Tag Archives: personality

A Poetry Interlude

I never know how much context to provide preceding a piece of poetry, but here is all the context I’ll give you for this one. This poem was inspired by a friend who loves poetry and is herself a prolific poet. I myself do not do much dabbling in poetry, whether reading or writing, but I sent this poem to the friend whose post inspired it, and she compared it to an ee cummings poem, and that made my day. So here it is; I hope you enjoy it.

Safety First

Facebook tantalizes me with temptation: “Check out your memories!”
No warning label. Proceed without caution of any kind.

What is in my memories?
Sometimes pure, nostalgic fun
Tendrils and wisps of a more innocent, more slim, more confident, past self
Less weathered.
Less care worn.
Less filtered.
Less experienced.
Less empathetic.
Less everything, it sometimes seems.

Most often, though
the things that crop up are not things at all, but people.
Former friends. In the comments.

I went through a phase, you see,
in my younger days, when I realized
that Jennyfromthesecondgrade
didn’t really need
to see my every thought, picture, fear, or confession.

Facebook tantalized me back then too.
Unfriend, it whispered.
Annoying? Unfriend!
Over-Emotional? Unfriend!
Too Republican? Unfriend!
Too girly? Too sexist? Too liberal? Too Christian? Too atheist? Too cryptic? Too verbose? Too serious? Too silly?
Unfriendunfriendunfriendunfriendunfriendunfriendunfriendunfriendunfriend

 I created the perfect echo chamber,
full of those wonderful creatures who only think the way I do,
and now my feed is clear, concise,
. . . somewhat empty, and . . .
a little redundant.

My old friends show up faithfully, but only in my memories, and
Facebook tantalizes me still:
“Add friend!”

Oh, but Facebook. That’s one temptation to which
I won’t succumb. I’d choke
trying to swallow that much pride.

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Christianity Makes Me a Better Person, but Feminism Makes Me a Better Christian

One day a few months ago I came across an old blog post I published to this site. It was a review I wrote of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I hunted it down on purpose with the intent of showing it to someone on Twitter who had asked for people’s thoughts on Hemingway. For a lark, I read through it again myself and laughed out loud upon reading a line that said, “I’m no feminist, to be sure.”

Quickly I checked the date of the post. Wow, it’s already been five years since I wrote that? And then, on the heels of my astonishment, some surprise: I actually sound kind of proud to be claiming not to be a feminist. A curious realization, considering how sharply my views have changed since then.

The cherry on top, of course, is the part where, at the beginning of the book review, I claim not to be a feminist and then spend the rest of the review lambasting Ernest Hemingway for his blatant misogyny. So it seems that, even though five-years-ago Audra may have been resisting feminism on a conscious level, its deep moral truths had already woven themselves into, at the very least, my subconscious. How I couldn’t see that for myself at the time, I don’t know. If I were a prouder woman, I would delete that post and try to erase all memory of ever having been such a contradictory yet transparent writer. But I’m not all that proud, and besides, that post is part of my journey. So I’ll leave it on my blog. I just won’t link to it.

So now we’ve arrived at the main topic of this post: feminism. At first, I’ll admit, I did resist outwardly identifying as a feminist, although only because I didn’t understand it. Back then, I found it easy to believe that “reverse sexism” was actually a thing. I am aware that I only fell into the same trap that all young people fall into–erroneously believing that they’ve magically figured out the mystery of life by the time they’re twenty-three, and that all the opinions they hold at that age are going to be their opinions for the next sixty years too. But even allowing for the ignorance of youth, I still find myself embarrassed by some of the things I used to believe, and steadfastly. The older I get, the more I realize how much I’ve never known and how much more I never will know.

But feminism has changed my entire life, and I say that non-ironically and completely in earnest. As a younger woman, I measured my own self-worth only in proportion to how much I was valued by my male friends and family members. I did this because society taught me to do it. I was termed (both by myself and others) as “boy-crazy,” as extremely “flirtatious,” as a “tease,” and as a “heartbreaker.” I wore these sexist and demeaning labels proudly, like Girl Scout badges. I sought the company of the opposite sex at every opportunity and shunned the company of other girls and young women almost exclusively.

In part, society trained and encouraged me to behave this way. In part also, I felt more comfortable in the company of the opposite sex because I never quite grew into the feminine persona that I was told all women “should” be. Since I was raised in a Christian environment, my preference for the company of boys was viewed especially harshly. One male youth worker warned a guy who was actually dating me to “stay away from her; she’s a bad influence.” The boy repeated that warning to my face, I guess because he thought it was funny. But I wasn’t a bad influence. I wasn’t sexually promiscuous, although I did enjoy kissing and cuddling and making out. (What teenager doesn’t, though?)

But there was another reason I didn’t like other girls. Sure, I didn’t feel I could relate to a lot of them; I wasn’t fashionable, I couldn’t do my hair, I was awful at applying makeup, and dressing up was a chore reserved for Sundays rather than an elective treat. But that wasn’t all of it. Other girls were my competition. Or, at least, that’s what society said. Plus, I found out quickly and early that if I made fun of my fellow female adolescents for behaving in ways that perpetuated stereotypes, I gained more favor with the guys. So I made fun of gigglers, of bathroom posses, of hair-dyers, of manicures–you name it; if another girl did it, I made fun of it.

But this behavior didn’t really yield positive results for me. What happened instead was that other girls started talking behind my back about what a nasty person I was. What happened instead was that, when the guys whose company I preferred decided they were ready to date the girls I myself had ostracized, I found myself alone and almost friendless. I noticed the negative results of my behavior when I was in college, and I attempted a corrective action in the form of a New Year’s resolution that I sarcastically called Operation: Be Nice to Girls. But it took me many years to figure out how to engage other women in my life in genuine friendship. It took me far longer than I’d like to admit before I stopped viewing other women as competition for male attention (single or otherwise) and started viewing other women as true potential friends and allies in a world where power has been derived from keeping women down.

It’s easy to look at this behavior and judge it as wrong. For those who have never struggled with this, it might be doubly easy to judge. For myself, looking at it in hindsight, it tempts me to feel shame over the person I used to be. But, as a former pastor and fantastic friend once taught me, shame is not productive or constructive. Shame has no positive side effects, and shame has no place in any life, but especially not in the life of a Christian. (Nota bene: Shame and remorse are not the same thing.) But more than that, my behavior was a form of internalized sexism. A sexist world taught me to believe that all women (except myself, of course) were somehow bad.

Other forms of internalized sexism have manifested in the way women have been conditioned to be perpetually dissatisfied with our bodies; we’ve been conditioned to shame women who don’t act in ways that society deems appropriate for a woman; we’ve been conditioned to see beauty only in what we’re told is beautiful (like thinness or tan skin), rather than what we ourselves might find naturally beautiful if we were never influenced by outside factors; we’ve been conditioned to blame other women for making the problem of sexism worse. To linger on that last point for just a second before moving on: Calling out sexism as the primary role player in these issues does not absolve anyone of responsibility for resolution, but blaming women for perpetuating sexism is as vile, inaccurate, and ultimately unproductive as blaming black people for racism or rape victims for their clothing.

But feminism has opened my eyes to the realities I’ve described here. Feminism has taught me that women are not inherently bad, and they are not automatically the opposition. Feminism has taught me that femininity is not about wearing the right makeup and always crossing one’s legs and making sure to be polite and never using swear words. Femininity is not about being a good housekeeper or a good cook or a tolerant/easygoing wife. Feminism has taught me that I am a woman because that is my physical biology. Not to digress too far, but in that same vein, intersectional feminism has taught me that I am a woman because I feel like I’m a woman. Luckily for me, these two things coincide. I was born with a vagina, making me biologically female, and I also identify in my heart and mind with what biology tells me I am. But we don’t need to argue the merits, the reality, or the morality of transgenderism here. The point is, I don’t have to conform to societal expectations in order to be a woman. I am a woman even though I hate pedicures, don’t brush my hair, don’t love to go shopping, and hate wearing heels. I am not less of a woman for not liking the kinds of activities that society has assigned as girly.

Honestly, that conclusion wasn’t the hard part for me. The hard part was the piece feminism taught me after that: Other women are not less valuable just because they do like activities that society has deemed girly. Women who enjoy shopping, who love having their nails done, their hair dyed, and walking in six-inch heels are just as validly women as I myself am. I’ve fought so hard to be accepted as a woman even though I don’t want to be traditionally feminine, so it only makes sense that I would extend back to women who want to be traditionally feminine the exact same grace and acceptance I have demanded for myself. People are people, and they are complex. Women are women, and they are complex. Women can enjoy rom-coms, chocolate, and pink. Women can also enjoy sports, science, and technology. Women can be any combination of these things or none of these things and still be women. The beauty of a free life is that we get to choose who we want to be.

For me, figuring out that I didn’t have to be like other women in order to like other women was one of the biggest and most important epiphanies of my life. And, strangely enough, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve turned back to some traditionally girly practices in my life. I like dressing up and looking nice (sometimes). I enjoy wearing heels (if they’re wedges). I’ve even been known to enjoy a craft on occasion (if it’s not too complicated)! Once feminism liberated me from the bonds of feeling like I had to prove that femininity could look like nontraditionally feminine activities and interests, I felt free to turn around and start re-exploring some of the activities and interests that are traditionally feminine.

Feminism has helped me become more open, more loving, more accepting, and more encouraging as a person. Feminism has helped me view other people in the most positive light I can. I used to look for the negative in other women. Now I try my darndest to find the things we have in common, and if we truly have no common ground, I do my best to listen to them and learn about their interests so that maybe I can find a new interest myself or, at the very least, I can understand them a little better. Because understanding leads to love. And love is what I am called as a Christian to do. Maybe not everyone needs feminism in order to be a better Christian. But it has worked for me.

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Why Do Christians Get So Judgy?

The more open our country becomes toward people who fall outside the traditional norms we’ve grown comfortable with, the more I watch in awe and sorrow as people who identify as Christ followers become more hateful and look less like the Jesus I know. Although, perhaps not surprisingly, these people do look eerily similar to the Pharisees Jesus repeatedly rebuked and chastised.

In the Bible, being a Christian means letting in “the other”—those previously seen as not included in the blessing promised to Abraham. In the Bible, these are Gentiles, people who aren’t Jewish—in other words, they are the people most non-Jewish Christians alive today are descended from at some point along the line.

In 2016 in some parts of America, being a Christian seems to mean judging the behavior of others, being close-minded, and barring the gates of heaven to anyone who does something that is really hard to understand.

Is it really very surprising that, 2,000+ years removed from the life and death of Christ Jesus, we’re screwing up his message? Anyone who’s ever played a game of Telephone can tell you that ain’t much of a shock.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t sad. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t mourn the perversion of the gospel—which is love first and foremost, and then grace, and then mercy. Not bigotry. Not racism. Not class distinction. Not homophobia. Not transphobia. Not conditional acceptance. And not fiery Facebook status updates that proclaim all sorts of things we’d never say to a person’s face and that, above all, tend to prove our own ignorance, our own inexperience, our own lack of empathy.

Aside from the obvious answer—the Telephone explanation—I’ve been thinking about why mainstream Christian culture has become this way. Of course I cannot answer for how others think and act, but I certainly can examine my own life and the times I have failed to represent the love of Christ—almost always because I’ve failed to understand the love of Christ.

I was raised in a Christian home. I grew up going to church and memorizing Bible verses and learning about “the right way to live.” I claim Jesus as my Savior even today—but only because I’ve recognized and tried to shed some of the harmful habits Christianity can enculturate, whether intentionally or inadvertently, and because I finally realized in my mid-twenties that it wasn’t God I was mad at; it was the church.

The main thing I’ve struggled with throughout my life as a Christian is judgment. At church, we use euphemisms that give us permission to judge others—terms like accountability, looking out for the souls of others, and moral behavior. Often, being a good Christian gets reduced to a set of right and wrong behaviors that include perfect church attendance and exclude using tobacco or saying fuck. And quickly, very quickly, we find ourselves trying to follow an arbitrary list of do’s and don’ts that’s longer and more complex than the unwritten rules of baseball.

For me, grace (receiving something that was not earned) and mercy (being granted clemency from deserved punishment) were not concepts I understood as a child. Which is weird because I definitely received both on a more than regular basis.

My parents gave me a weekly allowance that I was supposed to earn by doing chores throughout the week like making my bed, taking out the trash, feeding the dogs, washing the windows, and dusting. More often than not, when Saturday came, I held out my hand, expecting my allowance, with no thought to whether I had actually performed my chores that week (and most of the time I hadn’t). I didn’t earn my allowance. But it was given to me anyway. It’s too bad the lesson of grace didn’t accompany it.

Mercy was even harder. Kids are familiar with discipline and punishment, and I was no exception. I got grounded, I got privileges taken away, I received punishments that my parents thought were proportionate to whatever wrong I had committed. As such, I felt deep in my soul the unfairness of others breaking rules and not being punished, and I styled myself as a mini-vigilante (known in some circles as a snitch, a narc, or a tattletale), pointing out rule breakers left and right, making sure that, since I had suffered for breaking the rules, everyone who broke the rules would suffer in the same way. That was my concept of justice: If I suffer, everyone suffers. Strangely, the reverse didn’t translate. If I was shown mercy—if I was let off from receiving a punishment I justly deserved—I saw no reason to let others off for the same offense. My reprieve should be the exception, not the norm—lest the fabric of society be rent at its very seams!

So when I think about how this applies to the question of why some Christians find it so important to police the way others behave, I really think it’s as simple and immature as my childhood mentality. Since there is such a strong expectation of right behavior in Christian culture, many Christians get caught up in making sure they’re toeing the line. And, by golly, if they’ve gotta toe the line, then so should everyone else! These types of Christians are afraid to confront the possibility that they could do everything that’s “right,” and live their lives as straight-laced as possible, and still not get into heaven. Or perhaps they’re angered by the perceived injustice of the idea that someone else could not live the straight-laced way they’ve done and still slide into heaven alongside them (or, even worse, instead of them?).

