I Don’t Write Like a Girl –– What Do I Mean by That?

How do you like my new banner? I love it. I don’t look like the woman in the picture, but I get a feeling of power just knowing she exists. I wrote a blog article about the banner and the slogan it bears, which I thought was great. I handed it off to one of my friends, a feminist, for feedback and was surprised by her response.

In saying “I don’t write like a girl,” my friend assumed that I was working off of the poisonous notion that girls do things one way and boys do them another. This is called “gender essentialism” and is reviled by feminists everywhere.

That was not what I was writing about.

However, as a mother of two daughters and a son, I will say that boys do things differently than girls from the get-go. Despite my best feminist-engendered attempts, I never got my daughters to play with toy soldiers and Tonka trucks. Nor could I get my son into a tutu.

So expel me from the feminist movement. As billions of mothers all over the planet will attest, behavioral differences between male and female kids/people exist. These are not necessarily induced by the gender and identity distorting, soul debasing, social and psychological systems in which the kids find themselves trapped.

The best example I know to illustrate how boys and girls are different happened in the days following September 11, 2001. When terrorists blew up the Twin Towers, shock and trauma tore away our social conventions for a moment or two. We hugged and supported each other, grieving members of a common tribe.

At the time of the attacks, my daughter was doing her stint at Sarah Lawrence College’s Early Childhood Center, one of the highest ranked preschools in the country. Bronxville NY, Sarah Lawrence’s location, is 40 minutes from NYC. They could see the smoke rising and practically feel the shock waves when the attack occurred. The kids were as traumatized as anyone else: their social conditioning was stripped away.

The kids in the classes my daughter TA’d created structures during playtime, using blocks and toys. She photographed these and wrote her senior seminar paper using the photos.

What did the children’s constructions reveal?  The little girls drew pictures of womb-like shelters, protecting structures, and safe hiding places. The boys’ pictures were full of thrusting missiles stuck up in the air, fighter planes, and explosions.

The kids reacted like themselves, and it wasn’t the way feminists said they should.

I thought feminism was about freedom.

When I write “I don’t write like a girl,” I am talking about THE UNNECESSARY LITTLE GIRL I will explain this.

Long ago, I led a T-group for Dr. David Bradford. Dr. Bradford is/was a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and an expert on organizational behavior. Organizational behavior––how people behave in institutional settings––began when analysts realized that businesses didn’t fail because people don’t know enough linear programming.

Businesses fail because people can’t problem-solve effectively, create and actualize plans, and get along with each other. Organizational behavior experts seek to train students to succeed in the personal side of business. The T-group (Training-group) gives participants feedback on how they come across and how effective they are in influencing the other group members. It’s group therapy without the therapy.

My co-leader and I––we were gender-balanced: he was a guy, I was, and am, a woman––were responsible for seeing that no one got too beat up in the group sessions. The class, known by the students as Touchy Feely, was a big enterprise. My partner and I rode herd on  twelve students. Six other groups also had twelve students each. All the groups were supervised by Dr. Bradford. Another professor ran a similar operation. The course consisted of two professors, twenty-four facilitators, and 144 students.

At the end of the term, we went on a retreat at Pajaro Dunes, a seaside vacation/meeting site. At that time, Stanford brought in the heavies: world-class organizational facilitators. These were people who changed lives and saved businesses with their personal skills. They were the Einsteins of interpersonal relations.

The female participants were really excited: one of the big shots was a woman! Not only that, she was a mother, bringing her daughter and a caregiver to the retreat so she wouldn’t be separated from her child. She was combining motherhood with high level professional achievement.

Holy crap! She was the role model we sought!

Not only that, she had just come from doing a training at the PENTAGON with GENERALS! Yes, had she worked with honest-to-God Generals. I hyperventilate thinking of it.

What was she like? Did she walk in wearing six guns? Chain mail? A power suit and $300 makeup job? Did her chakras glow?

She was an ordinary woman, very much at home in her skin with no pretension of any sort. She had iron gray hair, styled somehow. She had a medium build, neither model thin nor overweight. I don’t remember what she wore; it was forgettable.  I perceived her as powerful, intelligent and kind. And soft. She wasn’t tough.

