Back in high school my closest girlfriends and I developed a system of “Badass Points”, an informally-tracked schema whereby each of us could earn group acknowledgement by doing something daring or asinine – and usually both (like skipping class and smoking with “the stoners” – this meant working-class or poor classmates who wore jean jackets adorned with Sharpie’d skulls and who listened to metal – or telling a teacher he had a sexy bum. Unconscionable but rather tame on that last one, I know, but in my defense we were seventeen and imprisoned in our family lives and school). I don’t remember our game running very long but it was much-beloved to me all the same. I liked the idea of being a Badass when most my life I’d invested in Good Girl, when indeed I was very afraid of many things. To venture out – only a bit – and be myself instead of the Convenience I was relied upon to be – felt grand.
In that vein, I don’t think I’d earn many points these days. I’ve become someone quite risk-averse because I’ve found my position oppressively policed by forces both tangible and many perhaps insubstantial to others’ eyes; I’ve found my Fearless ameliorated by events personally devastating that linger on. These days my “badass” mostly runs to deeply-committed-to concepts of fairness that are so inextricably wound up in spiritual practice and belief they are less individual instances of Awesome and more rewarding ways of life that I nevertheless continue to grapple with – for instance, trusting my kids in their wholeness and personhood –
my “badass” consists of speaking up against oppressive social mores that are trite and common, yet devastating and ubiquitous: more wearying than acutely scary. Examples from just lately: this weekend in a group when a person wondered aloud how a missing girl’s family could have let the child out of their sight in the first place – and after a pause in the conversation I indicated my non-support for such victim-blaming and insensitive speech; another example, speaking out when my daughter’s hairstylist called skinny gym neophytes “gross”.
I know at least a handful of readers might think I’m badass enough given the above examples – and a handful of other readers will eyeroll at just how limited and cowardly I really am. Other people’s verdicts don’t matter so much – because what matters is I haven’t felt a Badass in some time and what’s more I feel it’s something I need.
Being a Badass isn’t about, for me, being a jerk to other people, or proving a point to someone else – it’s about doing something I want to do because I want to do it, and I’m a grown lady who’s allowed to make mistakes – right? – without looking around to make sure there won’t be a big scary reprisal, or wondering what my reputation (such as it is, because Who? Gives A Shit) will suffer. Why do I still fear things when I’ve survived through so much so far?
If I was Badass I’d stop running to spend my every last dime on my kids’ immediate needs and I’d “selfishly” buy myself some things I want – I’d let the kiddos have holey socks and stained clothes and I’d fix myself up with some slutty and awesome bra and panty sets and maybe a top that wasn’t an old band t-shirt. But on the flip side if I was a Badass I’d stop giving a damn for the folk who talk like it’s Empowering to collect Nice Things; I’d start saying “Fuck Off” (mentally) now and forever to those who speak prescriptively about those “must haves” that carry price points that don’t reflect my foursome’s economic reality and I’d say “No Thanks, but Good Luck With That” to those with worldviews that don’t concern themselves with the earth, with fellow man here and abroad, and with conspicuous consumption and the cultural heritage of being an American who just tramples and eats everything they see.
If I was a Badass I’d stop feeling crap about my bad habits. Fuck it. Seriously, I have them. They’ll lift someday, or they won’t.
If I was Badass I’d call up that friend who’s not been a friend and tell her, “You know what? You aren’t much of a friend, and it really hurts, and I know you’re busy, but you should know I have feelings.”
If I was a Badass I’d tell my friends, to their faces, I love you.
If I was a Badass I’d let the house be messy (OK, messier) and know that I would get around to fixing it at some point so let’s move on. Instead of what I do now, which is make sure to take care of that shit first, THEN decide what I want to do with the rest of my supposedly-“free” time.
If I was Badass I’d stop worrying about my husband’s health and trust him to manage his own self. God knows I do pretty right by him.
If I was Badass I’d seek more joy and maybe be a more loving and spontaneous and relaxed lady for this man. I’d quit working myself so hard.
If I was a Badass I’d sing loud in front of other people, because I love to sing, and the only people who ever, EVAR hear it are my kids.
If I was a Badass I’d stop feeling this weird shame we’re working class and have working class lives. I’d stop feeling it was my “fault” somehow, especially considering when I reflect on other people’s lives I truly grant them the same humanity and nobility inherent regardless of status and privilege or any lack thereof (or at least I really, really think I do).
If I was Badass, I’d stop feeling people have a right to give a damn or have a say about what food I feed my children, like I’m required to make sure they grow into some awesome consumers with prim and holistic eating habits I can put down to my awesome parenting. Truth is some days I love to cook more than anything, other days (like today!) I save my mental health and take a walk to the diner and get a veggie burger with my son, and it’s pretty funny how hot and cold I am on the whole good-housewife bit. I come nowhere near the mark on being good at this, the whole well-rounded awesome Mama routine, so it’s laughable I still put this pressure on myself. And yeah, I know people shouldn’t have that right to weigh in, but weigh in they do, and dammit, I let it get to me.
That’s part of my problem, maybe most of it. Deep down I keep believing people have the right to weigh in. On my worth. Deep down I still really fear not being a Nice Girl. So many things I want to say but don’t. Or sometimes I do say them then later feel a very humorless shame because my words weren’t “Nice”, or they might have been uncouth or low class or “inappropriate” according to the voice (who?) of someone who, well the one thing I can tell you, is this person is not very fun anyway. The twisted thing is, I am a good (enough) person, and I’m a friend to many and do okay by those I take responsibility for. What am I really afraid of? And another really twisted thing is I know lots of “not-nice” folk and they are some of my favorite people and they’re not scary or horrid!
I’ve made it on my own steam, and that’s to my credit as well as the family and friends who support me so well and the privilege I was born with. But inside… inside I’m often cowering, afraid to lose things I probably don’t really need in the first place, cowering even knowing I won’t lose Me no matter what I do.
But you know. One last thing? I think just writing it all out, and letting it go publicly just what a coward I am?- like, PRETTY much, all the things I’m afraid of? All of a sudden, just now, feels pretty Badass. Hit “publish” – too late now.
It’s almost 2 AM and I hear my daughter giggling at something she’s watching (with headphones) on the laptop. You know what’s really awesome? That. I have her, today, and a sense of unabiding joy when I’m with her.
So I’m going to join her.
“Every man has his own courage, and is betrayed because he seeks in himself the courage of other persons.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson