The Fit Hits the Shan, Ep. 2: Choosing a Costume

I’m honored once again to be hosting my sister’s monthly post here on my blog. I think men and women both can relate to this post, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on it! You can check out Shan’s artwork on her Facebook page.

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Growing up, my Halloween costumes told an interesting story. One year I was Princess Diana – fluffy dress, tiara, scepter-from-a-baton, and all.  One year I was a groom – sharpie mustache, suit, maybe even a top hat, now that I think of it– escorting around
my little brother in a bridal gown. One year I was also a bag of trash, but that’s another story.

I have found it perplexing to try to figure out how to be a woman. I’m not making comparisons to how hard it is to be a man, or even a kid (as my son is fond of telling me is the most difficult role of all).  I’m not even talking about what society or religion or my family or my exes or really any mysterious, inimitable “They” have done that complicates it.  I’m just saying I’ve struggled to come to peace with all of the disparate Halloween costumes of my woman-ness, and to understand when and how to wear them all.

Puzzling through what it is that’s made it so difficult, I’ve at least identified that it isn’t a matter of being confused about my sexuality itself.  I honestly believe that whoever I’d ended up being naturally attracted to when I hit puberty and after, this feeling of being oddly matched for balancing the dichotomies of it all would still be the same.

Looking around, it’s easy for me to just see perfectly highlighted hair and nails that are not bitten and shoes that are only worn once a month and perfectly matched to the corresponding outfit on the women around me and believe that I am failing at some key, physical ingredient of woman-hood that would make me complete. And even though I believe that’s not necessarily true, it’s also too easy to just mutter to myself that “I’m not the girly-girl type” and dismiss the idea of spreading my wings and experimenting with a curling iron.   Yes, that’s all superficial and doesn’t define being female anyway, but figuring out how to express the desire in me to be beautiful without sacrificing my desire to be strong is just…hard. Confounding, even.

I told my 7 year old daughter a couple weeks ago I thought she’d make a good racecar driver (it was relevant at the time) and she looked at me like I’d said one day she might want to dye her skin green and spend her time selling monkeys livers to the Lilliputians – clearly neither idea seemed like a reasonable consideration to her.  She said as an explanation, “But … I’m a GIRL!”   I was horrified; I started weaving suggestions for heavily warrior-themed Halloween costumes into our daily conversations for a week.

But confound it all, as much as I don’t want her to think there is adventure she can’t have because she’s a girl, it isn’t fair to let her think that wearing a skirt is a sign of weakness, either.  She shouldn’t have to suppress her desire to dance in pink to go after “real” respect from anyone – least ways her mama.  And there’s the rub, isn’t it?  That’s the question I keep puzzling through for myself.  How do I feed the part of my nature that wants to protect and still give myself permission to admit that I want to be protected too?

My hand and arm have ached to draw sword from scabbard and thrust the blade into a charging enemy – so much so that when I use the phrase “I’ve got your back”, there is often a genuine, bone deep desire in me to be able to do so in an utterly physical fashion.
It took me a long time to realize how dangerous it was for me to lie to myself about my equally powerful desire to be allowed to paint in a tower room in a velvet dress, smelling of patchouli and sipping earl grey, while some dragon paces in front of a drawbridge to keep me safe.

I often look at the women around me and wonder how many of them spend conscious effort balancing these same ideas.  We are all made of component parts and I suspect we must all be choosing to feed or starve the warring clans of our natures on some level.  Please tell me everyone else doesn’t find this all effortless. Somewhere inside of me there
will always be an arm wrestling contest between the blue dresses and gray uniforms of my nature; and I have no idea which will end up being my Halloween costume this year.

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14 Responses to The Fit Hits the Shan, Ep. 2: Choosing a Costume

  1. DHannah says:

    Brilliant! I have struggled with my opposing inner factions for decades. I remember watching BraveHeart and KNOWING that if I was in the story, I would be in the ranks fighting alongside the men. When I watched the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, I (over)identified with Eowyn as she KNEW she needed to be not hanging back, ‘leading’ the other woman and children, but in the thick of the battle, fighting alongside her countrymen for Right and Justice.
    She was every inch the Beautiful Princess and the Warrior. And there for me has leaks been my own inner war.
    In a culture that objectifies the Beauty and donizes the Warrior, I have lived my entire life up to lately, not belonging anywhere.
    I have fought my inner need to be The Beauty, because of the cultural baggage and the shallowness of NA femininity. I recoil from societal expectations, or lack thereof, for women.
    I cannot get excited about luncheons and hair dye and endless shopping, even though I do enjoy all the above on limited doses. But, I LOVE shoes, pretty knickknacks for my office desk, and my favorite thing is to get my hair done.
    But I long for more. I long to be a part of the fight. I long to be on the Team that is fighting for Right and taking a stand against a real enemy. Staring it in the face and ENGAGING it. I need to know that my life made a difference in the ongoing battle of good vs evil. I need my voice to be heard.
    But, like Eowyn, I have been told that it is not my place, it is not my fight, it is not RIGHT that I even feel what I do. The prevailing attitude and advise is to keep quiet, stay in the background and support the men around me by cooking meals, be a great listening ear. Blah blah blh.
    But I know that the role I have to play is more than that of supporting cast, it is to be one of the Crucial Protaganists. It may be brief, but it will turn the Tide.
    I am speaking of course with the movie mind. I am thinking in the terms of allegory etc. O don’t really believe that the fate of the world tests in my hands. But as the push for men became that of the Poet/Warrior in the ’90’s, I feel the need for the Princess/Warrior’s who have ‘arrived’ to rise up and give permission to the, I believe, countless women who feel this inner push and pull to explore it. Embrace it. Set it free.
    Wow! Didn’t mean to write a sermon. Guess this really spoke to me today.

