I had to learn to be aggressive. Nothing about stealing the basketball from an opponent, scrambling for a rebound, or using my body to thwart someone else’s movement came naturally to me. I had a knack for shooting, which I inherited from my father. Ball-handling, speed, and teamwork found their way to me easily enough. But aggression was like a foreign-country, and I did not speak the language.
Even after I got good at the game, defense included, I still never fouled. I could play every minute of the game, accumulate points, steals, assists, and even a couple rebounds and walk away with only one foul. Never, in all my years of playing basketball, did I get in foul trouble. I could fully engage, exert aggression, hustle, compete, and scrap, but I did it without breaking any rules or injuring other players or getting out of control.
To this day, it is my special life skill I think—I can be feisty without assaulting anyone. I can score without getting the whistle blown. I engage life, but I never blow my top and get thrown out of the game.
This is so very handy as a woman, because the world doesn’t like angry women. The world likes women to be sweet and polite and gentle and skinny. In the early part of the American Women’s Movement, there was some controversy over dress: whether the spokeswomen should express their liberation by dressing more like men (i.e. bloomers) or whether they should disarm the crowds with their feminine charm wearing traditional genteel dresses.
For the most part, I dress genteel, so to speak. I don’t appear this way on purpose; it’s just who I am. In other words, I am non-threatening in tone and appearance almost all of the time—that wiry little player with the awkwardly thin legs you expect won’t need much guarding until she sinks a three-pointer in your face, and even then, you assume she got lucky. It’s not sneakiness on my part; it’s just me to be this way.
But I am a player, you see. Behind this tiny voice and beneath the brim of my feminine hat, I’m all game face. I am tired of seeing my sisters in bloomers get blasted all the time. Constantly benched for too many fouls in a game designed, officiated, and rigged by men.
I do think there is merit in knowing how to restrain your anger, how to show kindness to others, even your enemies, how to be aggressive without directly assaulting another person. But anger itself isn’t wrong—anger is often legitimate and begging us to pay attention to the alarm bells it keeps setting off inside us. It also isn’t wrong to make other people uncomfortable, (which is one of the most startling realizations of my life. I actually don’t need to worry about how being me will make other people feel. I cannot tell you how life-changing that is.)
Metaphorically, I’ll probably keep wearing skirts, because the skirts fit me better than bloomers. But what I want to say to my fellow women is: Wear what works for you and don’t look back. Quit letting men or your mother define what is acceptable behavior; you’re a grown woman now and you deserve to get to live like one.
I’d like to see my fellow women bloom. That’s more important than staying in bounds, or keeping a foul-clean record. Foul if you have to foul. Fight if you have to fight. You can make amends later if you take it too far, but you can never regain a life you forfeit living. Err on the side of listening to your own life, your own heart, your own wisdom, because you are the only one on the face of the planet who has been given this life, this identity, this story. So know who you are. Don’t be afraid that who you are may not be who-everyone-thinks-you-should-be. Who ever found their life purpose by following the norm and meeting expectations? Your good manners will never be noteworthy. Proper etiquette just isn’t a game changer, but I can tell by the glint in your eye, you are a player, so play.
Bloom under the shade of your delicate white hat or bloom and pull on some pants, just bloom, preferably sooner rather than later.