I come from a long line of dangerous, complicated women.
For generations back, they’ve defied expectation, edict, convention and commandment to go out into the world and be the women that they were, as opposed to the women they were supposed to be. They built businesses and communities. They took care. They took risks. They never lost sight of a world bigger than the one they were told to accept, and in so doing, they stitched at their own edges of history, weaving their own triumphs, small and large, personal and political, l into the greater fabric of their age. They weren’t perfect, because catalysts rarely are. And they weren’t always easy, because the it takes a lot of loud talking, stubbornness, smarts and all the other things that can’t easy be captured in the soft focus, rosy lens of Women of the Past to get the job done.
Maybe it’s not manifestly better (despite my personal feelings), but it’s a certainly a harder path to be a dangerous, complicated woman. Even if you butter your arguments and honey your demeanor, even if you wrap your tiny revolutions in Perfect Lady, you’re probably going to frustrate a lot of people a lot of time. Complexity has not been expected–to say nothing of wanted– from the fairer sex at basically any point in history. It’s easier to swallow, maybe, if you’re conventionally pretty, if you are conventionally attired, if you, at least, play act at conventional gender roles, but no guarantees they’ll want to listen when the time comes for you to make demands and make your voice heard.
I lost a great, dangerous, complicated woman in my grandmother about two weeks ago. We mourned her loss in a manner specifically arrayed to highlight the pieces of her that were neither complicated nor dangerous, that did not address her angles and edges, or the contradictory bits of her legacy that did not fit neatly into a poetic epitaph. Because many of us, raised on the myriad possibilities and likely accompanying challenges of being dangerous and complicated women, struggled with the way we even talked about ourselves, as her daughters, granddaughters, as women navigating a world that would much prefer we leave it at surface level.
But look: you can buff the edges and apply the pancake however you like, it doesn’t change the actual past. I’m can no more claim to have been raised by women who knew their place and accepted defeat that I can having ever wanted it. I was a kid who imagined herself not a princess, but a woman leading an outlaw army set on changing the world. And the reason that was my story was because of the dangerous and complicated women that I loved and t admired, not just in spite but because of their complexity. And those women who have made me the woman that I am. Maybe not the girl you want, conventionally, but an acolyte at the altar of Dangerous and Complicated, steadfast in the belief that all women deserve the chance to be just as dangerous and complicated as they need to be to live their best life, be their true self, and make the world a more just and equitable place for the likes of us, no matter what.
I claim no relation to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was, in her own way, the best kind of dangerous, complicated woman. She was six years younger and several light years to left of my Nana on the political divide, but they died two weeks apart. Like many women of my generation and political persuasion, I found Justice Ginsburg to be an icon. She was a solid beam of light, a fierce protector of rights, and an enabler of a better world for all of us, no matter how dangerous and complicated we were or not. It’s hard to talk about my grief at her passing without delving too deeply into 2020. The future is fraught, each decision made feel weighted with by history. But it’s safe to say that I would have been deeply saddened at her passing, even if it hadn’t been accompanied by the panic at one more light going out in the dangerous and complicated of our currently reality.
I’m not sure what to do, or where to go. As an armchair catastrophist, I’ve mapped out the paths to a million different hells. I’m not psychic, though, and I’m not so resigned that I’m ready to surrender my birthright. I don’t plan to shut up. I don’t plan to learn my place. I don’t plan to accept a reality in which I cannot exist in the world I live in as the person I am with the rights given to me by the hard work and struggle of all the dangerous and complicated women and men that came before me and or I certainly don’t plan for you to either, no matter who you are or who you love or what you want or where you came from. And I know we can do so much better. We can dream so much bigger. And to that next generation of dangerous and complicated women—of all human beings afforded their basic human and civil rights—know that I will do what I can to fight beside you and lift you up and raise my voice and see that you are heard as you continue to make this world a better place. I’m not perfect (see above), but at the very least I’m not a small person and I can be loud as fuck.
And I’m pretty sure I’d be disappointing all the dangerous and complicated women I adore, if I weren’t, at the very least, trying.