    • shan k says:

      Thanks, DH! The Eowyn allegory is quite apt. I cried most when I read the books and saw the movies over her, because her story resonated in me. And if just being GI Jane could be “it” for me … Well, I nearly went that route at one point. It isn’t enough,though, you know? It’s the balancing act that is the challenge for me. Equal parts Xena and and Jane Eyre — and neither perfectly — is an interesting juggle…

    • Carolyn says:

      Read a blog post today that made me think of your comment. It’s about the women first responders from 9/11 – how they had to sue for the right to risk their lives, how they aren’t part of the “brotherhood” – they are women. You can see it at http://www.littlepinkbook.com/little-pink-book/life/women-heroes

  2. Your moment with your daughter– i get it.

    I mean, I get a part of it. I don’t have kids. I suppose there’s a level on which I don’t get it at all. But I have spent a long time being a bit terrified of having kids… and for years, the farthest I could articulate it was this: what if she wants to be a cheerleader?

    Since then, I’ve watched my sister have two girls, and the job she has (And the job you have) is not one I envy. Make-up, I think I could learn if I had to… I could point her to my younger sister or probably a you-tube video.
    But this stuff… this life stuff… this “it isn’t fair to let her think that wearing a skirt is a sign of weakness”– that’s the knife to the gut. Because most of the time I feel like I have to choose between the skirt and the sword… and either way i’m sacrificing the respect i really desire (see pissing contest).

    I’m a bundle of paradoxes and it’s not even only about the halloween costume… i think sometimes i don’t have any idea what i’m actually wearing or whether the steps i take are in heels or combat boots or converse or barefoot. For all the other things I wrestle with, this is one of the more frustrating, because I feel there’s a layer of shame associated– how does a woman not know her role?

    That would be it’s own rabbit trail. It’s 1:30 am here and sleep beckons. i really just want to say “hey– i’m crazy too. At least we’re not alone.”

    • Let me tell you, this isn’t any different for fathers. I find myself having to consciously resist the urge to pressure Yosi to become a warrior woman. So we’re playing with cars and she says she gets all the “girl cars”, and I ask what that means and she says it’s all the pretty, pink ones, I have to try really hard not to make that a unnecessary teaching moment. She likes pink. It’s not the end of the world. I like pink, for crying out loud.

      I think this is going to be really difficult when she’s older. I want her to know that I will love her no matter who she chooses to be, but I can’t lie to myself about what i do and don’t want her to be. And she’ll see through the bullshit if I’m not being sincere.

      It’s funny you mentioned cheerleading. I wrote a post months ago about the hardest parts of being a parent, and one of them was: “7. The fear, way back in your mind where you don’t want to acknowledge it but can’t drive it out, that someday, no matter how good a job you did instilling depth and culture and self-respect, she will want to be a cheerleader.”

      Sigh.

      • Carolyn says:

        I will be a huge fan of Yosi’s if she becomes a cheerleader. I will be a huge fan of Yosi’s if she becomes a lumberjack. If, by chance, she becomes a cheerleading lumberjack, I will swoon with excitement. I have no idea what the answer to any of this woman stuff is, but I will cheer others on as they struggle along beside me to figure it out. My Mom once gave me a book on the Proverbs 31 woman – I hate even thinking about the Proverbs 31 woman most days – but as I look at all she did in a male-driven society, I have to think she was pretty tough in some ways. Then again, what do I know? Go Yosi!

      • Shan K says:

        D, just do me a favor. If she’s a cheerleader, make sure no turtlenecks, coulottes or vests with “BJ” on them are involved in any way. I will support the heck out of her in a skirt and pig tails. I can’t live through the coulottes a second time.

    • shan k says:

      “How does a woman not know her role?” Is absolutely the heart of my inner frustration. I don’t want to be someone else and just fake being more girlie or more commando than I am. I just want to get a good vision of the what the best shan would be and feed the places on both sides that need to grow. Hard to figure out. We crazies just keep trying, though. 😉

  3. Carolyn says:

    Tears. I think of myself as weak AND unfeminine. Hubby (retired Army Master Sergeant) thinks I’m a girly-girl. I don’t see it. *sigh*

    • shan k says:

      I used to think and say that I was “broken”, but I don’t think that anymore. We are such complex amalgamations, all of us! I’m just trying to not accept any of my easiest answers and assumptions and try to keep being honest with myself about who I am. We are a beautiful mess ;). Bless those close to us who revel in both the beautiful and the mess.

  4. lori says:

    You’ve got me analyzing my childhood Halloween costumes: wonder woman, b-ball player, cinderella, clown, hobo, punk rocker?

    Hmmm. I’ve struggled with this one, too. My mother always pushed me to wear makeup and be fashion-minded, when I just didn’t care. I was also hurt that I wasn’t enough somehow because I didn’t embrace all things girly. I remember wearing dresses with tennis shoes as a 2nd grader. I’ve always loved mixing both worlds.

    Now, wouldn’t you know it? I have a girly-girl, and at first, I so wanted her to be a basketball player or something like that. But, I’ve made peace with who she is because pushing her to be who she isn’t is going to make her feel just like I felt when my mother pushed me to be girly. So, there are no easy answers, but I think the most important point is to let our children be who they naturally are, to make them feel like their natural talents and inclinations are not inherently wrong. There’s room for all of us, the tomboys, the girly-girls, and those like me who like to visit both worlds from time to time.

    Excellent post!

  5. moonchild11 says:

    this is such a fantastic post!

  6. Pingback: Things I Want My Daughter to Know | The Screaming Kettle at Home

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