Watch Out for the Scary Angry Lady!

I have a good friend who lost her 4-year-old to cancer. She’s angry and grieving, with good reason. Well-meaning people ask her what steps she is taking to move on, or judge her grieving process without walking in her shoes. Her child died, for fuck’s sake! Is she supposed to pretend everything is sunshine and roses?

I have another friend whose husband refuses to get a vasectomy when a fourth pregnancy could literally kill her. He also rarely participates in the nitty gritty of child rearing. She doesn’t seem angry, just tired and worn down. Anger might give her more energy. I hope she finds some, because it will be helpful in kicking that worthless man-child to the curb.

I’ve seen numerous versions of this situation. A male colleague slacks on the job. The women clean up his messes, all while continuing to do similar jobs at a far higher level of excellence. The dude gets a raise and a promotion from new company leadership. The women either quit, or are told to “stop being so negative” when they express unhappiness about the accepted corporate culture. Fuck. That.

Growing up, most of us were taught that we should accept sexism and double standards because “that’s just the way it is.” Even worse, we were taught that accepting those things with a smile was something admirable. Negative emotions are unacceptable in a woman. I can’t remember how many times I was told to look on the bright side of something that just really, really sucked. Most of us thought that if we worked hard, played by the rules in a man’s world, and acted like “one of the guys” we could be the exception, the one special girl that “wasn’t like the other girls.” The young women I know are more pleasant for men to be around because they haven’t yet experienced enough to know that this is utter bullshit. You can act like a man all you want, but if you have lady parts you don’t earn the same respect (let alone salary, stature, etc) no matter how hard you work or how well you play by the rules. Eventually, that happened to me so many times that I decided it was about time I got comfortable with my anger, rather than being ashamed of it. I didn’t make a conscious decision to embrace the rage. I had a choice between directing it outward toward the people and situations who were causing it, or directing it towards myself, because at least I could change what I was doing, even if it was killing me. And it was. I had to start choosing the first option in order to heal my soul.

If you are uncomfortable with a woman’s anger, stop giving us reasons to be angry. Over the past year on social media, I’ve become far more comfortable in expressing my anger about the injustices in the world towards anyone who isn’t a straight, white, able-bodied, middle-to-upper class man. Some people have branded me as angry or scary as a result. Here’s the secret – if you don’t say anything ignorant regarding people who aren’t straight, white, able-bodied, middle-to-upper class men, you have nothing to fear from me. I am supportive and generous to those I love, I’ll always help when I can and I work my ass off in every job, band, project, or relationship I decide is worth the effort. If you show ignorance and become indignant and offended when called out on it, you are demonstrably a waste of my precious time and resources. However, for the sake of my friends who don’t have as much privilege I will continue to call that ignorance out, especially if you have the gall to comment on one of my posts. Perhaps you will learn something, perhaps not. It’s not my job to teach you a damn thing. My “angry” responses are in support of those I love who are hurt by your ignorance, and if you get your fragile feelings hurt that’s not my problem. Grow up, and work on your empathy and self-awareness. Then maybe the “angry” lady won’t scare you so much anymore.

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If You’re Nasty….

Whew.

This campaign has been completely mind-blowing, and not in a good way. Every day I wake up with a pit in my stomach, wondering what new sexist, degrading Trump quote is going to be blasted over all media. I honestly can’t decide whether sexism is harder to deal with when it’s subtle or when it’s as overt as the Trump campaign has been. When it’s subtle, like a bandmate making a joke that he hopes your outfit is see-through on stage, it’s easier to laugh off but harder to stand up to as it gradually eats away at your soul. When it’s overt, there are plenty of people calling it out and there’s a safety in numbers in that respect, but it’s incredibly painful when so many others, including people you love and respect, minimize or trivialize it.

Last night’s debate was a Hillary Clinton master class in turning the tables on a sexist bully. She won’t win over any of Trump’s supporters because they just hate her too much, but I can’t imagine anyone denying that NOTHING intimidates her. That’s a thick skin and a controlled mind, and I’m in awe. She deserves to shatter that last glass ceiling.

There are a million think pieces on a million websites written by writers who are a million times better at analysis than I am and I’m learning so much from all of the reading I’ve been doing in the free time I have before my new job starts. I’m not even going to try to write an analysis of the whole debate. My brain hurts enough as it is. There was just one point that stuck out for me that spoke so much to my personal experience in a male-dominated business that I just need to purge a bit. The “nasty woman.”

