As a little girl, I wanted to do something important with my life. In stories and movies, I always associated with the hero (usually a male). I was always opinionated and passionate. I always cared very deeply. I wanted to do something extraordinary – something that would shine and inspire others. Something that would change the world for the better. I wanted to climb mountains. Scale battlements. Inspire the masses. Storm the castle. Give me golden armour and a sword; and maybe a gypsy earring. Let me dance by the open fire in a forest. Let me howl at the moon with the wolves. Let me paint, act, sing, dance, tell stories. Let me suck the marrow out of life.
As a little girl, this all seemed possible to me. I refused to believe people when they told me life wasn’t like that. I refused to listen to those who told me to be more ‘realistic’. I had no concept, as a little girl, that there were different rules for women than for men. I had no idea of it. Despite my dad being quite a traditionalist in his personal life and relationship with my mum – with his daughters he tread a more liberal, progressive, and enabling line. We were to get an education and be able to take care of ourselves. While he didn’t believe that I could quite do anything I wanted to (starting with being an actress, astronaut or archaeologist), he did believe I should have a career. Marriage was less important.
As a little girl, I believed I should be able to do anything and I fought against anyone who tried to tell me differently. My mum had always told me I could. There was no reason to think otherwise.
It took some time, an introduction to some very conservative views in the Greek-Australian community at University, and the slow dawning of the mainstream media on my consciousness to realise that a lot of the rest of the world didn’t agree with me.
I didn’t realise it was more important to the mainstream community that I be lady-like or ‘feminine’ than that I have opinions about the world. It dawned on me quite late, that getting married was a very important sign of ‘desirability’and acceptableness in the world. When an ex-boyfriend of mine at university angrily opined that he wished I’d stop hanging around with the guys talking politics, and go talk to the ’girls’ about ‘girl stuff’ (e.g. shoes) instead, I gaped at him like he’d grown two horns on his head and pooped out an elephant.
But the more I saw of this stuff, the more I realised I didn’t fit in. Only in later life did I realise how many damaging things I’d been told over the years. And the beliefs were pretty insidious:
- Strong women aren’t loveable, men find them too intimidating and frightening. I was a strong woman so I must be unloveable.
- ‘Feminism’ is dirty, dirty word. I’d have to let go of that if I was ever to find love. If only I could let go of this idea of ‘feminism’I’d be able to twist a man around my little finger. But ‘feminism’? A man’s ego wouldn’t allow it.
- I had a chip on my shoulder. I was too angry.
- I wasn’t lady-like enough. I was too opinionated. I didn’t care enough about how I looked.
- Dreams were a waste of time. The world was run by money and self-interest, and I’d need to lose my idealism if I wanted to get by. My dreams would die under the harsh light of the ‘real world’.
- Expressing myself authentically makes other people uncomfortable. I should try for less of that, and more of getting along well with others. Then I’d get whatever I wanted, but first I needed to learn how to‘play the game’. My straight forward manner was problematic. I was problematic.
I don’t particularly blame anyone for these opinions by the way – it is just the stuff out there in the mainstream narrative that I internalised without realising how deeply those beliefs stood in my way. And society doesn’t mean it to be damaging. Even your parents – when they tell you these things – are only trying to protect you and keep you safe. Most of the time people want what’s best for you. Everyone is doing their best. Many people are themselves living in the shadow and limitations of these beliefs.
I can’t quite put into words what this is like though, when you feel the pressure of this narrative on one side and the siren call of your own soul on the other. I’ll only say that it creates a dichotomy – a splitting on a deep soul level – between who you feel yourself to authentically be and who you end up trying to become in order to please the world and ‘fit in’. In order to make people less uncomfortable. For many years, I tried to squeeze the complexity of myself into a box labelled ‘acceptable’. Of course, it made me miserable and I was never very good at it.
Anyone who has ever felt out of step with mainstream values and societal norms will know the loneliness and often the sense of helplessness this can engender. It is lonely to feel yourself at the fringe of society and to not see yourself reflected in the world around you.
I only decided to take the long journey into reclaiming my essential self after my second serious relationship broke down. It was only then – at about age 26 – that I started to question everything about who I was, where I was going, who I’d allowed myself to be, what was true for me and what was not. The next decade was about this slow, crucial reclaiming of myself –culminating in finding impro in my late 30’s and returning to my most authentic self. And still, there have been demons to fight, personal dragons to slay, and childhood traumas to heal. The process isn’t over yet. It probably will never be over.
So I am extremely grateful today to reflect on all of this and realise – looking around me – that I am suddenly surrounded by strong, capable, confident, talented, spiritual and connected women, who model for me both on stage and in their own lives the kind of woman I love and have always hoped to be. And they are incredible. They challenge everyone around them (men and women alike) to rise to their level – rather than forcing themselves to sink down into the box society calls ‘acceptable’. They shine brightly, and unapologetically, and in so doing inspire all around them to shine too.
So to those women I today give heartfelt thanks – the three ladies of the cantina – you rock my world.
Thanks for existing and for being in my life, so that I can now look back at little Vicki and tell her there’s absolutely nothing wrong with her. That she is perfect just as she is.
And somewhere in the deep past, a five year old girl looks up and gives me a bright, world-changing, wolf-howling, loving grin. “Head up, kid. You’re not alone.”