This mentality has certainly been a struggle at different points in my faith journey, mostly because, in claiming salvation and inviting Jesus into my heart as a young child, I missed the key to the whole thing, which is grace. I don’t deserve salvation. I’ve done absolutely nothing in my life to earn it, and in fact, I’ve done quite a few things in my life to warrant losing it. But I have learned that it doesn’t really work that way (although I’m far from a once-saved-always-saved apologist). On the other hand, receiving the gift of the grace of salvation is meaningless if I don’t learn how to recognize that same grace working in the lives of others; if I don’t learn how to extend to others my flawed, imperfect, human version of the perfect grace of Jesus.

In my long and slow journey toward understanding the grace that Jesus has extended to me, and accepting my responsibility to extend it to others, I’ve been convicted multiple times by three parables in the New Testament. Some of Jesus’s parables go in one ear and out the other because—let’s face it—they can be weird and confusing. But three have acted repeatedly as agents of conviction in my own life: The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (Matthew 18:21–35); The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1–16); and The Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11–32). All three contain characters who have been recipients of grace or mercy and fail to understand the true magnitude of these gifts (hint: For once, the Prodigal Son is not the one at fault from this perspective!).

Some people in this world may only ever know the version of Jesus we ourselves translate (usually poorly or inaccurately). With that daunting thought in mind, I’ve become less worried about whether the people around me are going to hell or whether they receive the punishments they deserve, and I’ve grown much more concerned with whether they, in interacting with me, ever experience glimpses of unconditional love, unearned grace, and undeserved mercy.

Jesus said, “Go into the world and make disciples of all peoples” (paraphrase of Matthew 28:19). And he said, “Do not judge, lest you be judged” (paraphrase of Matthew 7:1 and Luke 6:37).

He did not say, “Go forth and tell those you perceive as sinners that they’re going to hell.”

He did not say, “Go forth and refuse certain people the right to get married.”

He did not say, “Go forth and act like you’re better than everyone who hasn’t read the Bible.”

And he did not say, “Go forth and punish those who don’t engage in ‘moral’ or ‘right’ behavior just because you’re mad that you’ve done it and they haven’t.”

Some Christians in America in 2016 act like salvation is an exclusive club that anyone can get kicked out of at any moment. But that vision is a warped, garbled, Telephone-scrambled misunderstanding of the truth. Salvation and the gospel of Jesus are wildly, scandalously inclusive.

And thank God, or I would’ve been eliminated from contention years ago.

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An Existential Treatise on the Futility of Rationale

I’ve noticed myself becoming marginally less argumentative and aggressive as I age in this life.

Ha. If you asked for my fiancé’s side of the story, he would probably recount to you the three biggest fights (so far) of our relationship and say adamantly, “Less aggressive? No way.”

But it’s true. The older I get, the less energy I have for arguments (especially on Facebook) that occur between privileged, middle-to-upper-class, white college graduates (and yes, all of those descriptors apply to me).

It’s odd because my belief system is as “figured out” as it’s ever been. I know where I stand on the issues that plague general society and, often more significantly in my circles, the issues that plague the church.

But I have less energy and enthusiasm for an argument with a gun-rights advocate whose platform is so flawed and vague and just…absurdly selfish, I guess, that I get lost when trying to decide how to approach it to pick it apart. But aside from that, even if I knew exactly where to start, I don’t have the motivation.

I have less energy for an argument with a woman who thinks that sexism is a myth, one who is so buried and embroiled and surrounded by the latent sexism in our society that she thinks feminism is a four-letter word instead of what it actually is – a movement that recognizes a severe imbalance in this world and desires to take the steps to equalize it.

I have less energy for an argument with fire-and-brimstone Christians who care more about hatefully espousing their opinions about the eternal souls of those with whom they disagree than they do about getting to know a person who is different from them.

I’ve become disillusioned in this life I’m leading, and I’m past the point where arguments on Facebook, either with strangers or with people I respected until I found out what their politics or morals are, are satisfying to me. I’m past the point in my life where sitting around and debating issues that MATTER is the only thing we do. I live in a privileged world where I get to go to an office every day and earn a yearly salary, complete with healthcare benefits (although sometimes the high deductible feels more like a burden than a benefit). In my position as an editor, I’m constantly engaging and reworking and immersing myself in content that discusses helping, ministering, loving, being Christlike, putting our words into actions (or “feet on our faith,” as one of our monthly periodicals puts it), and I’m tired of these things being words to me and nothing more.

When I was a teenager, then a college student, then a young twenty-something, I dreamed of moving to another country and changing the world. Not in a big way. I don’t have the tools or skills to change the world in a big way. But in my small, linguist-centered way, I was going to make a difference. But now I’m not a twenty-something anymore, and I haven’t done any of the things I thought I would, and my passion has waned.

I don’t know if it’s because I am tired of arguing without doing, or because my arguments get me nowhere, or for some other reason I haven’t yet thought of. But my passion, my energy, my characteristic aggression has diminished.

And what in the world do I do about that? Maybe it’s a good thing, I reason with myself. I wasn’t really argued into any of the beliefs I currently hold. I came to embrace pacifism (and gun legislation), feminism, anti-homophobia, and all of the other issues I am passionate about by observing, studying, reasoning, practicing, and praying. Therefore, what’s the use of arguing my views to someone who doesn’t share them, or holds the opposing viewpoint? If I wasn’t argued in, how can I expect someone else to be? On the other hand, if nobody ever engaged in arguments, would social progress and change ever occur, or would we still be slave owners, who don’t allow women to work or vote?

But did those changes come about because Person A argued with Person B and Person B eventually saw the light and gave in? I don’t think so. I think they came about because Persons A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, and N argued with Persons O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z until some kind of conflict occurred and an obvious winner emerged. Whether the “conflict” be a war or a riot or a vote/election, usually the losing party isn’t suddenly converted to the other side. It’s just that they’ve become a subordinate somehow.

I guess I feel saddened and discouraged that conflict of some kind must occur before things can be made right. I guess it makes me feel powerless. Tweeting about sexism isn’t going to cause employers to raise all their female employees’ pay to match what the male employees make. Arguing with a middle-aged (or older) Christian, who’s claimed Christianity all his or her life, about whether gay people should be afforded the basic rights that everyone else gets isn’t going to legalize gay marriage in the last remaining states. Trying to reason with the overzealous second amendment defenders on Facebook isn’t going to get Congress to pass the gun legislation that this country sorely needs. And writing a blog post about the futility of it all isn’t going to change a damn thing either.

So, don’t mind me. I’m just over here having an existential crisis. I can afford such a luxury since all my other basic needs (except for equality as a woman) have been met. Nothing to see here. Move along, please.

