My brother is eighteen months older than I am. He was my best friend for many years, my playmate and my confident. We were homeschooled, and there were no other children in our immediate neighborhood, so we did everything together.
When I was eight we moved “into town,” a little Mayberry neighborhood with families and kids racing up and down the street on their ten-speed bikes. While my parents renovated the old house we would eventually call home, we lived in a three bedroom double-wide trailer on the property. Two adults, four kids and my elderly great-grandmother. It was a tight fit.
So when my brother invited two of his friends over, they abandoned the confines of the trailer for the colder but more spacious construction zone inside the old house. I asked to go along, but my brother said it was their club house, and there was a strict “no girls allowed” policy.
I sulked indoors for a while and then came up with an idea, based on a devotional I had just finished reading. The theme verse was Romans 12:20, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food. If he is thirsty, give him drink. In doing so you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Maybe, I thought, if I showed kindness to my brother and his friends, they would be sorry that they excluded me and would let me in. So I fixed four mugs of hot chocolate (with marshmallows) and arranged some snack mix and cookies on a tray. I went to their clubhouse (which was actually the gutted dining room of the house) and knocked on the door.
They were, of course, very surprised. They drank their hot chocolate, ate their snacks, and thanked me very politely. And then they explained, with equal politeness, that they just didn’t want to play with a girl. And they shut the door in my face.
I’m telling this story not to make myself into a victim, but to illustrate that there is a certain point in every woman’s life where “because you’re a girl” becomes a valid excuse. Why can’t I play football? “Because you’re girl.” Why can’t I ride my bike to the store by myself? “Because you’re a girl.” Why can’t I be president when I grow up? “Because you’re a girl.”
I remember that there was one tree that my brother insisted I couldn’t climb, even though he and his friends did. “Because you’re a girl,” he patiently explained. “Also, you’re wearing a seventies prom dress and cowboy boots.”
I would like to tell you that I replied with “you know what? I’m going to add a checkered bandana and string of pearls to this awesome outfit, and then I’m going to climb that tree.” But I didn’t. Because by that point I had internalized it and accepted it. It became an excuse I used, an excuse not to take action, an excuse not to even try.
I would like to be able to tell you that this is something I’ve overcome, but it isn’t. Even as an adult I find myself using it as an excuse not to speak up (no one will listen to me), to aspire (I should be home with my family), to start things (someone else could do it better).
It is a long, uphill climb to change that perception of myself as someone who is inherently less capable. But with every step the view gets a little better.