She sat in a circle with the facilitators and students and changed everyone’s lives. I don’t remember a thing she said––except for one thing, which I’ll get to––but I remember her impact thirty-five years later. I remember her kind softness and how she touched me. That’s power.

At one point in the proceedings, she looked across the circle and spoke to one of the female participants. “I sense in you an unnecessary little girl.”

The woman she spoke to was a grown up little girl: forever cheerful and perky. Helpful and smiling.  She spoke in a high-pitched little girl voice and acted cute. A little girl trying to please Daddy, at age 35.

The way the facilitator delivered her message allowed the woman to absorb it and acknowledge that it was true. You could watch her change as she sat there. If she had continued to behave like a little girl, her professional life would have been stunted. But it won’t be, because of that skilled group leader.

The woman who molded generals didn’t lecture us on permissible vocabulary, explain why some things were sexist, or talk about changing the world for women. She just did it, and very kindly.

What I’m writing about in this blog post is the UNNECESSARY LITTLE GIRL. We see them everywhere: woman/girls who never grew up and claimed their power.

Photo credit

Famous examples: Marilyn Monroe and Dolly Parton (Of course, both of them made a bundle and are cultural icons. Obviously, acting like a grown up is not needed for success in entertainment.)

Books: Pretty near everything written some genres. The little girl shows up in all types of romance, from Viking to paranormal. Chic lit, women’s lit, cozy mystery. All the categories of erotica. Probably more. All of books in these categories don’t feature immature heroines, but a bunch do.

Anywhere there’s a wimpy, dependent female clinging to her man or waiting for him to rescue her,  you have an unnecessary little girl.

Of course, these books are some of the biggest selling ever. The mass markets love them. Their authors can end up rich and famous. Writing about adult children doesn’t seem to hinder success in popular writing. ;-(

Want an example of the kind of book that drives me wild? It’s the saccharin  family drama, centered around a charming family with which all of us can identify. Many of these books are set in the South, y’all.

The plot is a variant of this:

Very slight tension exists between Mom and Dad, due to extremely mild life-stage issues. The real story revolves around Petunia, their older teenaged daughter. Will the boy that Mom and Dad approve take her to the Prom? Or will that Other Boy, who is flawed somehow, ask her first?

The dramatic climax revolves around Grannie getting Petty’s prom dress done in time. This involves Heavy Sewing. The family worries about the dress’s imported fabric wrinkling excessively. Petty goes to the prom with Steve, the boy Mom and Dad wanted her to go with. They are happy. So is Grannie. The dress doesn’t wrinkle.

That’s the level of conflict in these books.

I would change this plot thusly:

Mom and Dad on the verge of divorce. Who’s to say why? Maybe Mom’s pole-dancing or Dad’s philandering. Whatever, they’re trying to hide it from the kids, who know all about it.

Mom and Dad want Petunia to go to the prom with Steve, the captain of the football team and “Most Likely to Succeed” in their graduating class. Petunia wants to tell her parents that she really would like to go with Sally, but can’t find the nerve. Meanwhile, the class nerd, Bernie, is in love with Petunia.

Grannie has a dress from the Bloomingdale’s catalog shipped to the tiny, but very happy, town where they live. She’s sick of sewing for everyone and says so. Then Grannie announces that she’s going to Puerto Vallarta with Howard, who owns the car dealership three towns down.

Fast-forward ten years. Steve is in jail for running a meth lab that could supply the half the continent. Bernie the Nerd is a billionaire, having founded Zoomdle, a social network search engine that lets you spy on your neighbors. He married Sally. Petunia has run off to Boston hoping to meet the girl of her dreams. She is a firefighter.

Mom and Dad sit at home, wondering where they went wrong. Grannie and Howard  live in Florida. They are unmarried, but please don’t tell Mom and Dad.

Throw in a few zombies and vampires, you got a hit.

Continued soon . .

