As an author, gender roles are something I need to think about. I have to be wary of the easy traps that are cliche, and the sexist roles that can harm my characters. The society driven desires that are mandated don’t necessarily ring true to the readers, and this means my story will be the one to suffer.
Luckily, I’ve lead a life that defies most of those, while making me a little bit “girly”. My husband loves that part the most. He adores my addiction to fingernail polish and my love affair with lipstick. That my favorite “comfy clothes” is a loose and sexy dress makes him smile every time I pull it on. And then I wear it to mow the lawn.
I’ve owned three businesses. One I sold, one I turned into a hobby because it was still fun but no longer profitable, and the last is how I hope to retire – as an author. I’ve managed crews, hired, fired, and resigned for ethical reasons. I’ve carried a gun as part of my job and written about problems with current gun laws for another. I know the difference between AMD and INTEL, why CUDA cores are important, and how to overclock my own computer. I also know how to read lab results for my own bloodwork, can streak an agar plate without thinking about it, and have not only seen a man’s chest cracked open, but also had the chance to revive a little of puppies after being born by cesarian section. And yeah, I started out taking orders in a drive through window and ringing up customers at a retail store for Christmas.
In other words, I’ve lived. Kinda hard.
I pierced my belly button, my nose, and my tongue. I took them out when I got bored of that look. When I turned 40, I got a tattoo – and then a second. I’ve been fat and I’ve been thin. I can’t remember my natural hair color, but I know I always called it “mouse blonde”, and I hated it. Right now, it’s sunset. I really like it like this, so it’ll probably stay some version of sunset for the next few years because I’m loyal to things that work for me.
But through all of that, I always remember the things I was told I shouldn’t do. I shouldn’t wear black, because it made me look too old. I shouldn’t dye my hair that color because I’d never get a job (and yet it never stopped me, huh). I shouldn’t wear those heels because they looked trashy, or that sweater looked frumpy. I was too old to get a tattoo, and the one I wanted was too big. My hair was too short, or too long. I dated too many men, or not enough. I needed to think about marriage, or I married the wrong man. (Then again, I did, but moms have a way of knowing those things. I got it right the second time, though.)
And now, as an author, I see even more societal declarations that are heaped on women. Heroines in stories live like I did – but when I was doing it? Oh no! Those impulsive relationships that were so intense were abhorrent. Little fact here, my amazing husband of 12 years moved in after 11 days because we had a case of insta-love. My failed first husband? A year wasn’t enough time to realize that he had a problem with being a decent human being.
My point is that no matter how successful I’ve been, someone else always judged me as a failure because I defied whatever it was they assumed made success. Now, I’m at that age where I can look back and laugh. I am happy with the person I’ve become. I may not be like most people, but none of us are. I’m bold and brazen, but I still know that tiny voice that screams in everyone’s head, reminding us of what we couldn’t, shouldn’t, or wouldn’t do.
And all of this goes into my writing. These life experiences shape the characters I make, and I like to think that it gives them a touch of reality.
But stop for a second, and think about the difference between what we expect from a good heroine and from a good young lady in real life. We root for the woman who takes risks, fails, and picks herself back up in a book. In our real life, we laugh at that same person behind her back, relishing that we told her so, and think we’re so much better because we took the safe and boring path. We devour stories about young love and hot romance, while calling the real women willing to risk their heart sluts and scoffing at how easy she is. Over and over, we women are raised with this conflicting set of expectations. It isn’t until we’re too old to enjoy our youth that we finally realize that no matter what, we’re going to let everyone down – while being raised in a world that teaches us that’s the worst thing that could ever happen.
And so, to every person out there, struggling against the stereotypes of life – man, woman, or anything in between – I just want you to know that it doesn’t matter. Blaze your own path. Live your OWN life. If people don’t like it, just know that they won’t like anything you do – and that’s ok. The only person we need to make happy is ourselves. We need to stop thinking about what everyone else is convinced we must do, and figure out what it is that WE, the people living these lives, really want for ourselves.
And then we need to stop telling others that it’s the path for them.