UUUUGGGGHHHH!!! It’s so easy, isn’t it? It’s so easy to shut a woman down when you don’t like what comes out of her mouth, no matter how true it may be. “Crazy.” “Emotional.” “Nasty.” “Bitch.” When a man is verbally backed into a corner by a woman and can’t talk his way out, he can always use one of these crutches to preserve his own ego. It’s LAZY! It’s pathetic. So many times I’ve heard stories in my industry about this woman or that woman who is “difficult” or a “bitch” or a “diva”, only to find out how intelligent and capable she is when I meet her in person. I also know a lot of men who skate by mostly on the fact that men can get away with things that women can’t, who are intimidated by a woman who may be smarter or more knowledgeable about the business. Some men can not stand to hear that they’re wrong when it comes from a feminine voice, no matter how nice that voice is trying to be. I admire Hillary Clinton so much for holding steady and not letting that rattle her, but once again a woman has to withstand and put up with more than this particular man ever could. The double standards are maddening.

I spent much of my music career muting my opinions on sexism and double standards because otherwise I wouldn’t have had much of a music career. Now that I’m scaling back on performing I’ve become much more outspoken on social media. I can’t hold it in anymore. I’m so tired of people who don’t recognize sexism for what it is and when it’s happening. I’m frustrated that more women don’t recognize their own oppression, and how much more they are than what they have settled for. I’m especially over the mansplainers who keep trying to prove my points wrong (usually with poor grammar and syntax, while reading comprehension is another issue altogether) no matter how many other posters pile on in my defense. I’m trying so hard not to hate people in general right now.

Fortunately, I’m finding that there are wonderful men who get it. There are incredible women who are willing to take a stand on these issues. I’m finding so many more of them the more I speak out. My husband worries that I’ll piss off the wrong person at some point, and that is a legitimate concern that has crossed my mind. It does make me nervous that I could lose professional and personal opportunities because someone will think I’m too “nasty”.

But at the end of the day, you can’t please everyone. For every person who may think my opinions and outspokenness make me a bitch, there is another who tells me that they appreciate it. The other day I received a text from a friend asking a question about an article I posted about feminism. His question was sincere, and he said he was asking because he respects me and my ability to articulate my viewpoints. It meant a lot. I’m developing a thicker skin, but it’s a struggle to maintain it at times because my emotional default is sensitivity. However, at this point it hurts worse to hold it in, and I’m choosing to channel it into learning as much as I can so that I can continue to articulate why feminism is so important, and why women deserve an equal seat at the tables of power in any profession.

One of the Guys

I used to take pride in being a “guy’s girl”, also known as the “cool girl” if you read or saw Gone Girl. I lost my mom when I was 13, and I absorbed a lot of messages from a chauvinistic father, such as “emotions are bad” (bad women) and “be logical at all times” (good men). I scoffed at peers whose parents seemed to be “coddling” them – I didn’t need anyone to do that, I was tougher. When someone did something I deemed impulsive or stupid, I used “tough love”. I wasn’t the friend who told you what you wanted to hear, I told it like it was. I used to call men “pussies” as an insult for shock value and cool girl points. I didn’t care much about clothes and make-up, and I loathed shoe shopping. I was determined to be as low maintenance as possible, because most women were “high maintenance.” As a result, I always had plenty of guy friends and no shortage of men to date.

So when I started playing in bands with men, I was sure that I wouldn’t be the “typical, difficult” female singer that I’d heard about from my musician father and friends. I wasn’t a “diva”, I didn’t make “unreasonable demands.” I’d had plenty of practice being “one of the guys.” It never occurred to me that I would have conflicts with the guys I worked with, because I understood how to fit into that dynamic.

HOWEVER…..I’m not a man. I have the lady parts, and along with those come expectations of how women are or are supposed to be. Just because a woman plays the game like a man doesn’t mean she will have access to male privilege. The reason calling a man a “pussy” is so insulting is because being compared to a woman is something a lot of men would find shameful. Who the hell decided that?

