Let's Hear It For Quiet Women
(but not too loud, okay?)
“Embrace the glorious mess that you are.” — Elizabeth Gilbert
“Make sure you put those paper clips right back where you found them.” — Cindy Eastman
Even though Elizabeth Gilbert and I have not always gotten along, I do get what she means by the quote above: Basically, live your authentic self. Liz and I are kind of frenemies —I mean— that’s how I feel about our relationship. I have no idea how she feels about it because we don't actually know each other. Liz’s and my relationship started, like so many other women, after Eat, Pray, Love came out. After a friend of mine read the book, she loaned it to me saying, “You'll love this! She writes just like you!” This friend was well-intentioned, but that kind of statement kind of put me and Liz on bad footing right from the start. Because of all that success and everything. Hers. Not mine.
And now she’s all about magic and messes and embracing it all. But it’s not just Liz, it’s everyone. Lately, women have to be Bold, Loud and Messy! To rightfully claim our Womaness, we have to Be the Mess You Wish To See In The World. Don’t lower your eyes, don’t close your mouth. Didn’t quite make it to the gym for that summer beach body? Who cares? Show it off anyway! In Fuchsia pink or Sunkist Orange! Wear cherry red lipstick! Dance in the rain and stomp around in the puddles.
But all I can think of when encouraged to stomp around in mud puddles is that I hope there is a stack of towels nearby.
This cheer is typically directed to women who have yet to achieve their dreams. Or maybe those who failed at them already. Or made a bad decision or twelve. Well, no kidding. We all do that, don’t we? I firmly believe that the cheerleaders behind all this messiness truly mean to take away the stigma of trying again that can prevent some women from believing in themselves. And it’s a legitimate call to arms — women should be so encouraged all the time, in every way. I’m totally on board with all of that. I just wonder if in all that bold, raucous prodding to become your most authentic loud and messy self, it might have the opposite message on those of us who are — tidier.
What if I don’t want to be messy? Does that mean I can’t be creative? Magical? Successful? I don’t have a problem with glorious, messy women…really. I don’t. I’m right there on the bandwagon, it’s just I’m the one who has the hand wipes for afterwards.
Cheering me on to accept my messy bad-decision making self doesn’t really help me. It’s not in my nature to be loud or unruly or any of those things. I like my home and work spaces orderly and I feel so much better if I’m organized. When I go into a tailspin, my desk is still neat and we’re not out of toilet paper or kitty litter. When I’ve hit bottom, my bed is made and I’ve kept my dentist appointment. So, it doesn’t help me to be told that being messy is okay. It’s not — for me. If attaining my magical, creative, redeemed self is only possible if I’m wearing lime green Wellies under a saucy little black cocktail dress with a newly permed ‘do and a jug of red wine slung over my shoulder, I think I’ll just leave that to those other ladies. I like my quiet world, my quiet ways and I don’t want to be messy. I just don’t. In my world, messy is already over the cliff, given up, put on the toe tag, we’re done.
But, it can’t be true that the only path to authenticity is loud. Am I only authentically magical or creative if I’m gushing all over the place in Technicolor to the shock and dismay of current spouses and surely former employers? To be my best self, must I bare my pain and sins through a tunnel of entwined arms of my sister witnesses? Do I have to cry? In front of people?
To think that quiet women just haven’t embraced their inner hot mess is to deny the intricate and unique workings of the female species. I think all women share a common understanding of their power and strength and it has evolved out of the necessity of bearing burdens. We have all been in those places of fear, pain and sorrow, but for us, um, quieter types, those places are more like inside the house than out. In a sitting room rather than out in the front yard. We’ve held the hands of loved ones as they lay dying; holding back tears for another time. Blood has surged from wounds we have no power to heal. We’ve lost touch with friends we never meant to lose; we’ve regretted betraying a confidence we swore we’d keep. We’ve failed our mothers, our fathers, our brothers and sisters…our children. More than once, and always for the last time. Loss is as familiar to us as spreading the cotton sheet tight and even on our beds every morning. Yes, every morning.
Accepting my flaws and bad decisions and stupid habits gives me enough to do on a daily basis without worrying if I’m even doing that wrong, too. I’ll continue to patiently and smilingly condone the loud and rowdy antics of my more extroverted sisters as they authenticate their lives in a manner unfamiliar to me. I’m not envious of the next convert to the Holy Order of Hot Messes as she claims her tiara and MAC Ruby Woo and becomes her very own authentic self. But expecting those of us who straighten the cock-eyed couch cushion as we walk through the living room feel like we have to be a hot mess to earn our own Ruby Woo is just not going to happen.
But becoming authentic does happen. When a quiet woman forgives herself and gives in to the need to attend to the passion in her life, it just looks different. Same intensity, less hair product. Identical devotion, less perfume. Fewer color schemes, same ardor. Quiet women become magical, too, and have the same kind of captivation as that wonderfully yodeling broad in the tiara. Our work gets done and so do the Christmas cards. And did I mention bold? Don’t think for a minute that quiet means passive. You don’t want to fuck with a woman who has a color-coded weekly calendar . . . which she completes. And see there? I just said fuck. Twice.