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Forgiving the Dead

My paternal grandmother died in 2009, and I struggled less with the fact of her death than I did with the way her death was treated in my family. I loved my grandma, had a good relationship with her, and was certainly sad over her passing. However, she had been hospitalized for six months before her death, so it had been rather a long time since I’d really had my grandma anyway. For me, her death provided relief. I was relieved to be free of the emotionally difficult and physically tiresome nights of hospital duty we all shared (though, admittedly, I’d been doing it for only one month of the last six because, before that, I had lived in Oklahoma, five hours away from the entire situation). But, more than that, I was relieved that she could no longer feel the pain she had been plagued by for the last half a year. One of the more difficult things I’ve ever done in my life is stand helpless in a hospital room while my grandmother cries out for someone to stop the pain, or for more meds, or for the nurse to be called for the fifteenth time in an hour; and then to watch her become completely crestfallen as the nurse tells her for the thirteenth time in an hour that, legally, she is not allowed to administer any more medication just yet. So yes. Her death, her release from her pain and suffering, was a relief to us all.

I knew – I think we all knew, in fact – that my grandmother was not a perfect, flawless angel. But her death elevated her to a level of sainthood in my family that no one else has ever attained. I wanted to remember my grandmother fondly, and I wanted to miss her, but the way some others in my family spoke about her as if she had been the most unerring, completely sinless human being they’d ever known was a difficult untruth for me to swallow.

I know reverence for and special pedestal placement of the dead is not uncommon. I know it’s the norm, in fact. Long has it been tradition not to “speak ill of the dead,” a precept likely based on the idea that people who cannot defend themselves should not be badmouthed. But my grandma is the closest person to me whose death I’ve experienced, and rather than mourn her with happy memories the way the rest of my family seemed to be doing, I chose to focus on her flaws, the things she got wrong in life, the ways she failed. I think this was a psychological attempt on my behalf to bring balance to what I viewed as sentimental, inauthentic blathering from my family members about what a wonderful person my grandma had been. I have never thought my grandma was not a good person, but it bothered me endlessly that many flaws we all knew about were suddenly brushed under the rug upon her death. I was angry and irritated by actions I perceived to be dishonest and fake. “DEATH DOES NOT A PERFECT PERSON MAKE,” I would write angrily in my journal, or shout to my empty house.

I did not understand why we couldn’t mourn her as she was – a loving wife who often kept her husband’s erratic behavior in sharp check; a meticulous keeper of house whose home was always clean but sometimes felt like a museum for all the breakables you weren’t supposed to touch; a fun grandmother who loved to laugh but also a stern disciplinarian of any of her grandchildren who behaved in ways she didn’t deem decorous; a devoted member of a pastor’s family who never gave up on her loved ones but sometimes did lose her temper with them; a woman who could appreciate a good practical joke but not an irreverent one; someone who loved to play games but stuck to a rigid and legalistic understanding of what the “sin of gambling” was (no playing cards allowed, but all dice games were, for some reason, allowed).

My intent here is not to paint an unbecoming picture of my grandmother. My intent is to depict a human being who was complex and flawed. Basically good? Yes, I believe so. But imperfect? Yes, certainly, if only by default of her species label.

But, after her death, my family appeared to have a tacit agreement that her shortcomings and flaws not be discussed. We must all pretend they didn’t exist, and that was not something that came easily to me. Yes, I loved my grandmother. Yes, I missed her. Yes, I would have her back on this earth and alive and healthy today were such a thing possible. But she had faults, and in the wake of nobody else acknowledging this truth anymore, I began to over-acknowledge it whenever I thought of my grandmother. Any time someone spoke of her in an overly sentimental way, I felt the need to combat the inauthentic-feeling emotion by remembering (to myself, not out loud) one of her mistakes. Over time, this unhealthy practice began to have the unsurprising effect of building resentment and bitterness in my heart toward my dead grandmother, mostly over tensions that lay between us while she lived but that I either never addressed with her or never forgave her for.

One such incident occurred when I was only nine years old. At that time I was the youngest of three grandchildren in the family, and the only girl. My family often joked that I was “the favorite granddaughter,” and even though I knew this was only by technicality of me being the only granddaughter (age-old joke that it is), I still took pride in being the favorite something, even if we all knew it was a jest.

The year that I turned ten, though, a new grandchild was born. Nobody knew the sex of this grandchild until the delivery day, on which my family received a phone call to let us know the news. My grandma was the one calling, and she asked whoever answered the phone (one of my parents, I presume), if she could speak to me. I, excited at the prospect of a new baby in the family, eagerly took the phone and said, “What is it?!”

My grandma’s voice came clearly over the phone, “Audra? Guess what?”

“What!” I could hardly contain my excitement.

“You’re not our favorite granddaughter anymore.”

I don’t remember what happened after that; I only remember the pervading emotion I felt.

What my grandma should’ve said, and what she meant, was, “We can no longer claim that we have a favorite granddaughter anymore because now we have two we love equally.”

But what an emotionally underdeveloped, nine-year-old, favorite-by-default granddaughter heard was, “You’ve been usurped. The new baby is now our favorite granddaughter, and you aren’t.”

Now, as I approach the age of thirty, I know that my grandmother meant no ill by her statement. I know she didn’t mean for me to be hurt, to take it the wrong way, to cry privately about it and build resentment toward both her and my poor, innocent baby cousin over the fact that I had been – as I felt, anyway – replaced. I also know that in her excitement over the birth of a new baby, and her desire to share with me the celebration of gaining another girl in a male-majority family, she did not take adequate time to ponder exactly how to word what she meant to communicate. Or maybe she did, and got too flustered to remember it correctly, who knows.

But I was nine, and I didn’t know any of that (at least, not for sure for sure) back then. And so the hurt festered, and the resentment and bitterness toward both my grandma and my only female cousin grew. My instinct now is to feel ashamed that it happened that way, but again, I was nine. I had no tools by which to process my hurt, or to articulate it. And thus was planted what may have been my first experience of my grandmother as imperfect.

There were other experiences along the way, and I wasn’t the only one to notice them. It’s not like there was a long list, and we certainly didn’t have grandma-bashing sessions; I’m just saying, I’m not the only person in my family who had tension or conflict with her over the course of our lives. My grandmother was a matriarch in every sense of the word. We all at intervals adored, respected, and sometimes feared her.

When I was between the ages of twelve and fourteen I had another experience that later cast my grandmother in a negative light. She was a pastor’s wife for almost the entirety of her life with my grandpa. And she was a very good one for her generation. She kept an immaculate house, she played the piano during services, she stood around greeting parish members after church until the sanctuary had all but emptied out, she was friendly and kind and remembered small details about the lives of the parishioners, her clothes were always pressed and clean, and she regularly entertained guests of all kinds in her home. She was truly the picture of a perfect pastor’s wife, adroitly executing her half of the “Pastor and Mrs. Marvin” career package.

But she didn’t always do it without complaining. Once, during a summer visit I was making to their home, I was following her around like a puppy after a Sunday morning service. I was ready to go back to the parsonage to sit around and do nothing (and get out of Sunday church clothes, of course), and I wanted to be sure I was by Grandma’s side when she decided we could go. I remember she ushered me out of the church building more quickly than usual that particular Sunday, not sticking around until every last person had been greeted, not running around cleaning up abandoned Sunday school rooms or dumping half-full pots of coffee in the kitchen sink, not bustling around and turning off lights as she exited each room.

I don’t remember if I asked for an explanation of her hurried behavior or if she offered it unprompted, but I remember what the whispered explanation was: “Let’s get out of here, quickly. If [church parish member’s name] sees me, she’ll want to talk, and then we’ll never get out of here, and I’ll have to invite her to dinner, and I don’t want to do that today.”

At the time, I remember feeling I had been given a reprieve. For the first (and last) time I could remember, I didn’t have to idle around the church building, waiting for one or both of my grandparents to wrap things up. We were going straight home, like normal people did after church! I had won a small but important victory, for I was on summer vacation as a young teenager. Wandering around church buildings waiting for my elders was not on my summer vacation agenda. Sitting around watching TV or movies at their house, though, was.

But I’ve never forgotten my grandma’s words or attitude from that day. They were distinctly inhospitable, and I’ve thought of that moment often over the years, most usually when internally searching for those negative ways to balance out the excessive sentimentality that followed her death, which I mentioned before. Never, I’m ashamed to say, did I also consider the fact that her behavior that day, inhospitable though it may have been, was also supremely uncharacteristic. Never have I considered why she might not want to get drawn into a conversation with a particular parish member, but as an adult who has been drawn into numerous conversations that I did not wish to be part of with fellow churchgoers, Twitter users, or coworkers, I can certainly understand the involuntary cringe that occurs when a person who is long-winded, or difficult to be patient with, or particularly rude, or socially awkward, initiates a conversation.

As a pastor’s wife, my grandma probably had few to zero outlets for her tiredness or inability to handle certain situations on a given day. Perhaps that Sunday she was extra weary. Perhaps she was thinking of the fact that her teenage granddaughter, whom she only saw a couple times a year, was in town, without parents or brother, and that she wanted to maximize the quality time we could have instead of spending it entertaining someone she knew would probably drive me to another part of the house in boredom. Who knows. As I admitted, I’ve never until recently considered what might have been her motivation. I’ve only taken what was most likely a weak, uncharacteristic moment on her part, and have mentally used it against her in the days and weeks and years following her death.

All of my built-up, unresolved resentment toward and frustration with my grandma reached a climax a few weeks ago when a few of us were cleaning out some of her things one Saturday at the house she shared with my grandpa. (We’ve cleaned her things out slowly over the years, it being both too painful and too much volume to do it all at once.) One of the things we found this time was an article she had written for and gotten published in a now-defunct publication called Nazarene Preacher. None of us in the party (made up of my parents, my grandpa, and myself) even knew she’d had anything printed in that publication. We’d never seen these articles before. My grandma was known by everyone in the family as an excellent writer, but it occurred to me when we found these articles that I’d never really read anything she’d written.

I sat down on the bed my grandparents used to share, opened the publication to the page where my grandma’s name was printed, and began to read. To be perfectly honest with you, the publication being called what it was, and my grandma being featured in a column specifically for pastors’ wives, I did not have high hopes for the article. But I was quickly captured by a voice that felt familiar, intrigued by a personal life story I’d never heard. This article, published in 1970, related the personal struggles of a young pastor’s wife, who worked outside the home to supplement the family income, and was also raising four boys, the eldest two of whom were teenagers in 1970. The article, in a very short space, contained a raw and honest account of my grandma’s assessment of her own shortcomings, her misgivings about her duties as a pastor’s wife, her self-doubt about her ability to meet the expectations of that particular and demanding life role. The farther I read, the more familiar the article felt. Even though I’ve never raised children and have never been a pastor’s wife (or even a regular wife, for that matter), I recognized the genuine reflection and introspection I saw unfolding before my eyes. It was the kind of honesty I usually only see…where?

…In my own writing, I realized.

The article ended on a hopeful note; one of encouragement to herself that also served as encouragement to any other wife or mother who might find herself in the same predicament of doubt on a given day.

When I reached the end, tears having welled up in my eyes, I was struck by the overwhelming realization of how alike my grandma and I are, both as writers and as people. Her familiar, inviting voice was my writer’s voice. Her honest, informal, good-naturedly self-deprecating, lay-everything-bare style was my style. And yet, I’ve not been externally influenced by her as a writer because that was the first time I’d ever read anything of hers. I’ve developed those traits naturally over the years. They’ve always been in me. I didn’t know until that day that they were in her too.

I took that article home with me, and I tear up every time I think about it or look at it. I forgave my grandma that day, for all her shortcomings, flaws, and general stains of character. And I gained a new understanding of why we don’t discuss them anymore. It’s not that we’re ignoring them. Nobody thinks my grandma was perfect. But she was part of us, and pieces of her are in all of us, and maybe the best and most faithful way to honor her memory is to cultivate those best parts of her that we find in ourselves.

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Let’s Talk Sex(ism) [Part 3 of 3: Feminism’s Biggest Obstacle]

I’ve spent the last two posts discussing my struggles with balancing feminism and common sense, and feminism and my faith. As I’ve established over the course of this three-part blog series, the institution of sexism is one I feel called and created to speak out against, and – in time – to overthrow. So does that automatically make my opponents (whether men or women, whether purposeful or unwitting) my enemies? I’m not convinced it does, but there are times that my adversaries do feel like legitimate enemies.

The sad truth is that sexism against women is not something perpetuated solely by insecure, chauvinistic men. If it were, I don’t think it would be quite so difficult an institution to abolish. For me, the most frustrating detractors of feminism are other women. Misogynistic women are the worst kinds because they breed intra-gender discord, and they have an easier time convincing other women that they are less than equal (and not only less than equal to men, but to certain types of women as well). As Jesus said (paraphrased), “A gender divided against itself cannot stand.” When I use the term misogynist women, I’m talking about the ones who are overly competitive with other women, who set themselves apart from and above other women by putting women down, and who are generally nasty to anyone who doesn’t have a penis.

I’ve struggled at times to keep from becoming this kind of woman myself. My personality does tend to mesh a little (or a lot) easier with men than it does with women. I’m not interested in arts and crafts, home decor, fashion, or cooking and baking. I’m not married, engaged, or dating, so I don’t have a man to lightheartedly complain about with my coupled-up female friends. I don’t have children, so I can’t talk breastfeeding, homeschooling, stay-at-home vs go-to-work mothering, cloth diapers, or whatever else the moms think is interesting these days. And finally, I hate Pinterest.

On the other hand, I live alone, my longest-lasting non-familial relationship is with a canine, I eat Ramen and pizza more than is good for me, I enjoy crude jokes, I have thick skin, I’m sarcastic, I enjoy sports, and I stay up later than I should. By default, that usually means it’s easier for me to hang out in male company than female company. It means I don’t have to try as hard, and it means I can talk freely about my own interests, rather than trying to muster up an interest in things I don’t understand. (If we’re being totally honest here, it also means I can fart with impunity.)

Because of this natural tendency to gravitate toward the opposite sex, it’s always been easy to cause friction with other women, and for a long time, I didn’t even care enough to try not to. I do remember one year in college, though, when I decided I should attempt to cultivate more meaningful friendships with women, and I declared a New Year’s resolution that stated simply, “Be Nice to Girls.” Seems comical, but considering that for the past four or five years I’d been going around saying things like, “I hate girls” and “Girls are stupid” and “Girls are the worst,” it was quite an adjustment for me.

What I learned during that year (and have continued to learn in the years since) is that there are deep rewards to be found in meaningful friendships with women. However, I have also learned and relearned that not all women want to be friends, and I’ve been burned in relationships with other women that I thought were real friendships but turned out actually to be only shallow competitions of one kind or another. I wish that more women would realize that feminism and equality could make a lot bigger strides if we would start by being kind to one another.

Women get especially competitive and territorial when it comes to certain of their hobbies and interests that they believe to be unique, such as (gasp!) being a sports fan! The truth is, however, it’s not unique to be a female sports fan. It might be a less common occurrence than a woman being into fashion, but it’s not unique, plain and simple. And who cares? Whatever world it is that a woman is interested in, that she believes to be dominated by men, what’s the big deal if she encounters another woman in that same world? It doesn’t make her less interesting, and it doesn’t invalidate her interest in the least, whether that interest is hunting, sports, video games, comic books, etc. I know some women (myself included) don’t want to associate themselves with women who pretend to be interested in these fields just to get a man’s attention, or to seem cool. Here’s a tip, though: People can tell if you’re faking it. So if your interest is genuine, you have nothing to worry about. So what if Valley Girl wants to wear high heels and pink sports apparel? Does her wanting to look cute make you less of a fan? No. No it does not.

Full disclosure: I do still struggle with this from time to time in my baseball fandom. It’s important to me that people view me as a real fan and not someone who’s just trawling for men. And I don’t want to be associated with cleat chasers, that’s for sure. But, for the most part, I haven’t had to work very hard to establish myself in people’s eyes as a genuine baseball fan. My enthusiasm has done that all on its own, I think. Besides, baseball is too exhausting a sport to keep up with for someone who’s just pretending. Unfortunately, the people I have had to work the hardest to convince of the authenticity of my newfound interest have actually been women, further proving my point.

Other than being unequivocally kind to the women I meet and get to know, I don’t know what the solution to this problem is. It’s my experience that, no matter how kind and open and vulnerable I am with other women, there are some who are just going to be competitive, shallow, catty, or territorial. Since it’s not in my nature to just back off at the first sign of conflict, I usually initiate some candid confrontations, but if that doesn’t resolve matters, my next recourse is to write those women out of my life. I don’t do that to be rude. I do it because I don’t see a positive way forward, and disengaging seems more healthy for both parties than the alternative. And because I loathe pretense and false courtesy. (I could never survive in the American South.)

Now, admittedly, “being unequivocally kind” is not necessarily something that comes easy to me. If I sense insecurity or intimidation in other women, I tend to ignore them because that’s easier than trying to engage them and be friendly and prove to them that I’m worth getting to know. I’m extroverted, but one-sided small talk is hard for me, and if someone doesn’t “get” me, or if I have to carry the conversation, I prefer not to waste my time.

All things considered, even though I have some work yet to do, I know I’ve made a lot of progress both in how I think about my relationships with other women, and in how I execute them. Since I became a Royals fan, I have enjoyed finding other women on Twitter who like to talk baseball. It’s good to have allies. And that’s really what it comes down to. If this feminism thing is going to get us anywhere at all, if we’re ever going to conquer sexism, we are going to need as many allies as we can get. We have to be on the same team. We have to stop cutting each other down and start giving one another the benefit of the doubt.

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Let’s Talk Sex(ism) [Part 2 of 3: Feminist Christian]

In the last post, I talked about my need to accept that there are legitimate, biological differences that make men and women different. This time I want to discuss the difficulty I have in finding the balance between being a disciple of Christ and being a feminist.

I have been a Christian for many years. So many that I’m not even sure of the exact number. Certainly far longer than I’ve [consciously] been a feminist. So the instructions to treat others as I would prefer to be treated, to love my enemies, to be kind to those who hurt me, to turn the other cheek – basically to lovelovelove until every little thing I do operates from a framework of love – these imperatives are familiar to me. I’ve grown up on them. I cut my teeth on them. I memorized and re-memorized and quoted and re-quoted every Bible verse related to these commands to various parents, teachers, mentors, and spiritual leaders during my childhood and adolescent years.

In addition, I’m painfully familiar with the humility verses too, and there are many. There are verses that make promises to the humble (sometimes known as the meek); there are verses that implore God’s people to take care of the marginalized (sometimes known as the impoverished, the widows, the orphans, or the oppressed); and there are verses that command me to put myself last, to serve others, to lead by following, to understand that someday those whom society puts last will be rewarded.

These verses – the ones that ask me to turn the other cheek and to subordinate myself to others as a humble disciple of Christ – are the ones I struggle with the most, especially when it comes to feminism. Before I became aware of the significance of feminism, before I knew that my voice was muted in the world simply because it’s female, before I knew that women have to fight for almost everything they get in this world, I had the type of personality that finds it difficult to adhere to what I like to call Jesus’s “be nice” commands. I’ve always found it very difficult to “be nice,” especially when I feel that I am or someone near me is being treated unfairly. So, when it comes to feminism, it sometimes feels that my innate desire to stand up for myself and for my entire, oppressed gender is at odds with my Christian call to be humble and kind, especially toward those who seek to oppress me.

There are lots of teachings and theologies and theories out there that describe Jesus Christ as the ultimate feminist, and while I haven’t delved very deeply into any of them, I can’t say I disagree with the surface premise. There are plenty of examples in the New Testament of Jesus showing favor to women, of Jesus trusting women, of Jesus redeeming sinful women, of Jesus elevating women to societal significance (the woman at the well, the woman with the expensive perfume, the adulterous woman, and the woman at his tomb, to name a few). So it’s never been a doubt in my mind that – in some ways, at least – standing up for myself as a woman is right and okay, even as a disciple of Jesus. After all, my personality type (according to intelligent-type books) is the kind that stands up for those who cannot stand up for themselves; the kind that seeks justice and fair treatment for the oppressed; the kind that doesn’t let inequality slide unchecked. So why, when I’m the one being oppressed and treated unfairly, would I suddenly go silent? I wouldn’t.

Still, though. There’s some balance or line or moderation to be found, I think, that I maybe haven’t found yet. Somewhere that I can live both as a humble advocate of love and service without being a doormat or sliding into the realm of the oppressed. I’m called to love my enemies, but I’m not called to submit to them. I’m called to serve, but I’m not called to pander. I’m called to turn the other cheek, but I’m not called to be silent.

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Let’s Talk Sex(ism) [Part 1 of 3: Equal but Different]

As I’ve gotten older, sexism has become a very important issue for me, and because I think about it a lot, it’s turned into the kind of thing like when you get a new car and suddenly start noticing all the other cars on the road that are the same model. Have they always been there? Of course they have. Well, unless what you got was a Prius in 2008 or a Hummer in 2003. Hello, trendy bandwagoners.

In any case, I see examples of sexism everywhere because it’s ingrained in our culture to the point that, unless it’s blatant sexual harassment, most people (men especially) don’t even realize they’re doing it. It’s similar to how people don’t have any clue that gypped is actually a racist slur, or that thug is an offensive term that should not be used to label any given adolescent who happens to be wearing baggy pants. When it comes to sexism, terms that our society considers harmless insults are thrown around every day, especially in the sports world: throws like a girlsissycrying like a girl, etc.

So, because I’ve trained myself to stop ignoring sexist comments or treating them as harmless, I’ve become a bit of a Sexist Nazi, much in the same way that I’ve been a Grammar Nazi my entire life. It’s a soapbox issue, and I know certain people view me as beating a dead horse, or as crusading a pointless cause. I also know, however, that other people are listening, and some are even examining and changing their own behavior and language as a result of heightened awareness. And for that reason, I will probably always raise my feminist voice when I think it’s needed.

However, something I’ve noticed recently is that sometimes the line is blurry between what is sexist and what isn’t. Believe it or not, there actually are some legitimate differences between male and female human beings, and acknowledging such a truth does not make one sexist. I had to confront this reality for myself recently during the Sochi Winter Olympics. For instance, as far as athletic ability, male bodies appear to be predisposed (at least in some sports) to a higher level of elitism than female bodies, which is why they separate the competitions by sex. If the female snowboarders and skiers were pitted against the male snowboarders and skiers, then women would rarely – if ever – reach the podium.

This truth became the most evident to me while watching women’s slopestyle snowboarding just a day or two after watching the men’s competition. The men’s slopestyle competition was impressive. Those guys can do things I would never dare attempt, even underwater or in a padded bounce house. And the judges gave the men impressive scores for their impressive tricks. All right. Cool. I could handle that. A few days later, the women took their turn in the same event, on the same course, with what I presume to have been the same group of judges.

However, even though the women – like the men – did things I will never be able to do, they didn’t seem to be performing as many tricks or turning around in the air as many times as the men had. (Keep in mind, this is the viewpoint of someone who knows nothing about snowboarding, but my untrained eye perceived the women to be turning only once or twice in the air instead of two and a half times or thrice like the men had.) Despite that, they received comparable scores to the men for what seemed like fewer tricks, and less impressive technique. This bothered me because, in my mind, if a man jumps and turns three times around and receives a score of 90, and then a woman jumps and turns around one and a half times and also receives a score of 90, that’s an unjust imbalance, and it’s insulting to both parties. It’s insulting to the man that half as much trick gets the same score, and it’s an insultingly patronizing way to treat the woman. It makes the woman feel like the fat kid who gets a head start in a foot race.

Before I was able to reconcile my indignation with the scoring disparity, the snowboarding announcers (I heard their names were both Todd-something, but I’m unfamiliar with them) made everything worse by making comments such as, “That would’ve been a really good run even for a man!” and, “[She] snowboards better than some men I know, and the men get paid to do it!” It is clear the announcers were trying to pay compliments to what they considered impressive feats of athleticism, but was it necessary to be so condescending?

If a feminist such as myself is going to accept the premise that in some respects, such as athletics, men have a natural ability to achieve higher levels than women, then shouldn’t men accept that there is no need to remind the world that women are inferior? In my mind, it was bad enough that the judges were inflating the women’s scores, but the announcers didn’t need to pile on by opining that it was impressive, for a woman. If everybody knows that, why does it need to be stated outright? I can concede that, no matter how good Jamie Anderson gets at her sport, Shaun White and Sage Kotsenburg will probably always be just a hair better. Not because they work harder but simply because their ceiling is likely higher than her ceiling.

It is a biological fact we can all agree on that, in general, men tend to be taller and more naturally muscular than women. God just made it that way. (Okay, we may not all be able to agree on God’s role in it, but that’s irrelevant.) So, as far as inflated scores go, I get that. If they graded the women on the same scale they graded the men, then gold medalist Sage would stand next to gold medalist Jamie with a huge score disparity. Sage’s gold medal score would be 91-point-whatever, and Jamie’s would be (according to the scale by which they scored the men) 70-point-something, probably. And then people would be up in arms about that because it would feel sexist and insulting, even if it technically isn’t. So I can get on board with separate competitions for each sex, and even with adjusting a scoring scale and inflating or deflating the numbers based on competitive ceiling.

But I cannot get on board with the condescending comments toward women. If we’ve established that the competitions need to be separate events, and scored on a slightly different scale, then why do we need to remind everyone that the cute little women just aren’t as good as the men?

Well gosh-darnit, you gotta give those girls some credit. Sure, they can’t do what the men do, but golly, them li’l firecrackers try their best, and it’s just adorable, and boy, do their boobies look great in those jumpsuits, don’t they. Garsh. I hope my mom/wife has a warm bowl of soup waiting for me when I get home from this taxing, bread-winning job.

That’s what I heard when the Todds made their ignorant and insensitive comments.

I am slowly coming to terms with the concept that the genders being equal does not mean the genders are the same, nor should it mean that. But if men could dispense with the patronizing comments, I could make my progress a lot more quickly.

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Pine Tar Press Feature

Today I was published on the esteemed Royals blog Pine Tar Press. I rather liked the article I wrote, though, so I wanted to make sure it made it into my personal blog archives too so I can keep track of it.

So hop on over to where I wrote about the relationship between new Royals beat writer Andy McCullough and Royals manager Ned Yost. For those disinclined to click because it sounds too baseball-y, there’s very little baseball discussion in there. It’s more of a candid discussion of public personalities.

Enjoy. I’m grateful to PTP for giving me the opportunity to write for them. Love those guys.

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On Being Labeled a Bitch

Last week I read an article about gaslighting, which – if you don’t know – is a term that refers to a form of mental or psychological abuse. It involves manipulation on the part of the abuser, to the point that the recipient begins to believe things about himself or herself that aren’t true. There have been several articles written on this, all of them good. But now it’s my turn.

In that first link, the writer mentions what he labels “five deadly words” that men (and, sadly, sometimes other women) use to describe women in hurtful ways. The five words are slutbitchuglyfat, and crazy. Believe it or not, I have been called all of these words at one time or another except for fat. I suppose that’s simply a logic problem, though. Because of fast metabolism, luck, and a little fitness, fat has not been an accurate descriptor of me since I was about two years old. And even then, I like to say I was “delightfully chubby.”

In any case, I’ve been the victim of gaslighting. One of the examples that most hits home for me is the one that says a man calls a woman “crazy” or says she’s being oversensitive simply because she doesn’t like something that was said. This happened to me less than a week ago on Twitter. I took issue with something a guy said, and once I brought the offensive comment to his attention, rather than apologize, or think through why his comment might have offended me, he simply insulted me, starting with calling me oversensitive.