I’m still not entirely sure what advice I would give to a woman about how to work functionally in an entirely male environment. All I can say is that playing the role of “guy’s girl” has at times backfired in ways I never expected, because I thought that I would be treated like a man if I acted the same as the guys did. This has not been the case. For example:

  • A difficult bandmate angers the other bandmates at different times, and each has individually raised his voice at him at different times without consequence. When I do it, I’m told that I “shouldn’t talk to him that way.”
  • I hear lots of stories from bandmates about how “difficult” and “diva-like” their previous female singer was. When the inevitable double standards surface and conflicts result start happening I call the previous singer to ask what happened from her perspective. Our stories have many, many similarities.
  • I join a band with potential but that is playing low dollar, low profile rooms. In a little over a year, we are playing high profile rooms for 3-4 times as much as the band had made before I joined. I’m considered the co-band leader, but when I try to mediate an onstage argument between bandmates on stage in one of these rooms, one bandmate says “why don’t you just shut up?”
  • Though my regular attire is jeans, t-shirts and hoodies (“low maintenance” right here!), I’m aware that I have to step up the wardrobe and makeup game when I’m on stage. So I pay a lot of attention to what looks good as well as what clothes won’t hinder my performance by bunching up or showing off the goods if I were to inadvertently walk in front of a fan. It took a lot of time, experimentation, and stressful shopping experiences as well as numerous on stage wardrobe malfunctions, but I’ve figured out what works. So when my bandmates decide they want me to find a dress in a specific, non-traditional color to match their chosen wardrobe for private events and I try to explain how difficult that is going to be, I’m told that I’m “not doing my job” if I spend hours looking in stores and online but can’t find a dress that frankly doesn’t exist in any store that doesn’t cater to teenagers shopping for prom.

I work hard on my craft – not just on my instrument, but also on learning about everything that a band needs to do in order to attain a certain level of success. That’s a big reason why my last 3 bands have attained a certain level of financial success and notoriety. But what I’ve never figured out is how to parlay the “cool girl” thing into gaining respect from those I work with. The truth is, you can’t. Because the “cool girl” doesn’t complain. A “guy’s girl” doesn’t make waves. She goes along with whatever the guys want to do, and doesn’t ask or expect them to expend any extra physical or mental effort, even if she is already doing plenty of that by trying to balance regular band responsibilities with what society in general expects from a woman. That balance is quite frankly exhausting. I can’t tell you how many times men, both in the business and not, have felt that they have the right to tell me how to look, how to act, how to just be in general, etc, and I’m expected to take this criticism with a smile and they are shocked…SHOCKED, I tell you….when I explain why that just isn’t going to work for me. I find this especially ironic in that a cardinal rule for cover bands is to play to the women. If the girls come out, the guys will follow. Of all of the people in the band, isn’t the woman the one most likely to know how to best appeal to other women (even if she is a “guy’s girl”)? But I can’t even count how many times my opinion on this has been discounted, because the latest Miley Cyrus song is “too slow and stupid” so therefore we shouldn’t learn it even if it crushes in any club no matter who is playing it BECAUSE THE WOMEN LOVE IT.

These days I’m tossing off that self-imposed “guy’s girl” label. People are just people. I know just as many strong, logical women as I do emotional men, and both are just as fine with me as long as they aren’t assholes. I’m also taking it with a grain of salt whenever I hear a guy in a band saying how a female bandmate is “difficult” or “emotional” or a “diva.” Perhaps she is, or perhaps the man is outing himself as someone who would rather not do the mental work to understand her perspective. Men can get away with that because it’s easy to blame the woman or label her as “crazy” if she doesn’t respond to unfair treatment the way a man wants her to. Fuck. That. If a man is allowed to get angry if he is mistreated or disrespected, then so is a woman.

I will never again try to insult someone by calling them a pussy. But I still hate shoe shopping.

 

 

When there are no other words…

Today my head is full of expletives. Tuesday night, national hero Hillary Clinton celebrated numerous primary victories. This prompted expletives of the “Fuck YES!” variety. Then came the male pundits with the usual “her voice is grating” and “why isn’t she smiling” tweets. My mental expletives made a U-turn into “Go FUCK yourself” territory. (Is there another word as gloriously versatile as “fuck”?)

