Recently, as we sat around the dinner table and looked back on our day, my three year old son told us about how upset he had been. “What happened?” I asked. “Dorrwin (not sure what name he was saying) called me a gwuurrl (girl),” he said, eyebrows firmly arched above a pouted lip. As my husband was about to sympathize with him I jumped in and said, “What’s wrong with being a girl? Being a girl is amazing!” And I meant it. But after a bit of thought I realized, well, I wouldn’t want to be called a boy because I sure am glad I’m not a boy.
From that simple anecdote from a three year old, I got to thinking. Boys call boys girls as an insult. Women say, ‘be a man!’ to men who are appearing weak. ‘Grow a pair’ implies a guy should lose the ‘vagina’ and be stronger and more brave (which apparently balls help to imbue these qualities). We are told very early on that women are the weaker sex and that we will come second in pretty much everything we do because men will always prevail. And yet, I have never actually felt this way. I have always felt a deep sense of honour being a woman, a sort of gratitude that I won the gender lottery. However, this hasn’t come without reminders that some others don’t feel the same way.
When I was a teenager I was in a few rock bands throughout high school. Playing my imitation Stratocaster, I was always the only girl. I wasn’t trying to make an impression among the sea of boys, I just loved music. I was desperate to play in a band and if there were no girls to play with, I would join the boys.
One night, in a small pub in Banff, Alberta, I moved around the small stage wearing ripped jeans and a white tank top as we thrashed our way through Black Sabbath and Soundgarden numbers. I was sixteen years old and filled with excitement and adrenaline. Then, in between songs as I was doing a quick pedal change (it was the 90s), just like out of an 80s movie right when the lead character is starting to feel good about themselves, a man from the crowd yelled: Girls can’t play guitars! She’s got a vagina!
There was this moment right after he said it when my band members looked at me, the crowd shuffled their Doc Martins along the dirty floor and my mind just sort of stopped all thought. I was stunned. I had never been singled out for being a girl before. And here was this drunk hoser calling out a girl in a room laden with boys sporting a half grin swaying his doughy figure against the wall. It was dark but there were spotlights throughout the space so I could see him.
“What a loser,” I thought. And with that I looked to the singer of the band and nodded, as if to say, I’m good, let’s go ahead. Because I was good. I made a decision in that moment to see him as an unsightly, small-minded hose bag with very little intelligence and how there couldn’t have been anyone else in that room who didn’t agree with me. I launched into a Pearl Jam number with more passion and fervour than ever before, not trying to prove anything to anyone but instead to myself that as a girl I could face this stupidity with a sense of thanks for being born with a vagina.
His ignorance was my power.
And as long as I spent the rest of my life reacting to ignorant men this way, the powerful beauty of being a woman would show itself time and time again. If one knows something about themselves, one doesn’t need to stand on a rooftop screaming it. One doesn’t need to start a war to prove it. One harnesses that power and uses it for good. Women seem to know these things. Not all of them, of course, but it is a part of us.
We celebrate strong women in history because they fought for our rights; they have stood up against men in perilous conditions; they have shown great bravery in the face of oppression and conflict. But beyond rallies and loud voices, there are women who are just as feminist by walking away from ignorance in silence, knowing way being a woman really means enough not to engage in conflict. There is no argument with a man that will ever measure up to a teachable moment with a young boy.
So, as I sit here pregnant with my third boy I smile with the knowledge that my sons will never ever single someone out for being incapable because she is a girl. They wouldn’t do it because it wouldn’t even cross their minds.
Brilliant ad #LikeAGirl from last year: