The Sum of Identity

Another schedule change, and I’m left working myself into another routine. Since resigning from the ER left me a little isolated, I joined a book club here in town. No offense to the club, but the first book I read three pages into the first chapter and gave up. It was redundant and possibly written by someone who rarely goes outside in a forest at night.

The pick for March showed more promise, Welcome to the God-damned Ice Cube by Blair Braverman. It finally came in the mail ten days before our meeting and was nearly 300 pages long. Fortunately, compared to some of my more recent reading endeavors, it read quickly.

Overall, I enjoyed the story as it offered cultural insights into the Upper Midwest, but I had two beefs with the book, and both might result from my failure to understand.  

The main character’s progression toward self-confidence stagnated with her ultimate triumph coming in the Afterword. Also, the inciting incident of her story involved a groping, which Braverman leaves the reader in doubt whether it was a deliberate act.

As a survivor myself, I feel sexual assault is becoming overused. Braverman’s memoir seems a good example of this. In reality, she was searching for an identity rather than overcoming her first experience in Norway. 

While that trauma shapes who we are, how many of us want to be defined by it? I don’t. Somehow, the message women willingly perpetuate is one of perpetual vulnerability, eternal victimhood.

My current work in progress (In The Hills: subtitle TBA) contains a female main character whose only agenda is keeping people at arms-length to avoid being betrayed again.

One beta reader for In the Hills both insisted that my main character, Penny Klein, should show more vulnerability to the other characters, primarily the other lead character who is male, and that she has to have a female confidante to vent to. This story is not a romance, and Klein has been stabbed in the back by women too many times to keep them as friends.

I want this story to be a new twist on the paradigm of a woman going to a small town to find a rugged man, kind of the way Frozen flipped the princess needs a knight trope. Point being; women don’t need men to have value. Nobody needs a romantic partner to have value. Some people really should try living that lifestyle sometime.

Most of my life, people have looked me down upon for having no man. Some traditionalist men have had the temerity to call me selfish and wasteful of myself for not marrying in my early 20s. 

My gender is just one part of my identity, not the entirety of it. I resent being entirely valued for my “her” pronoun. Hence, I will never make that part of my self-introduction.

So, what about a female whose primary value stems from more than her gender? The character type is steadily growing in mainstream popularity. 

I recall an argument with a traditionalist Catholic who insisted that all women who take up the sword are inherently evil. When I pointed out Sainte Jeanne D’Arc and Deborah from the Bible, he patently denied that Saint Joan was nothing more than a psychopath and that Deborah wasn’t a soldier.

No, Deborah actually killed a man in his sleep. Still, she purposefully shed blood, and Saint Joan definitely played a key role in battles and engaged in violence, though it’s not known if she took any lives with her own hands. How much an agenda has filtered either story we will never know.

Regardless, for old-school Christians to take the stance that such women are anathema, perhaps they seek to maintain a patriarchal hold on power. Maybe they just abhor a shift in understanding.

For most, especially women from such backgrounds, I think their exposure to such characters is so limited that they truly think they are an innovation of our times and a sign of socialistic corruption.

Only recently have we started hearing the stories of women taking active roles in history. I graduated high school two decades ago, and Catherine the Great, Elizabeth I, Martha Washington, Sacagawea and Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg are all the women I recall learning about in those years.

(Perhaps I shouldn’t get too frustrated by this as you could ask anyone on the streets of a rural town who was president during the US Revolutionary War and eight out of ten of them would say George Washington. The same 80% would call it a liberal conspiracy that they’d be wrong.)

That’s how bad our educational system was, and possibly still is, at teaching history. Until we change how we teach history in primary and secondary school, we won’t have time to teach more than the same old worn-out stories that kids review four to six times by the time they complete an associate’s degree.

But I digress.

In a world where people define gender as anything, why is there only one archetype of a heterosexual female? Why do we always have to like girly things, chase men, and wallow in our vulnerabilities? Why can’t we like men, but not need them? Why, if we like “masculine” things, are we automatically homosexual?

I’m not advocating for a new gender classification. I just don’t understand this need to pigeon-hole people by one aspect of who they are. I am me, not my gender, not my traumas, not my profession, not my ethnicity, and not my hobbies. I am all of those.

For sure, I’m not identified by the worst experiences of my life. That way of thinking sucks a person into chronic negativity, and I pity the people who do that, but they have the choice to become more than that.

The journey out of the negative is one path I plan to reflect in Penny Klein’s story, though she will have something of an up-hill battle because no good story started out with a character getting what they want or need in the first couple of paragraphs.


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