approached my Sponsor several years ago to ask if she would take me on, her single question to me before accepting was: “Are you willing to go to any lengths?” Would I be willing to do absolutely anything she instructed me to do? My very first test, as it turned out, was her requirement that I go to a weekly Women’s Meeting in addition to the twenty or so mixed meetings I already attended. Whoa, Nellie! I don’t do woman-groups. I don’t need that, and I don’t like that.
My protests were met with the ruthless reminder that I had agreed to go to “any lengths.” (But wait! I didn’t mean that! I just wanted to be able to stop drinking!) Ha, that’s not how this thing works.
One of the tenets of A.A. is the idea that no one—regardless of the depth of their professional training or book-learning—can help an alcoholic the way another alcoholic can. And I add to that the long-overdue discovery that women can reach and touch each other in ways that guys (bless them!) simply can’t. All my notions about myself seemed to turn themselves on their heads when I realized that I had gathered a large circle of intimate woman friends, whose strengths I admired and respected, whose insights guided me in my Recovery, and (gasp!) whose companionship I thoroughly enjoyed. And having been hauled around to a new viewpoint, I find myself grateful to belong to a generation of women willing to share their experiences.
Eight years ago, while visiting my grandparents, I miscarried my second child—and my grandmother’s only comment, when I returned from the E.R. still bleeding and grieving, was the observation that “This is why in my day we didn’t tell people we were pregnant.” I had only been a couple months along, and I had gleefully shared the news with all my friends and family. But I was glad to be able to reach out for the support of the people in my life while I dealt with the loss. I discovered, quite to my surprise, that miscarriage is a far more common experience than I had previously imagined. Along with the prayers and comforting words from friends, the women in my life also reached out with their own experiences—and their hard-earned understanding. We in America have a condition my doctor called “Gerber Baby Syndrome”—the deluded automatic assumption that every pregnancy will result in a ruddy-cheeked healthy infant. It’s a delusion fueled by a historical lack of conversation on the subject—and my grandmother suffered her own miscarriage (yes, she had this experience too) in silence and alone. And evidently with a sense of shame, judging from her belief that a pregnancy itself should be kept secret rather than risk anyone knowing if it should end abruptly.
Why on earth would the loss of a child be cause for a woman to feel ashamed? It’s no more logical than the equally evident sense of shame which is so common among women who have been raped. But there it is. And I like to think that ours is a generation finally shedding the communication-constraints which prevented my grandmother—and millions of others—from experiencing the love and support and prayer and empathy of other women in times when those very things were most needed.
When Emmie extended her generous invitation for me to share in this space as part of her V-Day project, she shared with me about Eve Ensler’s work with rape survivors, and about her own experience as a victim. When I replied with reflections on the rape attempt I suffered at the hands of a married state senator (who’s still leading the Idaho Republican party with his “family values” schtick), I led off my commentary with the remark that it probably wouldn’t surprise her to know that I’d also had a rape run-in, given the unfortunate statistical likelihood of it being SO. But her response really got me thinking. She wrote, “I’m somehow always surprised. That surprise comes with this aching, pounding, sob within that there are always more of us. Always more. That’s why this project means so much. In spite of the progress women have made in the last century, people still need to understand that beneath the surface of mothers, sisters, and friends, the remnants of the ‘always more’ lurks when they don’t expect it. “
For me, it took a long and roundabout journey to arrive at the realization that the women in my life are a resource of strength and comfort and empowerment and prayer and empathy. That, in fact, women are AWESOME, and enjoyable, and that the strengths I respect in myself aren’t strengths despite my second X chromosome.
At the same time… Those girl-on-girl cruelties which so decidedly (and so early) set me against my own gender… Those weren’t imagined. And with a young daughter at stake, that worries me. She came home last week upset because “Ruth is being mean” to her at school. And interestingly enough, it was my husband with whom she shared all the gory and tearful details of her social distress. Truth be told, she couldn’t find a more thoughtful or insightful listener than her stepdad—and I simply hope she won’t follow her mother’s path of devaluing members of her own gender as a potential resource for the heart.
Statistically speaking, it’s almost a certainty that my daughter (and yours) will experience bullying at the hands of another girl. Statistically speaking, it’s not unlikely that she’ll experience a rape attempt. (And in the case of my own daughter, statistics point to the likelihood of a struggle with alcoholism as well.) BUT… We are none of us slaves to statistics—and if I can’t prevent the bad things in her life, my hope is that I can at least help shape a woman who will survive with spirit whatever challenges Life throws her way. And maybe, with many of us speaking and sharing, we can even work to change some of those statistics.
When Emmie spoke to me about a project of speaking out and empowering women and spotlighting women we admire—I realized to my delight that I’m surrounded by them. “They” are YOU. I’m honored and grateful to know the readers-and-writers and friends here in the “blogosphere,” and to see how amazingly we CAN make a difference. (Consider SOPA if you doubt!) And that’s a comforting thought as I think about the world my daughter is growing into.