If only someone accusing me of being “oversensitive” was the rudest thing anyone had ever said to me over the years, or even the worst of the gaslighting. That first article I linked to focuses on the word crazy, but I want to talk about the word bitch.

This is the word I’ve been called the most in my life, at least, of the “five deadly words.” The worst part is that this isn’t a misogyny problem. Men have called me a bitch a lot, sure. But so have a lot of women. Some of my best friends (both male and female) have called me a bitch. None of my friends mean it as a bad thing, of course. I’ve often heard them make that disclaimer, in fact. “Oh no, I am not insulting her. I like Audra because she’s a bitch.”

When people use the word bitch as a compliment, what they are trying to say is that I’m candid, honest, blunt, unafraid to speak my mind, assertive. Sometimes they use it as a synonym for confident. Sometimes they use it to mean passionate (though, more often, when they mean passionate, I get another of the “five deadly words” attached to me: crazy). Other times, surprisingly, bitch is not a compliment, such as the times it’s used as a synonym for insensitive, uncaring, rude, impolite, speaks without thinking, tactless, unnervingly aggressive.

What’s interesting to me is a trend I’ve noticed in my friendships and interactions with people. The more someone gets to know me, the less bitchy I seem to that person. Do I change, as a person? Not really. It’s simply that they’ve gotten past the exterior shell that we all have. It’s that they’ve had more than a thirty-second conversation with me, and they’ve stuck around to hear what I have to say after I say the one or two things that might initially cause someone to label me bitchy. They hear me at 45 seconds, and 60 seconds, and 90 seconds; they hear me articulate more clearly what I meant by what I first said, and they see that there is more to me than anyone could possibly know in the first thirty seconds (as is true for all of us).

In fact, one such friend – after getting to know me quite well, and learning that I have a tendency to tear up when I’m speaking about an issue that is close to my heart, or a person I care deeply about, or even just a flaw I’ve identified in myself – told me, “Audra, I know why people are afraid of you to begin with. You can be intimidating. But all those people who turn away before they get to know you are missing out on the real you.” After he said a few more nice things about how sensitive I am capable of being, he concluded with, “I think I’d still call you a bitch. But… I dunno, it’s like that’s an incomplete description. I think it would be more accurate to say you’re a bitch with a heart of gold.” And then he laughed nervously and looked away.

So, is that the best we can do? A friend who got to know me on an intimate, authentic level still thought the best way to describe me was to use the word bitch, as long as he tacked some nice stuff onto the end? This trend of qualification, along with the tactic of using the b-word in place of nicer, more positive, more constructive – and, likely, at times, more accurate – words to describe me became commonplace to me. It got to a point where I didn’t flinch if I heard that word used to describe me. Most of the time I didn’t even bother examining the user’s motives in labeling me as such. I didn’t bother to wonder whether it was meant as a compliment or insult. I’ve been called bitch so often in my life that, somewhere along the way, I became immune to it, and then, somewhere a little further down the road, I was convinced it was actually a good thing, a positive trait about myself, a strength, and I even began to call myself that in introductions.

“Hi, I’m Audra. I’m a bitch.” (Sometimes, if I knew the person being introduced to me was someone who had heard about me previously through mutual friends, I would switch out the article a for the.)
“Hi, I’m Audra. I like to speak my mind. What can I say? I’m a bitch.”
“Hi, I’m Audra. Historically, women haven’t liked me very much. I’m just too bitchy.”

These variations and more are all methods I have employed in trying to explain myself to new people, in a nutshell. I suppose I saw it as a warning, a preemptive strike, so to speak. A classic defense mechanism, an attempt to absolve myself of future guilt or an obligation to apologize. My subconscious probably operated under the idea that if we got the [un]pleasantries out of the way at the beginning, then maybe nobody would get hurt. After all, whose fault would it be if they were warned from the get-go and then got their feelings hurt later on by something I said? Certainly not mine. Right? I was just living into who I was. I was a bitch, and they’d been warned.

And yes, I have amassed a small contingent of loyal friends (and some family) who have managed to get past my exterior walls – my bitchiness, so to speak – and know that I have feelings, and that I care. Maybe it’s because they’ve seen me cry over stupid things (like a Hallmark commercial). Maybe it’s because they’ve seen me cry over something that is very significant, grave, and important. It might be that they’ve heard me talk about an aspiration I have, or something I love and am passionate about. Or perhaps they’ve seen me pick up a crying baby and whisper some tears away. Or invite a child into my lap to read a book. Maybe it’s been an instance of me asking a friend how she’s doing, and listening quietly and willingly while she told me. Or maybe I’ve simply been caught unawares in a purely silly and honest moment with my dog.

I’ve never been lucky enough – or astute enough – to recognize or pinpoint a specific moment in time when someone went from thinking I’m cold and insensitive to understanding that I am human and that I have a heart. But numerous times I’ve been the recipient of some explanation of perspective transformation, and it’s always some version of: “Well, at first I thought you were _______; but now that I know you better I see that you’re actually ____________.”

Of course, there are a few lucky ducks who – for whatever reason, I don’t know, maybe they caught me on an extra happy day, or three weeks from my next period – have never thought I was intimidating or scary or rude or bitchy. And these people are always totally baffled when I tell them that their experience is unusual. It’s certainly not the norm, but it’s always fun when I get to have the benefit of shocking someone by telling them that I’m actually quite used to being called the b-word.

It was not until recently that I suddenly epiphanized (yes, I made that up) and came to the conclusion that it’s time to stop letting the b-word define me. Allowing people to call me that, and accepting that as an accurate label for myself, has only caused me to have thicker walls, stronger defenses, and harsher views of my own personality. It has caused damage to my perception of my self-worth, and it has weakened my ability to love myself and allow others to love me and truly know me.

Yes, I can own that people’s first impression of me is not always positive. I can even own that sometimes that’s because I say things I haven’t thought through, and that come off as impolite or tactless or insensitive. And heck, since we’ve gone this far, I’ll even be this vulnerable with you: There are absolutely times when I feel too tired, too uninterested, too busy/preoccupied, or too hurt to make the effort to be friendly and congenial and sensitive with someone else’s feelings, whether brand-new acquaintance or very old friend. I make mistakes, both from lack of awareness and from lack of intentionality.

But that’s exactly what they are: They are mistakes. And they do not, contrary to what this world has persuaded me to believe, roll down a hill like a giant snowball, building upon one another, coming to a frozen stop at the bottom and forming into Bitch Mountain, inside which one might find the essence of Audra. They just don’t. That isn’t how it works, at least not in a world where there is forgiveness, grace, and redemption. And I know that I still live in a world where there is forgiveness, grace, and redemption.

So today, I’m going to borrow a little bit of that grace for myself, and I am going to pledge to stop using the b-word to describe myself, whether in jest or sincerity. And I humbly ask you, too, to please – pretty please, with a cherry on top – stop telling me I’m a bitch.

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