I’m so tired of this crap. Hillary, like most women, can’t fucking win. Ever. If she’s demure, she’s faking it or not a strong enough leader. If she’s speaking passionately, she’s “too angry and emotional.” And telling her to smile? The woman is more qualified than of any of those other dingdong candidates who want to be the leader of the free world, and these fuckwits are telling her she’s not smiling enough? It takes a helluva lot of ego to condescend to anyone with her litany of accomplishments. What does a woman have to do to earn any fucking respect? You don’t have to agree with her policy ideas, but she’s accomplished far too much to be reduced to whether her facial expressions and voice inflections are acceptable to these uppity male pundits. If a law degree, US Senate and Secretary of State aren’t enough to earn Hillary respect as an equal, what chance do the rest of us mere mortals have? Fucking fuckity fuck.

I’m struggling this election season. I need to start ignoring political discussions on social media because of I’m afraid I’ll have a stroke from all of the blinding rage. How can any woman think of voting for some of these people? Do they not have any self respect? Every one of those Republican candidates treats women like they are children incapable of making the best decisions for their own lives. Instead of providing services to help lower income and working mothers so they can provide for all these babies they’re supposed to pop out, they talk about restricting abortions, birth control access, cuts to the “takers”, etc. Fuck those guys. Fuck Trump. Fuck Cruz. Fuck Kasich. Fuck all of ‘em.

I like Bernie. He’s definitely entertaining. I like his ideas. I’ll vote for him if he gets the nomination. The other option is unthinkable to me.

Bernie yells. No one has a problem with this. He can be the country’s grumpy grandpa all he wants and still be The Man according to his supporters. Hillary is “shrill.” People “can’t stand her voice.” She’s “disrespectful.” Ugh. STFU. Her voice is authoritative. She’s assertive. Sometimes aggressive. Politicians have to be. How else is she supposed to command respect? By asking nicely if you will allow her to speak? FUUUUUUCK YOOOUUUUU!!!!

Another one of my favorite anti-Clinton talking points is “Hillary lies.” Guess what, idiots? She’s a politician. THEY ALL FUCKING LIE! They all lie, “flip-flop”, change their minds, make underhanded deals, etc. It’s all part of the political game and completely embedded in our system. I don’t like it, but it’s what we’re working with right now. This point was recently brought up on a Facebook post by the mother of a dear friend whom I’ve always been extremely fond of. “Why doesn’t anyone have a problem with Hillary’s lies?” Why do people have less of a problem with Trump’s lies? With Rubio’s lies? Hell, even Bernie doesn’t have a 100% truth telling record. Hillary gets more crap for her “lies” than anyone. And it’s entirely because she’s a woman. Women are PEOPLE! We’re not less than men. We’re also not more than men, so stop putting us on fucking pedestals and holding our mistakes against us longer than any man would have to endure it. I know little kids put their mommies on pedestals and their mommies can do no wrong, but guess what? Mommy is a person too. Children need to grow up and cool it with the double standards. Mommy has strengths and weaknesses just like any other person. Hillary hasn’t done anything that an equally successful male politician wouldn’t do, but she’s gotten a shitload of more grief for it.

I’m taking this personally. I’m aware of this. I’ve spent a long time in a business where I’ve worked almost entirely with men. As long as I’m sweet and go along with what they want, everything is gravy. As soon as I set boundaries for my own personal and professional well-being, boundaries that do not impede on anyone else’s boundaries, I am considered difficult. If I get angry about this, I’m too emotional and unreasonable.  I’ve had numerous instances when I’ve inadvertently outshone the men I work with, and they start treating me like absolute crap because their egos can’t handle a woman who might be smarter or more talented than they are. I’m supposed to make THEM look good, but I’m not supposed to enjoy any success for myself. I’m thisclose to throwing in the towel on my performing career because I don’t want to deal with it anymore, and it’s only been 10 years. Hillary? She’s still in the game after dealing with this for almost 30 years in the public eye, and she probably dealt with it long before she was a public figure. I’m completely awe of her.  I feel beat up after only 10 years, and here’s Hillary, still standing, still going, still working. There are many reasons given by researchers and journalists for why there aren’t as many women in leadership positions in almost every field, but I honestly think a lot of it is because it takes too much of an emotional toll. How many times can we get knocked down by chauvinistic men, and then get back up and keep pushing through so we can achieve what we want? How many times can we stand to be told to “stay in our place” overtly or otherwise, before we say “ENOUGH” and look for a less soul-destroying path?

