My cousin and I often send each other interesting cards or postcards randomly through the year. One I got from her this Fall took me some time to process. If you don’t know the story of Judith and Holofernes allow me to give a short version. Holofernes invades the city Judith resides in. He decides he wants Judith’s body. She enters his tent, he gets drunk, and she beheads him. It’s kind of awesome. I mean she takes on an Assyrian General who is literally laying siege to a city.
This story has been portrayed in numerous paintings over the ages including one by Francesco del Cairo. It was during the Baroque period, and since I took Humanities in high school I have a minimal idea what that means. The only lighting is to draw the viewer into Judith’s face. The rest is very dark. It takes a minute or two to look away from her bad-ass expression to realize she’s holding a dagger in a head. Holofernes’ head. There is also a servant girl who is trying to whisk her away from the scene.
Now my own back-story. If you’ve read the blog you know I’m feisty. I stand my ground, and I’ve been described as a bitch, hard-headed, stubborn, and most recently like a “gnat that will just keep coming and coming until she figures out what the hell is going on,”. The gnat comparison was actually positive because it was some one who was telling a client I would be relentless in trying to find an answer.
My cousin wrote, “Her face just says ‘are you going to piss me off too.’ You are also a glorious bad-ass who doesn’t take shit from anybody and you’ll do whatever it takes to protect your people.” The stamp was a Disney villain- Maleficent.
I called my cousin.
“You compared me to a woman stabbing a head.”
We laughed and she reiterated her original point. I ended with, “There’s a blog post here somewhere, fair warning.”
All of the qualities I have been criticized for over the years would be praised in a man. If I had a penis I would be called a “go-getter” or my favorite, “Boys will be boys.” Standing my ground and holding to ethics when others waver and bend is looked down on in me because I’m a woman.
I also work in a female dominated field (nursing) and have had to go toe to toe with male physicians and psychiatrists. For voicing my opinions in healthcare I have been told to “Smile more” “take the weekend off because you may not be thinking clearly” “I know this is because you’re pregnant” “Is this because you are still breastfeeding?” “You just seem sensitive to this right now” “I’m not saying this because you’re a woman.” “You didn’t do anything wrong, but” “So I need to talk to the real person in charge now.”
What I have had to say because I’m a woman, “My face is up here.” “So me bringing up the fact that the resident made a bad call and this was done under the Attending is now translating to me not thinking clearly?” Message received. “That patient grabbed my ass, and you laughed, I don’t think I’m being overly sensitive, I think I was sexually groped and the staff present, a physician laughed.” “MY FACE IS UP HERE!!!!”
Healthcare is hard. Corporate structures are hard. Being a female in any field is hard. Being a lesbian pregnant or nursing female is even harder. Some days the fight doesn’t seem worth it. I did take that weekend off several years ago, and I came to some very important conclusions. I could not change that system unfortunately. I had to work there, bide my time, and leave. Sometimes we have to work in places we don’t like to get to the light on the other side. Without my time in the darkness fighting and learning to not fight, and learning about “old boys clubs” and bureaucracy I would not be where I am today. Some of my hardest lessons personally and professionally have been learning that I can’t fight every battle even when every atom in my being wants to. Staying silent takes more strength and more inner turmoil sometimes than speaking up.
I worked in the hospital settings for ten years as a staff nurse and an advanced practice nurse. I experienced sexism in almost every possible way. It’s hard to not come through healthcare and have some sort of resentment build toward men. There are also constant power struggles that are hard to not engage in especially as a younger less experienced provider. I came through the last decade less naive, more cynical, but if anything I am now more passionate about my patients and providing quality care and that’s I think what is important for me to hold onto.
The thing that really gets me is if I were a man all of the traits that have been admonished in me by previous bosses in healthcare would have been praised if I were male. The bitch in me would be seen as authoritative and somewhat attractive in a male. But because I’m female and have been pregnant or worse menstruating I am just a bitch.
I used to bristle at male qualities being pointed out in me as negative. Now I’m like fuck it. I’ll stab the head and hold it up and roar. I’m direct, I have a dry sense of humor, I smile only when it’s truly warranted, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care. Our country and our youth have gotten into a situation where by being nice we have allowed monsters into power. We allow our LGBT youth to die from suicide and homelessness and drugs and hatred. If standing up demanding for the tenth time you look at my face and not my tits makes me a bitch, so be it. If standing up and demanding action and pointing out the negatives in our society without a pretty smile on my face makes me a bitch, so be it.
If putting females into a villain role is the only way we as a society are comfortable with them being strong, fierce, loyal, fighters, then so be it. I’d rather be Maleficent spewing fire than laying back with my eyes closed living in a fairy tale.