I am a woman, but I cannot offer many extenuating circumstances that make me an expert on the modern battle of the sexes. Who am I to tell this postmodern society that their entire perspective of men and women is upside-down and sideways? My own heritage and experiences have proven to me that women are strongest when they are allowed to be women. Although, the word now requires some special consideration, because anybody can now claim womanhood if their bank account can accommodate a sex reassignment surgery. As a result, my femaleness is now a market commodity and the twenty-first-century woman now wears a price tag, but a patronizing culture tells me to celebrate this as “inclusion.” My foremothers, who prized resiliency and loyalty over the newer virtue of independence are surely rolling in their graves.
I am a result of a wholesome, rural upbringing and up until the age of twelve, I was neither a boy nor a girl in my own mind. I ran barefoot, wild, and perfect. My clothes never matched, and I always wore braided pigtails. I could wrestle, shoot a bow and arrow, and ride a pony better than my little brother. Sandwiched between two wild brothers, I unknowingly learned from an early age what it meant to be a girl in a boy’s world. In-between those two masculine pieces of sourdough, I never considered letting myself be unique, like the refreshing cucumber or the sweet summer tomato. Always, always, I had to prove I was just as tough as they were. Outsmart, outrun, and never, ever complain or I’d be labeled the worst thing imaginable: a sissy. I never victimized myself or threw a tantrum when they expected me to fall behind at hiking or wrestling. It never bothered me that I was a girl; I just knew that I had to prove myself if I was going to keep up with the boys. It was my fault if I didn’t, so I never complained about it.
I distinctly remember the day that I became a girl. I guess I had started looking less androgynous and, well, more like a girl, that my brothers started treating me, well, nicer. They wouldn’t tackle me in football anymore. A new rule of ‘two-hand touch’ was my first step on the journey to womanhood. Soon after, my dad, a builder by trade, told me I couldn’t go to work with him. Why? I wasn’t just the barefooted blonde child anymore; I was becoming a woman. I could no longer blend in the middle of that sibling sort of sandwich I had become so comfortable with. It was time to separate myself from my brothers.
I was no longer ‘Payd,’ one of the gang, but I had suddenly become a girl and was faced with all of the sugar, spice, and occasional sourness that came with this new identity. Before the words sexist or misogynist entered my vocabulary, I accused Daddy of playing favorites with my brothers. He would not treat me like the victim I wanted to be, and I quickly learned that I needed to get over myself if I wanted to be taken seriously. And now, I do not weep over the fate of women in my country, because I am an American woman and I realize that no one on earth ever had a greater chance for glory.
Someone is always at my elbow to remind me that the world is hard for women because it is still a man’s world. I do not listen to them. You see, I was made and raised by strong matriarchs. I am too buoyant to be preyed upon. When my great-grandmother was ready to move her five kids, she didn’t wait for her husband’s permission. She put a ‘For Sale’ sign in the yard and moved all of the kids and furniture in one afternoon while her husband was away at work. Their next door neighbor had to tell my great-grandfather that his family had moved to the bigger house down the street.
My own mother eloped at the age of seventeen and exchanged a nice suburban home to live in a run-down farmhouse, the oldest standing home in Kay County, Oklahoma and two miles from her nearest neighbor. While my dad traveled for work, she remodeled the old farmhouse (which had not been lived in for over two decades). With Oklahoma less than 100 years old and their land only 10 miles from a Native American reservation, dozens of red-blooded young Native American men would have wild parties in her front yard on a regular basis. There was no phone service in her area so she couldn’t call the police. Her independence and self-sufficiency were ingrained in her two daughters. My sister has never camped or been to Australia, but she is currently trekking the Australian Outback without a guide. Knowing my own mind is a part of my upbringing and identity, but so is being feminine.
Nowadays, Woman is “The Boss.” Culture grooms women to be leaders. To succeed, they must be more confident, aggressive, and outspoken. There is no room for softness or femininity in twenty-first century womanhood. Women are measured only by masculine standards. By some criteria, I am not an alpha female, but I am also not tragically a woman. There is no great angst towards men dammed up in my soul or self-doubt lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind being a woman at all. I do not belong to the hysterical throng of Womanhood that believes that Heaven has cursed them with lesser pay. I do not live with the looming threat that my rights will be revoked by the elusive old white men who puff Cuban cigars in rooms with mahogany bookshelves. I do not live in fear. I am a woman, but you will not hear me roar.
I am not always aware that I am a female. Even now I often achieve the same unconscious androgyny of my childhood. However, I feel most like a woman when I am thrown against a starkly feminist backdrop.
I have seen the masses of them, with heads of blue and pink, huddled together at the Women’s Centers on universities across America as they passionately discuss the blatant misogyny of Hemingway’s writing. They are made up of gender nonconforming and nonbinary people, and even a lucky few heterosexual males who have embraced their inner femininity have joined their circle. They band together to and discuss the transgressions of the man at the cafeteria, who, while serving the students, called one of them “a good girl” for eating her vegetables, but didn’t say anything to her male counterpart. They tally up the sins of the men around them and blame them for society’s failings. Together, these oppressed souls are the survivors of the Patriarchy.
At these times, when I am with them, I am not solely me, Payden Annie. I am my mother, sister, aunt, grandmother, and great-grandmothers. I am the eternal feminine that has harnessed the noble qualities of womanhood and chosen to wield this influence to build unity instead of division. I am merely a fragment of half of the human species that holds the world in its womb, deciding whether or not to give birth. Will we use our life-giving abilities to create or destroy?
Sometimes, if I am honest, I do sometimes feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. Why won’t these people just let me be a woman? When they start to give me grief at my refusal to become another casualty for the sake of their gender crusade, I wonder. Why would any woman (an American woman at that!) in her limitless capacity to achieve and create, choose to be nothing more than a victim?
While they are wailing, I am building as every other woman should be.
But in the main, I have managed to figure it out. I have managed to wriggle my way out of between those two pieces of sourdough. Sure, femininity can be as boring as a plain old ham sandwich if that’s how you see it. Or, if I want to be as daring and flavorful as I know I can be, I can be the Parmesan and grated Gruyere in the béchamel sauce between two toasted slices of Fontina bread. If that doesn’t suit my palate, I can be simply delightful like the cream cheese and cucumber combo so refreshing in the summertime. I have been handed the ingredients, but it’s up to me to build a masterpiece.