Hillary is hanging in there long after many would have retired, especially when she’s already guaranteed a spot in the history books. If a woman has the energy, strength and resilience to stay in the game this long and withstand the constant criticism and double standards, she can handle the toughest job in the world (and yes, I agree with the majority of her platform so I’m not just voting for her because she’s a woman, thank you very much). This completely insane election season is happening at a time in my life when I need some inspiration to get back up and deal with more patriarchal bullshit if I want to continue on this career path. I’ve already voted in my state’s primary, so no matter what happens I can at least say that I cast a vote for a female president at least once in my lifetime. When I cast that ballot, it affected me far more emotionally than I ever expected. Until recently I’ve never been a huge Hillary fan, but watching this election cycle and imagining what kind of resolve it takes to work at the level she still does while dealing with so much bullshit is awe-inspiring. She’s taking a giant one for the lady team. I really fucking hope it pays off.

Kate

Two weeks ago, we began the day mourning the loss of David Bowie. My husband busted out the Bowie vinyl and we spent the afternoon listening to Changesonebowie and taking funny pictures of the cat sitting next to the album cover to post on Facebook. A loss of an artist of that stature is felt by the whole world. It’s strange to mourn someone we never knew personally, but losing an artist’s unique voice affects people in a very real way. We’ve lost something from the world that can never be replicated.

Later that evening, I finished teaching voice lessons and walked into the bedroom to ask the hubby what he wanted for dinner. Before I could say anything, in a voice devoid of any emotion besides complete shock, he said, “Kate relapsed.”

Kate is the daughter of one of Chris’ closest friends, Mike. At the age of two, she was diagnosed with Pre-B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). A very treatable form of pediatric cancer, but cancer nonetheless. For two years she and her family endured grueling treatments before she was declared in remission in September. Her mother Lindsay is the most organized person on earth (sit down, Martha Stewart) and kept detailed records of every aspect of treatment, every medication, every reaction, etc. Cancer treatment is agonizing physically and emotionally but Kate made it through without the major setbacks that a lot of kids have. We knew that there would be lingering effects and issues to deal with post-chemo, but I don’t think anyone who knew the family considered for more than a passing second here or there that Kate wouldn’t make it through. My best friend’s brother had leukemia when we were kids, and he’s all grown up now with a good job, a new wife and a pretty good life. Kate had the odds in her favor, along with rockstar parents and grandparents who were doing everything they were supposed to do in order to get her well.

Kate passed away the next morning. 4.5 years old. After only 4 months of normal. 4 months of family trips. 4 months of preschool and new friends. 4 months without tubeys and pokies and steroids.  At her last doctor’s appointment just a few weeks earlier, her counts were “perfect.” The leukemia just came back with a vengeance, and as strong as she was it was just too much for her little body.

To sit with parents at the worst moment of their lives is as raw and real as it gets. Most of the guys who were groomsmen in our wedding (including Mike who was Chris’ best man) have been a close group since grade school, yet Chris couldn’t remember ever seeing Mike cry. As another of them put it, this was “uncharted territory.” They have seen each other through weddings, divorces, issues with parents, children, illnesses, etc, but this…..What do you do to comfort someone who means so much to you when you can’t give them the one thing that would make it better?

You sit. You cry. You laugh when there are no tears left. You bring food, paper products, wine, not just for the grieving parents, but for the many, many people coming to the house for the same reasons you are. To offer what little support they can. To try to find the right words, or perhaps even harder, to try not to say the wrong words. To show them how much they and their little girl are loved, because at a moment like this love is all there is.

The week leading up to Kate’s funeral was gut-wrenching, awful, painful in ways that I could never imagine even in my most empathetic moments. And yet, there was so much that was beautiful. We spent as much time at their house as we could, and I fell absolutely in love with everyone I met because of the pureness of the love and grief and sincere desire to mitigate the pain in any small way they could. There were friends new and old, there was family, there were co-workers, there were “mom’s groups”. The “ninja” friend who throughout Kate’s illness would leave little care packages on the front stoop without anyone knowing she was there. The nurses who become like family after seeing their little patients week after week, who are somehow strong enough to keep doing this work without losing their kindness and empathy even after witnessing indescribable grief and suffering. Two of Chris’ friends sat in Kate’s playroom scrunched up at a child’s table with a Mac for over 8 hours designing the program for her service because “Kinko’s isn’t good enough.” Lindsay’s company took care of the whole reception for them, complete with Kate’s favorite treats. It was a tidal wave of love and caring that reminded me in the sweetest and most painful way that there are some really amazing people in the world. And then there were my own friends who don’t know Lindsay and Mike, who joined the Facebook page dedicated to Kate, who contributed to the online fundraiser, who lent me an ear so that I could pour out my own grief to them and then go back to be present in any way I could for Mike and Lindsay and my husband and all of their friends.

