I remember the year that I realized the world has rules for you. I don’t mean rules like you have to clean your room before bed and wear pants to school, but rules like you have to do something specific with your life because you are a man/woman/young person/old person/human. I’m talking about the standard operating procedure for the categories we put people in.
I was in seventh grade when I realized there was a standard operating procedure for being a woman.
I remember because before then, I didn’t care. I wore bell bottoms with giant cloth flowers stitched into them outside to play street hockey. I wore skirts to race the boys in my neighborhood. I played football for a bit before coming inside to play dress-up with my Barbies. The world had no boundaries.
When I was a little girl, I distinctly remember playing with one of my male childhood friends Josh, and we were playing “princesses and dragons.” The main plot of our imaginary scene was that Josh was the prince and I was the princess, wearing a pretty lavender dress. Josh tried to convince me that he was the one who was supposed to be fighting the dragon, but I somehow orchestrated it so that I ended up fighting the dragon alongside him. Once he had slain the dragon, he announced that I was supposed to marry him.
“What?” I said.
“That’s how it’s supposed to go,” Josh said. “I’m the prince. I killed the dragon and rescued you. You’re the princess, so now you have to marry me.”
I stared at him. “FIRST of all,” I began, arms akimbo, “I HELPED kill the dragon. And SECOND of all, I don’t HAVE to marry you. I can do whatever I want! And I’m not marrying you. I want to kill more dragons.”
And that was that. I became a single dragon-fighting warrior princess: the scornful Bachelorette of the Kingdom, rejecting roses left and right.
(P.S. Shoutout to Josh for graduating from Penn State with honors and getting accepted to the top med schools in the country. Clearly he did fine without me.)
The point is, I was blissfully unaware that girlhood and womanhood came with any sort of rule book until seventh grade. Seventh grade was when, in the midst of learning NATO radio code to convey secret messages to my sister and building clubhouses in the basement with detailed club rules and townhouse meeting notes and using sticks and yarn to supplement my newly discovered Indian Warrior Princess persona…I realized no one did those things.
Girls read magazines and painted their nails and giggled and talked about boys and each other. Girls in seventh grade did not build K’Nex in the basement and go target shooting with their dads. Girls wore real bras and lip gloss, not neon orange mesh shoes. There were RULES. And I had evidently missed them.
So I tried to learn them. And thus began my woeful realization that I was bad at the rules. And unfortunately, the rules don’t stop once girlhood ends. Adults have rules too. But it gets even more confusing because adults’ rules contradict each other.
Some, generally conservatives, think (note: I really mean TEND to think…I don’t want to over-generalize here) women should be wives and moms and “gentle spirits” who don’t cuss when they’re mad and who keep disruptive opinions to themselves. Some, generally liberals, think (TEND to think) the world doesn’t really need men at all and women are strong and capable and should eschew marriage and motherhood in favor of their “passions” (generally meaning “career” or “experiences”).
Some think women should be meek and gentle and supportive and nurturing. Some think women should be fiery and strong and opinionated and dominant. Some think women should be mothers. Some think women should be career moguls. Some think women should do both. Some think women should run the household. Some think women should run the world.
The more I think about the rules, the more I want to laugh. Where do people get these rules? (And yes, I am a Christian, so I know where people think they’re getting them in some cases, but I don’t believe the women of the Bible all fit the same mold.)
Here is the beautiful thing about womanhood: It doesn’t come with a playbook. We’re thrown into the world and we have to figure it out. And however we choose to live our lives, THAT’S our standard operating procedure. That’s the right way to be a woman. Forget the rules, forget the categories – be you. You are the WOMAN.