For some reason, the term ‘gutsy girl’ is stuck in my head like the nagging voice that won’t shut up until you stop whatever you’re doing and pay attention. Caroline Paul’s book, launched early this year, The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for your Life of Epic Adventure, justifiably attracted attention across a broad demographic, which shows that girls, and women, are ready to take bigger bites out of life and what it has to offer. Ms. Paul was one of San Francisco’s first female firefighters, and she’s no stranger to giant, king-size adventure, the kind of adrenalin stirring stuff that most of us only dream of (or shudder at). She wrote an op-ed for the New York Times suggesting that girls are raised to be more fearful than boys, and yes, there’s truth to that. Why?
To my way of thinking it’s because – I don’t know – girls are more delicate / emotionally compromised / mentally incompetent (especially when hormonally afflicted by, you know, the things that we girls and women are hormonally afflicted by, from puberty to menopause, and let’s face it, they’d have us believe, it’s just downhill from there), but perhaps it’s also because our roles are circumscribed from the moment we draw our first breath.
I’ve never jumped out of an airplane, nor have I white river rafted. I’m terrified of heights and big waves. You can scare me with a loud “BOO.” I don’t really want to study polar bears in the Arctic and I’m even scared of cocktail parties. Every month end I quake with fear that my daughter and I won’t make the rent.
BUT . . . BUT . . . womanhood, all on its own, is gutsy. We have babies, and survive the ordeal! We raise children, go to war, get paid less than men, we can multitask, we’ve fought for important things, like the right to vote! We’re gutsy from the moment we’re born. Is there more to it than that?
Yes. Hm. So, other than qualifying as a gutsy girl just because I was born, I became desperate to find some kernel of other gutsiness in me. I compiled a list in my head: I worked with refugees in the aftermath of a shocking spate of xenophobic violence perpetrated by mobs of South Africans on refugees and asylum seekers in 2008. I went so far as to be smuggled into a woman’s prison, and stopped a UN plane from taking off to Burundi with children on board who shouldn’t have been made to leave the country. I moved with my then 13 year-old daughter to one of the most challenging cities in the US – San Francisco (challenging because, San Francisco), and I wrote (write) books I never thought would be published. Okay, so maybe that qualifies me as a gutsy girl?
In the dead of night with the fog drifting in, unable to sleep because of this gutsy girl nagging voice business, I had to own my answer. No. I am not a gutsy girl. But I want to be.
In danger of howling at the moon, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to really define what being a gutsy girl means to me, and here’s what I came up with.
A gutsy girl has faith in herself, no matter what. Come menopause, come the dreaded lurg, come whatever – she has an abiding, relentless, tenacious belief that she is good enough, that she has value, and that she is worthy. In the face of ridicule, rejection, self-doubt, people-doubt, poverty, pain, loss, and grief, the gutsy girl gets up off her knees (after a couple of days in bed) and gets through another day. She does a job that she hates so that she can support her family; she picks her battles and fights them; she stands up for the defenseless and the voiceless, and when she looks in the mirror? No matter how wrinkled / imperfect / saggy / spotty / big / small she perceives herself to be, she is able to say, with conviction, “I am good enough.”
The book no one will read? Write it anyway. That job where you feel invisible and exploited? Hold on to your heart (that’s growing bigger every day because you get it, and it’s just a question of time till other people, the ones who count, will get it, too). Get up in the morning and scramble your eggs just the way you like them.
Oh yes. I’m working on it.