At times I feel as though the talent that I have spent my life developing is frivolous and useless, and I wish I was better at thinking of gift ideas or domestic tasks or cooking meals that are far more practical life skills. But it is also an honor to play a small part in making a significant life event a bit more beautiful and meaningful through music. Up to this point, those events were almost all weddings. When Lindsay and Mike asked me to sing at Kate’s service, at first I wanted to say no. Not because I didn’t want to do anything I possibly could for them, but because I felt it was too great a responsibility and I was in no way confident that I would be strong enough to sing around the lump in my throat and the pains in my chest. But in the end I could never say no to them. I would have to lock myself in my studio and practice the songs over and over until I could make it through them without breaking down in heaving sobs. I’m not the praying type, but if there was any divine help offered I asked for it. And somehow I was able to sing for them at this most precious time – not my best, but well enough so that the music could do what music is supposed to do. One of my favorite quotes is from Aldous Huxley – “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” There is truly no real way to express the pain and grief at a loss like this, but it was the most precious honor to play that small part in the celebration of this far too short but hugely significant life.

I used to believe that everything happens for a reason. I don’t necessarily think that’s true anymore. Sometimes really shitty things happen to really good people and there is not a single fucking good reason for it. People can try to do everything right, and still are left with wounds that will never completely heal. We are not always changed for the better after experiencing pain. But after reflecting and trying to process this most heart wrenching loss, I do believe that we can find purpose in tragedy. Through Kate, I have become aware of other parents who have dealt with losing their child to pediatric cancer. Many have started their own foundations, either to raise money for research, or raise awareness through various campaigns, or provide support to other families. Right now, Lindsay is writing. Her writing is beautiful. A true gift. Kate’s Facebook page has gained over 3000 followers in the past few weeks, and it’s all due to this beautiful child and her mother’s achingly poignant honesty. One day, when she is ready, I hope Lindsay continues to use this gift to provide comfort to others struggling with loss, or to inspire people to get involved in the cause. She and Mike and Kate have already inspired me and countless others.

I have been in the music business for so long that I lost faith in people. I’ve grown to expect that most will be out for themselves, that most don’t care about you as a person but just for how much money you can make them or what connections you can provide them, and I’ve learned to keep my guard up so as not to get hurt or take things personally. So many people posted on social media how sad they were about David Bowie, when that grief doesn’t even begin to compare to the loss of this child to those who knew her and her family. Being on the road takes so much time and energy away from so many people I care about. I had forgotten how many good, kind, unselfish people there are in the world who will come out of the woodwork to help in any way possible when it counts the most. They proved that there can be beauty in the pain.

I’ve been struggling over the past few months trying to decide whether it’s worth continuing full time as a performer. On one hand, it is silly, frivolous work compared to a pediatric cancer nurse. They are truly heroes. On the other, it can give me a platform to draw attention to causes that I care about. And I, like so many others, want to do SOMEthing. For Kate. For her family. For other families. SOMEthing that can help in any small way. Maybe organizing a benefit with other musicians, or wearing gold ribbons while I’m performing, or keeping a picture or trinket on stage that someone may be curious and ask about, and then I can tell them about a perfect, beautiful baby girl who affected so many people and is now gone because of a stupid, scary, wretched disease that should have a freaking cure already but with only 4% of cancer research funding going toward pediatric cancers it’s not enough.

It’s not enough. It’s just not enough.

It’s too late to ‘pologize… it’s too laaaaaaaate……

Lately I’ve seen a lot of essays about women who admit to apologizing too much. Apologizing for taking up space, for asking for anything, for simply existing. And I am SO guilty of this. I have a habit of walking down the street, shoulders hunched, eyes down, – granted, it’s mostly because I’m an introvert and sometimes I really just don’t want to deal with people, but I tend to not want to take up space in the world. Weird I know because I’m a performer, since that naturally involves putting myself out there in front of a lot of people but the stage is strangely a safe zone for me. It’s a persona I can happily discard after a show.

