I remember being in a debate class in junior high, we were having a discussion about the differences between men and women. The instructor and the majority of the students were not only against women in the military being allowed in combat, but a woman ever being elected president. I remember being outraged and filled with disappointment, especially because half the students were also female. I was in junior high in the early 2000s, not the 1950s.
Looking back, I am even more appalled. What if I had believed what that instructor was telling me? What if I didn’t have parents telling me they believed in me and assured me I could pursue any path? What if I never figured out there will always be opposition to positive change, but it is crucial you press onward anyways? These beliefs are taught. Girls are not born with a feeling of inferiority and fear of being seen as brave. They observe and absorb it from others in their own lives, along with continual bombardment of women being portrayed as lesser than in society.
I grew up being obsessed with the likes of Queen Elizabeth I and Mia Hamm. I still brag about the fact I played Susan B. Anthony in a third grade play. I was not one to go down without a fight. I was constantly arguing with boys about girls being their equals. I think for a long time I allowed myself to be labeled. I got made fun of a lot. I have been called crazy. I have been called ugly. I have been called stupid. I have been called useless. I allowed myself to internalize these labels. I allowed myself for years and years to believe them about myself. Even writing this right now, I am getting rather emotional because when you are young and have certain things said about you, you have to spend the rest of your life telling yourself every single day you are not those things. I think that’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and others- the realization others cannot label who you are as a person. I am the only one who can label me. Part of the beauty of life is getting to choose what you want to be and going after it.
Growing up in the South and going to a Christian high school, I was often made to feel as if caring about TV and film was merely a shallow hobby. I was told by numerous people that writing would produce no fruit. Storytelling as a career would be a waste of time. Comedy doesn’t really benefit others. When in reality, all of those things have shaped so much of who I am. Out of all of my experiences, hearing others’ honest stories and telling my own have connected me the most to life itself and propelled me forward. Fictional characters can open our eyes to things we previously didn’t see. I don’t think this is a negative thing if it is spurring us to take action in our own lives. I have lost count of how many times a woman in a television show, movie or book has caused me to take a look at myself and redetermine how I am choosing to live, and thus changing for the better.
I have a wonderful family and brilliant friends, who have continually listened and supported me. Sometimes though, to properly deal with a tough decision or a particularly hurtful experience, I think you have to have a sort of out of body experience. Observing someone else go through something similar allows you to have an outsider’s perspective, which we all know can lead to wiser and healthier choices. I always lost myself in fictional stories and characters. Christina Ricci in “Now and Then,” Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall” and Elizabeth Bennet (obviously) were a few of my role models before I even hit double digits.
When I felt like I didn’t connect with those around me in real life, I could always turn to another world to feel at home. I wouldn’t be who I am today without the television show “Roseanne.” If you aren’t familiar with the show, the main character wants to be a writer. She is also one of the most revolutionary women to ever be featured on television. This part of her monologue in the series finale touched me in a way not much else has.
“In choosing life, I realized that my dreams of being a writer wouldn’t just come true; I had to do the work. And as I wrote about my life, I relived it, and whatever I didn’t like, I rearranged. I made a commitment to finish my story even if I had to write in the basement in the middle of the night while everyone else was asleep. But the more I wrote, the more I understood myself and why I had made the choices I made, and that was the real jackpot. I learned that dreams don’t work without action; I learned that no one could stop me but me.”
I love writing. I have always loved writing. It is how I process things. In a way, there is a selfish element, because I can’t really voice my opinions or emotions or figure out why I am feeling or acting the way I am until I write it all out. This was the first time I saw the power of written word. I have watched that episode hundreds of times because it reminds me how much weight our words can carry.
The primary reason I write is to connect with others. I hope that in writing about anything I have dealt with or encountered or am currently struggling with might help someone else feel less alone when they read or hear it. I hope I never lose the desire to make people cry and laugh and feel like they belong somewhere. As far back as I remember, reading a letter of encouragement from a parent or a friend has saved me time and time again. That is what I want to do on a grander scheme for the rest of my life. I want to use my words to remind women to never give up on themselves or on want they want out of life, no matter how impossible or ridiculous others might find it.
What I love to see and want to see more of in television and film is women moving forward, bettering themselves, working towards a goal. They do not have to be perfect, they do not have to hide their weaknesses, they do not even have to be super likable. They have to matter, though. Their actions and presence have to contribute to the progression of the story. It is a strange experience to grow up being told you can be anything you want, then you arrive to the real world and are constantly told you, in fact, cannot pursue your passion.
So many women are breaking through barriers, and I want barriers to continue to be broken so much so that when you turn on your television or go to the movie theater, just as many women are leading the way as men. I want television and film to continue to get the message across being weird is okay, being smart is okay, being vulnerable is okay, being funny is okay, being a woman is okay. Actually being a woman is more than okay. It is a true pleasure. Women should be excited about being women. I want to be part of the movement that ends successful women being referred to as “one of the boys.” I want to be referred to as “one of the girls” or even better, how about “one of the bad asses getting stuff done.” Young girls shouldn’t be encouraged to think in order to be successful or powerful they have to be a man.
Last week, my best friend and I got matching tattoos of the phrase, “a la mode.” It is a tribute to the movie “Little Miss Sunshine.” Every time I watch it, I fall more in love with it. Olive Hoover is a goddamn hero. Her own father doubts her, yet she keeps going because she has no preconceived notions of what beauty or success are. She is simply a little girl with a dream, working as hard as she can to achieve it. This is where I am supposed to say I hope at the end of my life I look back and know I entered all the metaphorical pageants I wanted. You guys would roll your eyes. But I am saying it anyways: I hope my life is spent entering one pageant after another with an attitude of fearlessness and enthusiasm, regardless of rejection or other’s hurtful opinions or day to day hurdles life has the reputation of having.
Let’s all band together to diminish our fears. Let’s embrace the fact when we allow ourselves to be open about our faults and insecurities, other women are encouraged to do the same. Whether we consciously compare ourselves or not, it happens. When we observe females in the media comfortable in their own skin and being okay with having control over their own destinies, that is a help to all of us.
One of my favorite quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson has always been, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
I constantly think of how reading a story or watching a TV show or film with an ordinary woman choosing to be extraordinary has caused me to breathe easier. Why wouldn’t I want to attempt to give that back to the world? If one girl out there is brought joy or reassurance by something I write, I will have succeeded for sure.
Taylor Harrison is a storyteller from Texas, who now lives in Pennsylvania, who will soon live in California. She has a blog, The Baby Bangs, with her best friend and business partner, Ashley Blevins. She believes in telling people you love them when you love them, reciting TLC’s “No Scrubs” lyrics to remind yourself never to settle, going to the movies by yourself and eating macaroni and cheese regularly. She talks about what it is like to be from a long line of gnome royalty among other important things @GoldieHarrison.