Shattering my own and society’s glass ceiling

Beth Rankin

As you are likely already aware, I am in the midst of a column series about prejudice and its ever-changing impact on our society. I knew when I started this series that I wanted to address sexism.

But there’s a bit of a problem.

Remember in my series intro when I said everyone has a little prejudice in them and that we all need to acknowledge it before we are able to move on?

Well . I have more than just a little bit of prejudice when it comes to women. Sometimes, in fact, I am downright sexist.

It has been a source of endless confusion for me since junior high school, and, on this issue, I am a walking contradiction. Half the time, I kick and scream about feeling left out as a member of a mostly male industry. I spend the other half wondering how most of the women I know and see on the street can be so . well . ridiculous. Stupid. Petty. Pathetic. Underhanded. Stereotypical. Impractical.

This needs to stop.

So let me lay it all out there, and perhaps we can work it out together.

I have always identified with men. Up until six months ago, my best friends were four men, three of them being 10 years my senior.

But since the sixth grade, I have felt a deep, deep longing for a female best friend I’ve never known. When most girls were on the hunt for boyfriends and prom dates, I searched for a same-gender friend to bond with. It seemed that every girl but me had a best girlfriend. This desperation caused me to make some bad decisions.

In 2004, while inebriated at a Stater party, I met Joanna. She was an attractive, feminine freshman from a wealthy family. I was – and still am – a tomboy, dressing often in men’s clothing and with no idea how to use mascara or a blow-dryer. We were opposites, but somehow we connected, and we spent much of the next three years together. She taught me a lot of things most girls have known since junior high. We lived together for a year, but toward the end of our time together, she spoke less and less to me, and we seemed to be drifting apart. The whole thing came to a head one day when she told me that small personality differences had been bothering her for months, but that she disliked conflict, so instead of voicing her concerns, she kept quiet until she eventually couldn’t take it anymore, and we both exploded into a screaming, yelling cacophony of anger. That day I told her I wished I had never met her at all. I went up to my room and quietly cried, which is something I only do two or three times in a year.

She moved out shortly thereafter and I felt utterly heartbroken, as if my boyfriend of three years had just walked out on me. I had been so desperate to find my same-gender counterpart that I put Joanna in a box she just didn’t fit in. She didn’t want to be my best girlfriend. And as hard as I tried, she would never be like my male friends. I wanted the best of both worlds: the brutal honesty my male friends offered and the soft, comforting understanding I felt I missed from those of my same gender. When she left, the part that hurt the worst was not knowing if she ever really cared deeply for me at all. I still don’t know.

After that, my contempt for women multiplied. Why had every woman I had ever known acted underhanded and petty? They kept secrets, talked about me behind my back and acted like pathetic, lost sheep around men. When I saw a woman teetering slowly on campus in 3 inch stiletto heels, I instantly felt disdain. Put some actual shoes on, I thought. You are making us all look like idiots.

After Joanna, I stopped searching for that female friend, thinking that I could never bring myself to trust a woman, and that I shouldn’t.

That’s when I met Susan and Megan.

They are two of the greatest things to ever happen to me. They love me exactly as I am, and they have voiced their love for me since two weeks after we became close. They are open and honest with me. They are the first strong, independent, truly talented women I have ever become close with. They have goals and ambitions and, while they have faults like anyone else, they are beautiful, caring women who made me feel, for the first time ever, like being a woman is not a weakness.

But still .

When I see a girl with a Louis Vuitton bag, I want to rip it out of her hands and beat her over the head with it. You know you spent $5,000 on $50 worth of material, right?

I can’t even bring myself to carry a purse. It’s hard to explain, but when I have tried carrying them in the past, I feel weak and vulnerable. I feel as if men look down on me for carrying such a gender-specific item.

I masculate myself with tattoos and men’s clothing. I am a woman who feels more powerful the more I look and act like a man.

I am incredibly gender-confused.

But if my experiences with Joanna and Susan and Meg have taught me anything, it’s that there is strength in womanhood. I have been blind to that strength for 22 years. But I am slowly learning how to embrace my gender and my gender ambivalence.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that many men do equally stupid things. We are all equally flawed, and we are all just as deserving of a second chance.

So, ladies, give me a second chance. I’ve finally learned that I can’t break through the glass ceiling created by society until I break the glass ceiling I’ve created for myself.

Beth Rankin is a senior photojournalism major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].