My older sister has never been single for more than a year.
When I roasted her in my maid of honor speech at her wedding, I did not let the audience leave without the understanding that men and romance were not something that happened to her, but rather she was something that happened to them.
When she was 16 and boys came calling at our house, my stepdad had a list of chores she had to complete before she could go to dances. What my sister did next makes Cinderella look like an underachiever: she convinced her crushes to do her chores for her, such as mowing the lawn, so that she could shower and get dolled up for dances to go meet new boys. And you thought I was the f*ckgirl, huh?
My sister would be in a four-year relationship, then be single for a month, and then be in another four-year relationship. As I write this, she is married with a four-year-old, and I am still single. The other night, on a food run, we discussed our number of sexual partners, and hers was a single digit—as I suspected. When I blurted my two-digit number, she gasped and screamed Ohmygodjodi! as only a sister would. My sister and I approach everything differently. We always have.
In grade school, she’d be the smart-mouth out-arguing the boys on the playground. If mean boys ganged up on me, she’d rescue me…but when she wasn’t there, I had to learn how to rescue myself. Once, when she was not there and four mean boys were ganging up on me, I got so angry at their hurtful words that I lifted the white blouse of my Catholic schoolgirl uniform and flashed the boys my crisp, white, padded training bra. Their mouths dropped open and they shut up.
And that’s when the f*ckgirl was born.
I never got in trouble for that, and I learned how to defend myself via assertion, boldness, and my own flavor of courage. To this day, if a man is being aggressively mean to me, I will tell him calmly, to his face, exactly what he is being before disconnecting with him. Some men do this because nobody calls them out on it, so start, please.
I guess my f*ckgirl formula has been: when you’re young, your words have less power with boys, but your breasts and body do, and when you’re older, your words have more power—especially if they have already seen your breasts. I stung men back, not in a revengeful fit, but in the spirit of defending myself and my boundaries because men often do not know when they’ve gone too far. I believe in letting them know and in using my body however I see fit. If girls and women are not asserting, how do we protect men from themselves? The answer is, we’re not…not enough. They’re still misbehaving.
My sister, on the other hand, is not as assertive, bold, risky, or opinionated as I am. She is passive, sensible, needlessly cautious, sometimes aggressive, and constantly courteous. In our 20s, my sister and I had contrasting personalities and priorities that were beginning to really make themselves known to ourselves and each other. We fought frequently and got along occasionally during our formative years when we were really becoming our adult selves.
In my 30s, I began to see that my sister and I handled challenges differently. Most of our fights revolved around her thinking I am too much because I make waves and don’t tolerate offensive or controlling behavior. I felt that she put on rose-colored glasses instead of problem-solving. Good girls can be notorious for enabling discomfort, neglect, and abuse—especially their own.
She also did not grab opportunities that we both had, while I snatched them right up! Both of us were strong in English but weak in math, and it prevented us from getting into prestigious universities. I remember sitting in community college getting Ds and thinking, “Oh my God, I’m not going to be able to graduate from college because I can’t do math. I’m totally f*cked.” My sister gave up on math, but I proceeded to ask everyone on campus I could, “Who is the math teacher who helps students who can’t do math?” Everyone repeated the same teacher’s name, so I enrolled in his class, and I hired advanced math and science tutors. Miraculously, I was getting As and Bs—and then I pulled a 4.0 and got into San Diego State University. I can’t begin to describe the joy I felt. I wanted to lay down and do laps on the lawn. Now, I can’t imagine my life without Women’s Studies. I discovered SDSU was the first university in the country to implement a Women’s Studies program in 1970, and something so dumb as a few math classes could have kept that from me, had I not asserted myself.
Good girls will give up on difficult stuff because that assertion muscle is underdeveloped. I almost did. I came from a good girl upbringing and had to retrain myself.
Now that we’re in our 40s, my sister and I respect each other’s differences so much better. We discuss things instead of fighting. It’s not like we have zero fights—we do fight—but we make up quickly and converse about it. We know that we actually do need each other, because life is painfully hard. I can tell she likes having me assert for us in social situations. And, on the rare occasion, she does assert herself, so it’s in there, and she’s slowly growing that side of her—she has some feminist opinions, and she voted for Hillary Clinton.
I do still refer to her as a prima donna though, because the things that light a fire under her and excite her make me shake my head. She would rather go shopping than go to a women’s march. Our male-dominated world, which is shifting at a glacial pace, would be completely f*cked if good girls threw the kind of energy they throw at pedestrian things, at women’s rights and women’s issues. So, we still disapprove of each other and poke fun at each other (I laugh when she says things like “candlescape”), but we learn from each other in the process.
The foundation of the bond we share is sisterhood. It’s our common thread.
We have our gracious mother to thank for that. Our mother admired other women—all of humanity, really. Women were not the enemies we needed to compete with, but role models to learn from. She gave us that life-saving female energy in the nonprofit organizations we joined, the stories she gave us, and the example she set when engaging with other women. When your upbringing is sprinkled with strong heroines like those of Little Women, Nancy Drew, and Pride and Prejudice, it teaches a girl that she is in control of herself and she is resourceful. That her authentic self is admired and magnetic. That her life and her thoughts matter, and she is enough all by herself.
Our girlhood heroines taught us to identify with the female experience, instead of the male experience. Now we identify with stories that are pulling the lid off of the hushed female sex, further exposing women’s reality. Stories like Wild, Hidden Figures, and Bombshell are stories where women stood in their own power, telling their own stories. They aren’t stories where women have to impersonate male roles, male experience, or male perspective in order to be marveled at. We never bought into that. My sister and I have always known that women do not need to be like men to be powerful; that only affirms that, in order to be badass, it has to be a male experience, which serves to uphold male dominance and men as the standard of greatness. In 2020, that is archaic thinking. Women have a complex, human artillery that we are still kicking the tire on.
Good girls and f*ckgirls accomplish more by connecting with each other and discussing their experiences.
Staying in the realm of judgement, competition, and criticizing each other keeps them isolated, unsupported, and makes life more difficult—not to mention, that’s what the patriarchy wants: for us to be enemies, not for us to band together in the powerful badassery of sisterhood.
When the status quo beats me up, as it does from time to time, I retreat to my sister’s to rest, heal, and regroup. To lick my feminist wounds and problem-solve intelligently. My sis has this insanely comfortable couch that you just dissolve into. I’ll spend a three-day weekend having a feel-good movie-a-thon with her.
And that’s how we get on: good girl, queen of home and hearth, and f*ckgirl, making badass progress, united in the bonds of sisterhood. You can find us on a crazy comfy couch exclaiming, “Ooooh, let’s watch ‘The Queen’s Gambit!'”