Small and Mighty

01 Apr 2019

Happy April to all you lovely people out there! I am starting the month off strong by spending quality time with the love of my life… my family’s pet chihuahua, Lilly. Our love is usually the long-distance variety, but this week, I’ve come up north to help her housesit for our parents. She has been absolutely useless so far with tasks like bringing the trash can in from the curb and checking for mail, but she is amazing at sleeping for 85% of the day.

Here she is, beside me as I write, stretching out from a strenuous day of doing nothing.
Here she is, beside me as I write, stretching out from a strenuous day of doing nothing.

Because I am me and my brain is my brain, all this time in solitude-plus-chihuahua-sister has naturally led to me hopping on the Thought Train straight toward Analogy Station. So in today’s stream of consciousness word vomit pseudo-essay, I’m going to tell you how some of my observations about my tiny dog have contributed to my ongoing (read: lifelong) meditations on what it’s like to be a woman.

Did I lose all the men’s rights activists yet? I sure hope so.

The first thing that anyone notices about Lilly is that she is very small. I believe she weighs about five pounds and if you were asked in a game of 20 questions whether she is bigger than a loaf of bread, the most appropriate answer would be, “only slightly.” From there, it seems like most people make a handful of assumptions about her. They think she is probably yappy and annoying. She is obviously a princess that just gets carried everywhere in a purse. She likely can’t do any of the cool, fun things that big dogs do. In essence, she is not taken seriously, as much as any dog ever could be.

Now, in their own, isolated bubble in which we’re only talking about a dog, these assumptions don’t bother me much. And they definitely don’t bother her; Lilly’s thoughts on the matter are best summed up as, “bark bark I don’t speak English.” But I don’t think it makes me a total lunatic to draw some parallels to the ways in which we talk about ~the fairer sex~ (a phrase about which my feelings are best described as “can u not”).

One reason this might be — okay, definitely is — so present in my mind is because a couple of nights ago, Lilly and I watched the documentary RBG. Speaking of small beings… There is so much to learn from Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life and career, but I don’t think anyone needs me to dig into it all here. One less-noted thing that sticks out to me from both this documentary and from any talks about RBG is how people love to be like, “you’d never expect such a powerful voice/opinion to come from such a tiny package,” “though she be but little she is fierce [or whatever permutation of that Shakespeare quote is correct],” “small but mighty,” etc. Now, let’s immediately dispel any illusions that these comments are just about her size. If there was a really short dude on the Supreme Court, no one would comment on it — or if they did, we would all think, “huh, that’s unnecessary.” And even as I was typing that last sentence, I thought, “wait, is there a really short dude on the Supreme Court?” …which is exactly the point, because I WOULDN’T KNOW.

So this is what gets me. Stature alone has not made Justice Ginsburg have to fight to be taken seriously for the better part of the past century; it’s the fact that she is small and a woman. I’m not pretending this is a hot take I’m throwing out; every woman who has ever woman’d can tell you how simply by nature of our gender, we have to work harder to prove ourselves smart, strong, talented, capable, and any number of other qualities that men are usually assumed to have at some level from the start. In so many ways that aren’t physical/tangible, women are implicitly viewed as smaller than men. And the world continues to be surprised when we come right out and take up space anyway.

An image to be taken very seriously — me as RBG for Halloween, getting lifted in the air by my extremely strong partner who was dressed as RBG's Trainer Having a Nip Slip. Obscure costume, but I think he rocked it.
An image to be taken very seriously — me as RBG for Halloween, getting lifted in the air by my extremely strong partner who was dressed as RBG's Trainer Having a Nip Slip. Obscure costume, but I think he rocked it.

I say all of this as a woman with a significant amount of privilege. I’m white, college educated, and have never experienced much financial hardship. And if we want to stick with the more literal side of my analogy, I’m tall for a woman at 5’9. But I’ve also always been a very quiet talker with the physique of a string bean and a tendency to please people at all costs, and as a result of these and perhaps all kinds of other factors I’m not self-aware enough to note, I do feel that I’ve been underestimated time and time again. And when it happens to you enough, it’s hard to keep from wondering if the people who make you feel that way are the ones who have it right.

