I saw this tweet the other day and I can’t get it out of my head.
*Warning: Personal word vomit ahead*
It’s hard for me sometimes to look back and think about things I said and thought about other girls. I grew up a bit of a tomboy. Partly because I had an older brother and partly because I think I’ve always had some gender identity issues. But that’s another blog post, lol. I grew up in the 80s and 90s, and I rejected the typical “girly” things. I hated barbies, didn’t play with dolls. I preferred to write stories or read or practice soccer with my brother which resulted in me just kicking his ankles instead of the ball. #skillz
By the time I entered middle school, I realized I was a little different. I wasn’t interested in things a lot of girls were interested in but yet I wanted to be. A mix of hormones and boy attention culminated in a toxic environment of competition and mean girls. I tried to leave behind what made me different. I tossed my Umbro shorts in the bottom of my drawer and tried to like clothes and makeup. I left behind my Encyclopedia Britannica vocabulary and tried to talk like everyone else, like the popular girls. I wasn’t doing it for me, I was doing it to fit in. And I think it made me resent all the girls for which those things came easy for. I guess there are a lot of things I can blame. Myself? Society? But most certainly, when I grew up, female friendships were not fostered and encouraged in the media. If they were encouraged, it was strictly to bond over the girl things we were all supposed to like – makeup, boys, clothes, shoes, etc. I wish I’d found a strong, thriving Young Adult book community full of positive female friendships of all types. Those books that were there (Babysitter’s Club) still made me feel like I was an outsider. And those books weren’t respected in the media–they were for teen girls! Which, I can now say as an adult woman is bullshit.
My personality fit me like ill-fitting clothes for years. I struggled with female friendships all through high school. I never was in the inner circle. I think I was boy crazy young because I didn’t resent those relationships. I was looking for someone to connect to without all the baggage of female competition. Looking back, that’s messed up, but hey, I was like fourteen. It wasn’t until college, where I had a “new start” and the freedom away from home to stretch my wings a bit, to “find me” where I found lasting friendships. But to me, those girls who I’m still good friends with today still “weren’t like the other girls.” I continued to see girls outside “my circle” as competition, still judged their choices relating to sex and other things. I still had more guy friends than girl friends.
There’s a platform right below the glass ceiling and we’re taught at an early age that we have to be pretty damn perfect to reach that platform. It’s only reserved for special women in a select few positions – no lipstick on their teeth or hair out of place or stretch marks. Hell naw. And I’m a white girl. There’s a whole other set of stricter regulations for women of color, particularly Black women. They gotta be flawless to even get close, you know. So we’re all down in the trenches fighting each other when really we should just hold hands and fucking shatter that shit.
And then I discovered romance.
Or, more to the point, I discovered romance writers. I saw women on Facebook and Twitter–women like Kristen Ashley, Lauren Dane, Megan Hart, Bree Bridges, and more–talking and writing about women with agency, women of all types. They had wonderful friendships where they lifted each other up.
When I began writing romance, and that was when the real learning came in. That was when I had to point blank face how I treated women, how I viewed women, and the amount of internal misogyny I’d been harboring for years. Writing a heroine, taking her on a journey where she recognizes her worth in order to find love, was eye-opening for me. I had to think about the female friendships I wrote about. I had to examine how my heroine would value herself as a woman. I began to think about things society says all the time that snuck into my writing when I didn’t realize it. Like a hero’s friend telling him he’s “acting like a girl” because he shows emotion.
My co-writer has had to point out a couple of things to me–misogynistic lines or characterizations I’ve written where he’s said, “Is this what you meant to say?” And nope, no I hadn’t meant it to come across like that, but those were old habits talking. I had to take a hard look at how I was writing side characters, how I was writing the “other women.” Women who aren’t enemies, but are heroes in their own stories. I don’t think I have it all figured out, and I know there are times some of my internal misogyny slips through, but I’m trying so hard. Baby steps.
I made amazing author friends – women like me who love books and are a little bit different. Women who have amazing dialogue about feminism and rape culture and who are so damn smart, I’m in awe. I’ve also met amazing men, like my co-writer and others, who have written amazing, strong women and are valuable allies.
In writing my heroines, I learned to love women again. I learned to love myself again. I accept all the things that make me “me.” I’ve embraced makeup and clothes but now I do it for me, rather than because I want to compete with other girls. And there are times I just want to wear my Umbro shorts and man-spread on the couch (heh) and I can do that too.
To bring this full circle, back to that tweet – romance is a billion dollar industry and outsells science fiction, mystery, and literary novels. Don’t make me source that shit – Google it because it’s all over. We’re also largely made up of women. Which is probably why it’s so damn hard to get respect in the greater book world. My favorite thing about romance? We authors are starting to see what happens when we join hands rather than fight. We’re “unionizing” in a way. We take care of our own and we speak out politically. I’m 33 and I can finally feel free to be the woman I want to be and proud of it. And damn if I don’t owe that to romance.
Thanks for reading. <3 Let me know if you feel like romance has done the same for you. And then let’s hold hands and shatter that shit.