So here we are.
It’s been a bit since any of us have posted here at Rational Creatures. For me it’s been finishing grad school, running after a baby who’s started crawling, moving from an apartment to a house, and working full time. For others I know it’s been the varied demands of motherhood, work, show rehearsals and performances, etc etc etc.
And before that it was Erin dying.
I’ll admit it’s been difficult to come back here. What, after all, can be said? What doesn’t feel silly and petty and unimportant in the face of the bullshit waste that we call her death?
So we’ve just been living. But now, finally, I’ve had some thoughts noodling around in my head, and I figured might as well come back to it. Only time to start is now.
Let’s talk about taking up space.
Women are conditioned to take up as little space as possible. This is clearest physically. We’re supposed to be small – not just thin, but dainty, petite, slight. “You’re so tiny!” we tell each other, as if it’s the highest compliment, because it is, because that’s what we’re supposed to be. Fat women are expected to slim down, or at the very least make an effort at it. And if you’re still fat (for now, until that next diet program works sweetie) you should “dress for your shape”, wear slimming clothing, use these 50 ways to look smaller by next week! Make sure you work out every day, but don’t build your muscles, you don’t want to get big, do you? Three pound weights could be lifted by a sickly toddler, so that should be perfect for you to prevent that bulk! Your meals and your appetite should both be small, by god, and if those don’t do the trick, we’ll make sure we cut away pieces of you, and you’ll start shrinking away, so fast that your skin will hang off of you, and then we’ll cut that away too!
Tall women get the shit end of this stick as well, with the message that they always, ALWAYS, need to cater to the smaller people (men) among them. Don’t wear heels, don’t tower over men, don’t wear powerful/threatening colors/outfits, don’t intimidate! You’re an Amazon, a giantess, something other, something strange. You will never be feminine enough. A man should be able to wrap his hands around your waist and pick you up to carry you over the threshold, don’t you know!
Even women who ARE the perfect (tiny) size, whether by genetics or by hard work/desperation, aren’t immune from the active physical shrinking that seems ingrained in all of us. Moving aside on sidewalks as someone barges into our paths, folding and contorting ourselves into seats on subways and airplanes to avoid the broad shoulder or the spread legs beside us. We say our thousands of sorry’s and excuse me’s.
And then we learn that our voices should be quieter, that we will be interrupted when we speak, or ignored completely, or if we persist we should “give someone ELSE a chance” or not “be so BOSSY, it’s not nice!” Our thoughts are framed as inconsequential, and always able to bow to pressure from a greater force. “I just thought that maybe this was true but correct me if I’m wrong.”
We make ourselves smaller. Because small and sweet and not in anyone’s way is what we are supposed to be, is how we win at being a woman, or at least how we’re supposed to win.
I am not small. I am short, so I’ve got one square on the bingo card of womanhood, but that’s about it. I am fat, with a largish nose and flat, wide cave-woman feet (only made wider with pregnancy and my refusal to wear narrow, binding shoes). I have a loud voice. I have opinions and tend to share them. I am bossy.
I think all of these things are a gift. Because I’ve already lost, I can see that the game is rigged. That’s not to say that I’m now an expert in not caring, or to say that I feel awesome about it all the time, or never say sorry, or excuse me (Midwestern politeness, after all, is a virtue). But I can relish the space I take up. I can get angry when someone else feels entitled to my space. I can be loud. I can get strong. Last year I took a kettlebell class, and when the instructor asked how I liked it, I told him I felt great, because it felt like I could crush the heads of my enemies. Being heavy means I am weighty, I am here, I am impactful.
So what about you? I would challenge you to look at the world around you, and how it’s set up to make you shrink. To look at yourself and feel the weight of your body, the strength of your legs, the impact of your stride on the earth. You have power, you have weight, you have size, you are here. For as long as you’re allowed to be on this earth.
Eventually you will shrink away, as we saw Erin do physically, at the end. Don’t shrink yourself.