I also have a habit of saying “excuse me, sorry” if I so much as brush up against someone accidentally. It could very well be that this person has gotten in my way, possibly inadvertently because of my mad quest not to draw attention to myself, but I will still add “sorry”  and an eyes lowered, demure smile to my “excuse me.” Why do I do that? Why do I automatically assume that I have less of a right to the shared space than the other person? Why is the added apology necessary? It’s a habit that makes me mad at myself every time I do it, but I’m working on it.

These are public spaces with apologies to strangers, and it can be hard to avoid apologizing for taking up any sort of space when you’ve cultivated the habit for your entire life. What about spaces where a woman should have the right to claim her space, like at home or in her career? What is the best way to assertively take deserved physical and emotional space and set boundaries without feeling the need to apologize for it?

Simply telling a woman to be more assertive isn’t enough, because any assertive woman runs the risk of appearing bitchy and unlikable. The men need to cooperate too. They need to be secure enough to give up some of their space to a capable woman. Ever notice that whenever someone posts an inspiring pep talk meme on social media (“say what you feel,” “fear nothing”, etc), it’s almost always a woman? So many of us constantly give ourselves pep talks before we assert ourselves. So many times I’ve gone through imaginary conversations in the bathroom mirror with the men I deal with, to rehearse before a potentially unpleasant conversation, to convince myself that my needs are reasonable, to practice setting boundaries for my own physical and mental health.  We are trained to take care of everyone else, but if we burn out doing that, who is going to take care of us? And are we expected to apologize  and do better if we inconvenience anyone for this? Quite often, we are.

Unfortunately, from my experience it’s even harder to stand up for yourself when you’re the only woman in your working environment. I’ve now been in 4 bands, and I’ve handled it differently each time, with varying but usually low levels of success. I went from rarely asking for anything, trying to avoid conflict and keeping the peace in my first bands, to setting boundaries and learning to say “no” to requests that are unnecessary or impossible in the more recent ones. I bent over backwards with cooperation and extra work with the early bands, and gradually the tide has turned to where I can hold everyone accountable for contributing where they can and refusing to take on more than I can handle. I feel a helluva lot better about myself as a result.

Unfortunately, the men I’ve worked with were much happier with overly cooperative, conflict avoidant and people-pleasing Meem than assertive, boundary-setting, not-afraid-to-say-no Meem. Sometimes I miss the much sweeter, younger version of myself and find myself envious of those sweet girls just starting out in their first bands, but it came at a serious cost to my self-esteem. In my first bands I blamed myself whenever I was mistreated by a band member. My father was an experienced musician and once told me that “women in bands are just a pain in the ass” as a blanket statement, and I bought it because it never occurred to me that my father was the same as these guys were – a chauvinistic dude who played music, not wise, all-knowing God (who is of course a man).  Before I recognized that I was dealing with a serious case of internalized misogyny, I was so determined not to be the typical pain in the ass woman that I swallowed my feelings every time I was treated unfairly until I would freak out over what seemed to my bandmates to be something insignificant. I would go over situations again and again in my head to try to figure out what I had done wrong and how I could fix it, because I was conditioned to believe that if something wasn’t going well it had to be my fault.  Women just cause all of the problems with those dang feelings and shit! Eventually I would apologize and start swallowing more shit, because God forbid any of the guys would take responsibility for the conflict or admit that they might be at fault where a woman was concerned. It was too much of a blow to their fragile egos.

Over the course of 4 bands my perspective has shifted to a place where I feel comfortable saying no, but the guys don’t like it. I have no more guilt about refusing requests that I find unreasonable, but if you’re working with men who are either unable or unwilling to put themselves in a woman’s shoes to understand the reasons for such a refusal, you could find yourself out of a job. I can explain my position until I’m blue in the face, but in the end it still doesn’t matter if mob mentality takes over with the menfolk. Everything is gravy as long as you are sweet and accommodating and willing to swallow the shit, but a woman who refuses a man’s requests, no matter how rational her reasons, is automatically “difficult” or “not a team player” or has a “bad attitude.” The feelings of the men are valid, the woman’s are minimized. Guys can argue with each other and forget about it 5 seconds later because they are coming from a base of mutual respect. When a man and a woman disagree, an insecure man has to “win”. If he loses it could be humiliating and cause long-term resentment against the woman. For the woman, constantly submitting to keep the peace comes at a high emotional and physical cost that I am no longer willing to pay. As long as no one is getting mistreated I am quite willing and able to work through disagreements with a male co-worker like adults, but it’s not going to end happily if the man must win no matter what.