10 Responses to “I Don’t Write Like a Girl –– What Do I Mean by That?”

  1. Gee, I played with trucks and guns and baseball bats and catchers mitts and climbed trees and challenged the boys to a race. The worst thing my best (male) friend could say to me in elementary school was “you’re acting like a girl.” That was back in the day when all the images of women were docile and they were routinely ridiculed in advertising and every other place they were mentioned in relationship to men. They called girls like me “tom boys” and I was proud of it because it looked a heck of a lot better to me to be a “boy” in American culture than it looked to be a “girl.” Can we just let everyone BE without suggesting that women act like this and men like that. The academics call this “totalizing,” i.e., reducing each of us to a single characteristic of us – gender, class, race, religion, ability, disability, sexual orientation or preference and the like. I am indisputably a woman. I am a hard ass lawyer and a published poet. I used to be a Protestant. I’m a Californian. I’m a boomer. I am childless. I have step-children. I’m therefore something of a mother but also not. I cannot be reduced to a single category and nor can anyone else.

    • admin says:

      Amen, Victoria. My best friend when I was a kid was my horse. Actually, my life began when I got my horse and I could finally escape all the obligatory activities for girls. Ballet lessons (I was overweight. Every minute on that dance floor was a humiliation.) Girl Scouts. I feel differently about GS now. My daughters participated and loved it. Or at least they said they did. But when I was in Scouts, I was so shy that I could barely interact with anyone. Instead of making me blossom, I withdrew more. And piano lessons! Lord have mercy.
      So, yeah, we’re different, and shouldn’t be jammed into molds. And we’re great. Congrats on your poetry, profession and everything else.

  2. “I thought feminism was about freedom.”

    Exactly! Very thoughtful article. To believe the sexes act the same is ludicrous. And I do get your point about the unnecessary little girl. I imagine when the feminist movement first started, this was the image they were trying to overcome. It eventually took a detour into political correctness. I’ve met many women who act like the unnecessary little girl, and they’re not even aware they’re degrading themselves. I also think I know where you’ll be going with this regarding your writing. It should be very interesting to read your next post.

    • admin says:

      Thank you, Eleni. I’m going to talk about my unnecessary little girl and how she died. I think we all need to be little girls: loved, protected, comforted. Taught in ways that allow us to learn without scaring us. The little girl is important, it’s just when she’s running us and we’re in our forties that she’s a problem. I wish I’d had my little girl much longer. I’m very good at being smart and tough. It’s lightening up on myself that’s a problem.
      I may be a while in getting the second article out. We’re on VACATION! I’m trying to stay off the computer.

  3. Wow! How did the woman feel about being called out as having an “unnecessary little girl” inside?

    I certainly don’t endorse that model for adult women, but I’ve seen it used effectively by some female lawyers. They employ it strategically with senior men who relish the adoration and fluttering eyelashes!

    Looking forward to reading how this analysis applies to your writing.

    PS Great banner!

    • admin says:

      Kate, the way the facilitator said those words was stroke of genius. She was powerfully, but softly, present. She was direct in what she said, but not intimating. The “unnecessary little girl” just got it. She didn’t jump, didn’t cry. Understood what she had been doing with her little girl act. You could watch her transform. It was amazing to see.
      AND she was a Stanford MBA candidate. I’m sure that made a difference. She didn’t get where she was because she was dumb and weak. I’d love to know what she’s doing now.
      Virginia Satir, one of the originators of family therapy and reportedly an amazing clinician, said that a skilled communicator could tell someone that they had atrocious BO and have them receive it like a gift. Wow. I don’t think I’m there, but it’s a good goal.
      Women like Virginia and that facilitator are my idols.
      And yeah, a woman can get places as a little girl. A certain type of man loves it. He probably has created the little girl in his own family and elsewhere. I know how to do the little girl. Probably every woman alive in the 50s mastered that role. But no more.
      It may be a while ’til I get the next article up. Vacation calls.
      Thank you so much for commenting.
      I secretly like that woman on the banner. Looking like she does would require a WAY different lifestyle than I’ve got. But I admire her discipline in creating the body she wants.

  4. Pam Godwin says:

    You had me at “I Don’t Write Like a Girl”…and brought me to the cusp of excitement at the mention of zombies. Open mind. Open possibilities. Great post.

    • admin says:

      Thank you, Pam. You won’t believe the post that’s coming. I got a message from the Inner Self/Universe about what I was going to write. More like a smack up side the head. I’m rewriting. May be a few days. We’re on vacation. But I can’t stop writing.

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