This is not at all intended as a woe-is-me pity party because as I said, I don’t have it so bad. Women like Justice Ginsburg, Audre Lord, Gloria Steinem — they’ve fought against some really outrageous injustices over the years so that women like me are situated as well as we are. But there’s still so far to go, and how do we keep ourselves from getting discouraged and internalizing the expectations that others put on us? Well, I’m certainly not qualified to answer that in full. But I think one angle to focus on is changing the language we use and/or challenging the assumptions and biases our language triggers.

Take, for example, how calling someone “small but mighty” implies that the two things are contradictory. And in the case of, like, a power tool, they might be contradictory. But why can’t a person be both? Small and mighty? Soft and strong? Lightweight and absorbent? Oops, accidentally started describing a paper towel. But seriously, you can follow this thread through all of the media we consume, throughout so many seemingly harmless day to day interactions — the womanly “norm” is small, meek, sweet, soft, sensitive, delicate, demure and when a woman presents as anything different, it’s noteworthy. She’s “not like other girls.” She is feisty, fierce, strong-willed.

I wish that this wasn’t the case. I wish that the first thing Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s new acquaintances thought about her was, “Wow, she’s strong and intelligent,” and not, “Wow, who would’ve expected all that strength and intelligence from that cute little lady?” I wish we were all respected for our “softer” qualities as much as for our toughness, whenever we choose to show either. I wish romance novels weren’t written off as frivolous because they are about love and are written almost entirely by women. I wish Big Dog People didn’t look down upon my sweet pup because she is a Smol Bean and could see that she is, in fact, extremely fun and cool. I wish people’s first impression of me was that yes, I have spaghetti noodle arms and these noodles will still F you up if they have to!!!

Getting carried away again.

I don’t know. It’s past midnight now as I write this and I’m a little delirious, but the tiredness I feel from these everyday battles to be treated like an equal member of society will not go away with eight hours of sleep. The things I’ve written about here are just teeny tiny pieces of a huge and complicated puzzle of the many ways in which women aren’t given their due, but Rome wasn’t built in a day and the mountaintop of women’s equality will not be summited with one blog post, am I RIGHT, ladies?

Those four words are truly my favorite way to end a sentence. Anyway, these are just the pieces that are on my mind/heart this week and if you take nothing away from my words (or if you do!), you should watch RBG. It’s on Hulu, and probably elsewhere. I’m also going to leave you with a few other recommendations for Kaitlyn’s Favorite Feminist Media As Of Late, should you appreciate further viewing/reading/listening:

  • A Heart in a Body in the World by Deb Caletti — my official favorite book that I will keep harping on until everyone has read it. Amazing, heartbreaking, real depiction of what it’s like to grow up as a girl.
  • Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough — a novel in verse depicting the true story of the 17th century painter Artemisia Gentileschi, who was raped by her instructor. Haunting, powerful, all too relevant.
  • Grey’s Anatomy — yeah, so this one is about 3 zillion seasons long by now but because it’s so successful and because she is a boss-ass B, Shonda Rhimes is always using her platform to better represent women, people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and other marginalized groups and I am here for it. The most recent episode had me literally crying, which truly never happens, and if you don’t mind spoilers, you can read about it here.
  • Ariana Grande’s music — I can’t help myself. Her last two albums have been on repeat for months in my house and it isn’t just because they’re full of absolute b a n g e r s. I find her lyrics really empowering and think they highlight some of the multitudes that we as women contain, including our flaws, anxieties, etc. She gets me, and her thank u, next music video is iconic.

There are a million more recommendations I could offer, many of which would look more impressive and ~intellectual~ and make my past sociology professors prouder but these are the first things you would find if you opened up my brain at this very moment (like Amelia Shepherd and Maggie Pierce do to patients each week on Grey’s Anatomy, ayyooooo we love a tie-in).

I truly, madly, deeply need to sleep now.

Thank you, as ever, for reading and perhaps even relating. I do have a SUBSCRIBE feature now, if you’d like my bizarre ramblings in your inbox ~1x/week. All you have to do is add your lil email to the lil box that says “subscribe” somewhere on this lil page. This page that is both lil AND fierce…am I right, ladies?