A lot of the most successful women I know are in bands where they are the boss, and at this point I’m pretty sure that’s the only way to happily stay in this business long term if you have a vagina. Bands hire young women they think they can groom, and eventually that young woman gets older and tired of the shit swallowing and either joins another band, starts her own, scales down her ambitions or leaves the business altogether. So then the band hires someone younger who is still willing to apologize for things she shouldn’t have to, and the cycle continues. Just like in corporate America, there needs to be more women at the heads of their companies/bands so that more men get used to seeing a capable woman in charge, and learn that it’s not weak or emasculating to see things from the feminine perspective. Then eventually we could see a shift to where both a man and a woman’s needs are considered equal even if they are different and everyone can work together to create a successful project.

The Force is Strong with this Costume

This may have mild spoilers from the latest Star Wars movie so proceed only if you’ve seen it.

My husband books the entertainment for a popular local nightclub, and for the past two years he booked my band to play Halloween. The first year we played, the band had some conflicts between those of us who wanted to go all out with costumes (since that is usually what is expected of bands who play on Halloween, and my husband expects that of the band he books) and those who whined like children that they hated dressing up on Halloween because they didn’t like being uncomfortable on stage. (Nevermind as the woman I’ll almost always be uncomfortable on stage, particularly for private events, but that’s a rant for another time). We finally settled on dressing up as bikers, since we could get away with wearing jeans and dressing things up with creative facial hair or fake tattoos. A lazy idea, especially since one of the guys had done it before with his former band, but with Sons of Anarchy closing out the series last fall it seemed culturally appropriate.

So this past Halloween, the guys decided they wanted to do Star Wars. And they of course assumed I would dress as Princess Leia, since “there’s a Princess Leia costume on Amazon for 40 bucks.” There are two choices of Princess Leia costumes  – slave girl bikini and giant white muumuu. Sorry boys, not wearing a bikini on stage for a bunch of 20-something bros to ogle and possibly attempt to manhandle. So then you have the choice of overflowing muumuu or tight slutty muumuu. No, and no. Not to mention the concern of wearing white on stage under lights – how expensive is the costume with the high enough quality material that I won’t be inadvertently showing off the goods? Leia wore other costumes in the original trilogy, people! But yet her two most impractical outfits are the most iconic. Any fanboys have an answer as to why that is? Ugh, Ginger Rogers may have done everything a man can do backwards and in high heels*, but it really sucks that she had to.

Fuck that shit. I was not going to be more uncomfortable on stage than my male bandmates who have so many other character choices from an iconic film series. So I started a search for “female Star Wars costume”, thinking that even an Ewok costume would be better than my Leia choices (hard pass on slutty R2D2 though). Fortunately, I started finding costumes for a character named Rey. I’m not a die-hard Star Wars fan but I know enough that I would have recognized another interesting female character from the first two trilogies, though I hadn’t paid much attention to the trailers for the new movie. Once I realized that Rey was a major character in The Force Awakens and her costume was neither skimpy nor impractical, I bought it immediately. It was perfect – comfortable enough to perform in, and judging by my husband’s reaction I looked pretty damn good in it.

I had an absolute blast performing in that costume – I felt confident and sexy and I could move like I always do on stage, whereas I would have felt completely self-conscious in either Leia costume. And this was before the movie came out. I finally saw The Force Awakens today, and I now realize that I got to be the biggest badass on stage that night even if no one knew it yet. Rey is one of the best female characters in a movie this side of Katniss Everdeen. She’s tough, resourceful and smart, and on top of it she’s in all likelihood a freakin’ Jedi! The girl was crushing it with the Force, and had to rescue the guys on numerous occasions. It looks like her story will be the main focus of the new trilogy, and the character is totally deserving of that.  I especially loved that there wasn’t much emphasis on the fact that she’s a girl. She’s just a character worthy of the respect that she earns from the other characters. What a terrific example for the little boys and girls who will be the Star Wars fans of a new generation.

So thanks Rey, for being an awesome character with an awesome costume so I didn’t have to dress as slutty Star Wars for Halloween. And for proving that women can still look good while kicking ass in practical clothing.

*Quote attributed to Faith Whittlesey, but it was actually Bob Thaves according to gingerrogers.com.

 

This is what a smart, resourceful, capable female movie character looks like.

Badass Rey