June 17, 2013 § 1 Comment
I was eleven years old the first (and only) time somebody called me a ball-buster. It was an older boy, an XXXL boy, tall and obese and acned, named Raul. I had just shot down a stupid idea he had. We were in a youth group together at the Y, and the object at hand was the planning of a fundraiser– a Car and Dog Wash to be exact. I don’t remember his idea, or what I said, or how the facilitator responded, or if anyone actually brought their dog to the Car and Dog Wash, but I never forgot being called a ball-buster.
At the time, I only vaguely understood what balls even were. (And now that I know more about them, I do think that the word “balls” is a little misleading.) But there I was, being told by this tough, giant-like kid that whatever I had just said was like the equivalent of punching him in the balls. And that that’s my way, apparently. To do that to guys. Like, on a regular basis.
“You’re a reeeeeeal ball-buster, aren’t you?” is what he said to me.
I was a thoughtful kid. I analyzed this for weeks. Was it true? Did i have a habit of doing this, especially to guys? And doing WHAT, exactly? Disagreeing? Being blunt? Being condescending? Was he being unreasonable, out of resentment that I was younger and so obviously smarter than him and on top of that a girl? Or did he have a point, and was there something I was supposed to learn from him?
This was perhaps the first of many experiences that would suggest to me that, as a female, I needed to add something sugar-and-spicy when presenting my thoughts. It wasn’t enough just to say them. My ideas, straight from the brain out my mouth, could bother people if I wasn’t careful. I could express myself, but I needed to be more tentative about it. Apologetic even. Be sweet first, smart second.
Maybe you don’t like that Raul called me a ball-buster, but you’re still kind of wondering if maybe I deserved it. If whatever I said was really rude and mean. It could have been. I’m a little doubtful because I do remember being pretty intimidated by Raul’s physical presence. And I was generally a pretty quiet and nerdy kid. But I could also be snarky; I could be a little cruel. I picked on my little sister. I got into fights on the bus. Who knows what came out of me at that moment? I’m not saying it was something nice. But the thing is… whatever it was… would I have gotten the same reaction if I were a boy?
I learned that, as a girl, you couldn’t seem too confident. My mom bragged about my good grades and achievements every chance she got, but in private would accuse me of thinking I was superior to others. It was important to succeed, but essential to always keep an appropriate attitude of self-doubt. She didn’t enjoy talking to my sister and me about “academic” subjects (current events and movies were included in that if we got too abstract with the analysis) because we would get really excited and drive our points home and not back down. She warned us that doing this was “unattractive”.
So I perfected the art of keeping a lid on myself. It was, and is, a lot of work. But as a kid I got so good at it that I actually won the “Quietest” award on multiple occasions, when other people were getting “Best Eyes” and “Class Flirt”. My motto was something like: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, and people will think you are quiet and sweet, and they will not be terribly passionate about you but at least they won’t think anything bad about you either. There is, perhaps, a way that some women learn to talk that is assertive without being aggressive, not necessarily sweet but definitely not rude… I never developed this skill. In conversation I am endlessly malleable. “That’s a good point!” “I never thought of it that way!” “Wow, interesting!” I am so utterly bland. It’s so boring, and worse, unnecessary. Keeping everything bottled up so tightly also results in occasional explosions. On the rare occasions when I am at ease, the people closest to me get my pent-up “spirit” in large doses. An ex once said, “You’re so mean when you’re happy.”
I’m trying to work on it. I have a pair of underwear that says “Be Yourself” on the butt. It’s a struggle to comply.
If this all seems a bit dramatic, fuck you. Haha, just kidding. Only kind of though.
I need to reclaim some power and dignity for myself. I need to not be afraid to disagree with people or (gasp!) call them on their shit. People need to start knowing that I’m not actually all that sweet. I have a lot of hate and bitterness inside, dammit. And I AM smarter than a large percentage of the population… if all those dummies can go around sharing their ideas freely, why shouldn’t I? Above all, I need to not worry about some idiot potentially dealing me some archaic sexist insult… especially now that I think I would actually sort of enjoy the opportunity to verbally SCHOOL their ass and then write a blog post about it.