I’m 54 years old and I’m still sometimes baffled by what it means to be a woman. Not as it pertains to my gender but as it pertains to my role in life. I can vividly remember lessons I learned growing up and the older I get the better I understand myself and the cookie cutter roles that were supposed to define me. In my book, That Damn Girl Stuff, I talk about the conditioning process that kept me on a path of crazy with men that I didn’t want yet accepted as my lot in life. The book in turn helped me define myself as a writer.
I’m inspired by the generation of women who are coming after me even if I don’t always agree with what I see. They are defining themselves as empowered and independent but their definitions seems to bes one of being alone or doing it alone for whatever reason. They’ve been told they can have it all so they go after it and I applaud that. What comes across, however, is bitterness and a disconnect in relationships. I see social media feeds filled with messages of what not to put up with, who you don’t need in your life along with memes of prop a queen up and this disturbs me because I see facades that can’t weather storms of truth spoken in love. I see it, I don’t like it, but I understand it.
When I wrote That Damn Girl Stuff, I gave sincere thought to the words and sayings that groomed me for who I should be. The subtle almost subliminal messages growing up that I didn’t pay attention to and thought of as no big deal permeated my being. This hit me in the face the other day when I was driving in the rain. I marveled at the break in the clouds that allowed golden rays of sunshine to cascade toward the ground with breathtaking brilliance. I smiled and thought about when I was a kid and they told me the devil was beating his wife if the sun was shining and rain was falling. Hmm! This led me to memories of wearing men’s t-shirts we called wife beaters back in the day without giving it much pause. Hmph!
Those supposed innocent things may not seem like much but they speak volumes to what society thought my role should be. Not the role of a woman who tolerates a man’s physical abuse but a woman who repeats and spreads such nonsense about women. What else have I allowed to slip by unaware? Why did I never question such sayings? I have no problem accepting my role as a wife, mother, and other gender specific female monikers. Maturity has given me the opportunity to understand that I define those roles for myself if I choose them at all.
I embrace the role of a traditional wife as I define it. My husband is the head of our house. He is our provider, our protector, the bug killer extraordinaire. When circumstances dictate, he has final say. I’m also the wife who doesn’t cook on purpose, likes brown liquor, and smokes cigars while my husband smokes meat. I even have moments of submission as a wife but I don’t make a habit of it. I’m a wife who has no problem referring to herself as my husband’s bottom bitch even though he’s not a pimp, I’m not prostitute and he has never referred to me in such a way. If you know anything about the relationship between a bottom bitch and a pimp, you may understand, it not, no worries. I understand because my father was one for a short while.
In my role as a mother I’m expected to nurture and protect my child. I accept that but not everyone agrees with how I do it. I’m a traditional mom who believes kids should be respectful and disciplined. I find it sad when people comment on how polite my daughter is because she says please and thank you. EVERYONE should say please and thank you along with other courteous remarks. What they don’t see is that I give my daughter permission to call me out when I’m wrong, in a respectful manner and tone. This is something I was never able to do with my mother in any shape, form or fashion. I teach my daughter not to hit boys unless she wants to get hit back, unlike other mothers who expect boys not to defend themselves against abusive girls. I teach my daughter she better damn well speak up if she ever feels sexually compromised even if done by me or her father. I tell my daughter to wear panties and bras in public because it makes others around her uncomfortable when she doesn’t. This is not a requirement at home. I’m that mom that doesn’t teach her kid to walk away from a fight and tell an adult. She has the right and permission to defend herself at all cost.
In my role as a writer I give myself permission to be vulnerable and transparent. This allows me to stay true to my ghetto/country roots, without embarrassment, that always surface when I get comfortable in any given space. I leave a legacy for my daughter through co-authoring. As a writer I choose to share truths that hopefully help others not make my mistakes. In my current book about entrepreneurship and marriage I expose how starting a business together affected our sex life. I share this because it is not written for those who think, “Damn, TMI lady.” That chapter of the book is written for those who question if their business is the cause of their declining sexual activity. I define my role as a writer to fit the work in progress.
I embrace my role as a flawed person who makes mistakes, needs help, and loves others even when they don’t know I love them. I’m defined as I continue to educate myself. My definition changes with wisdom, knowledge, and maturity. Redefining my role as a woman does not require permission. I define myself by where I spend my money, the music I listen to, the conversations I have, where I seek advice, and the company I keep. I grow in definition when I’m honest with myself about I am and who I’m trying to become.
I’m not asking to be in someone else’s dictionary because I know my definition is unique and specific for how I choose to live my life. My role as a woman is whoever I choose to be in that moment, at that time, based on the current circumstance. If my definition offends anyone in any shape, form or fashion they are always welcome to close my book and get another.
Phyllis has been writing since she was a teen. Her favorite thing to write back then was poetry. A family friend who was in the music industry wanted to turn one of her poems into a song but she never pursued it. Her debut book, Morgan Mischief, was written with her daughter who was nine years old at the time.
Phyllis is a successful entrepreneur who owned a financial advisory business. She later owned two popular restaurants with her husband. She is an alum of Goldman Sachs 10K Small Business Executive Program. She is an alum of Leadership Long Beach Institute. She is a former member of the Long Beach City College Culinary Advisory Board.