As a girl, I ran wild on my papa’s hillside in the Sierra Nevadas.
With my blonde hair in pigtails, I rode ponies with my sisters, but preferred the old motorbike called a tote goat. I’d ramble through the underbrush with my coyote-like dog named Bandit, thankfully unaware of the bears and mountain lions.
We’d climb, and then sway in the oaks and madrones, pretending to be pirates on a boat at sea, but we were spending the weekend on the 70 acres of wildness in the Sierras where my papa carved out a half-acre for his homestead.
I often built a fire under an out-door hot water heater (one of the many skills a girl learns while growing up in an off-the-grid place).
I hauled water in five gallon buckets for the garden or the chickens and ponies. My little sister and I peeled the bark off of pine logs (a tedious task!) that my papa would use for making sheds or corrals for the ponies. Our fingers would be covered in pitch, so we rubbed them with the red clay dirt, leaving our hands looking like something from a horror movie.
A thick scar like a tattoo is on my inner thigh as a reminder of the day I tried to build a fort using the smooth branches from a manzanita, and realized that chopping a branch off an alive tree wasn’t practical, as the branch bounced back along with the ax, gashing my skin open.
Girls are tough.
I know my girlhood proved to be more unique than most. Nonetheless, we all bend like the branches. We learn from our mistakes, and find ways to make the next adventure even more worthwhile.
Girls are solid and tenacious.
Of course, we are sweet—“sugar and spice, and everything nice,” or so we sung as girls. We felt into our vulnerabilities even if it wasn’t fashionable at the time. I always stood up for my friends (calling out the bully who teased my dear friend in sixth grade).
For the most part, being a girl in the 1980s meant building interdependent relationships over upholding a hierarchy of order.
We—girls—learned to connect with emotions for the sake of being a part of a group as opposed to disassociating from our emotions as boys so often did to fit in with others.
Of course, as a girl, I had no idea that the cultural conditioning that most of us experienced (even those of us who lived off-the-grid!) would be explained by psychologist Carol Gilligan’s theory of sex difference in the development of moral reasoning during adolescence.
Yes, that’s a mouthful, but she named the underlying story that promoted a division of emotions between genders. Gilligan recognized that boys were more likely to conform to a morality of rights as well as view social relationships organized in a hierarchical order.
On the other hand, girls valued connection, care and sensitivity.
To think like a girl meant (to name a few): honoring our vulnerability, expressing our emotions, listening to our intuition, and being interdependent by sharing ourselves without giving away too much of ourselves. (For me, being playful should be a part of this list.)
Gilligan didn’t believe that either boys’ or girls’ moral reasoning was better than the other (they just followed different voices), yet I’ve seen our culture move toward the girls’ way of moral reasoning in the past decade.
I’ve noticed more and more of a desire for our culture to be connected, focused on care and a greater awareness of sensitivity. True, the news this week may seem to show a step back, but it moves us forward, surprisingly.
We are having conversations about the importance of honoring our sensitivity (sure, some of those conversations were not very mindful about our beloved comedian as seen on a news station that shall not be named).
Even in this small step back, I see that our culture is moving forward as if in a dance, constantly in the motion of a cha-cha-cha.
Our world needs us to think like a girl: we need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, yet still strong, and see that we are all battling unseen conflicts that are interconnected.
We will fare better if we look beyond the moral high road, and instead, look to “how do we respond?” in situations that prove uncomfortable, frightening and quite possibly life-altering.
May we respond with grace and compassion, not with a heavy hand, as those days of “that’s just the way it is” are over.
Thankfully, I see this change in moral reasoning as I watch my sons’ reactions to the news: they are more aware of our necessary interdependence, and how the possibilities of being vulnerable may create a healthier world for all of us.
I see the changes in the way that popular television shows celebrate all ways of being. I see it as I walk down the street, and notice men proudly outfitted with a sling holding their baby near their hearts (an action that is a daily experience, not just for show).
I believe that we are at the beginning of a whole new path that is built upon interdependence: women, men and transgender people embracing sensitivity, connection and care.
As an added bonus on this new path, we’ll begin to play again if we are thinking like a girl, right? So hand me a saw (not an ax), and let’s start building a fort!
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Editor: Catherine Monkman