We are the fighters. We are the women who don’t take shit from no man.
We are the women with the sharp tongues and hands firmly on hips. We are the ride-or-die women. We are the women who have, like Sojourner Truth, “plowed and planted and gathered into barns and no man could head us.” We are the sassy chicks. We are the mothers who make a way out of no way. On TV, we are the no-nonsense police chiefs and judges. We are the First Ladies with the impressive guns.
More than a decade before Maureen “Moe” Shea was Hilary Swank’s sparring partner in Million Dollar Baby, she was struggling just to get a jab in. “There were gyms that closed the door in my face,” says the now 33-year-old featherweight champion. “One person said, ‘Boxing is for people who’ve been in jail. You should be at home baking pies.’”
“You bitches are lucky to have a health clinic,” one of the girls said. “Hold up, ladies,” Marisol said. “Remember, you are not bitches,” she said. “You are hoes.” The women laughed. “Bitches are dogs,” Marisol said. “But whores are…?” “Professionals who get paid,” they chorused back. “Thank you,” Marisol said. “Show some respect for the trade.”
I recently overheard a media colleague say, “I don’t get Lena Dunham. She’s no Courtney Love.” My ears perked up because I’m nosy, but also, huh? “When Courtney Love was 26 and you talked to her,” my colleague went on to explain, “she had this captivating spark. You could tell she was crazy but a genius. Lena, well, she’s just regular.”
I first noticed the books about five years ago in a grocery checkout line in suburban Chicago. Their covers sport bonnet-clad heads on demure-looking young white women posed in calm domestic or pastoral scenes. Perhaps a horse-drawn buggy rolls by in the distance, or a barn is etched on the horizon. Maybe a young man in a wide-brimmed hat stands gazing at the woman in the foreground.
When my brother and I were young, our parents would build us igloo forts out of blue sheets in the living room before putting us to bed. They would turn off all the lights except for a string of white Christmas lights that looped through our plants, and turn on the jazz-fusion, African-rhythm synthpop of Afro-Parisian Wally Badarou, creating an icy new world for us. What I now recognize as a way to calm two small children before bedtime felt like magic to me then. Our living room was transformed into a timeless space that felt simultaneously prehistoric and futuristic.
The only time any teacher talked about birth control at my rural Idaho high school was in a home economics class. I took the class, called Parenting Skills and Child Development, mostly to plug a hole in my schedule that semester. Well into college, whenever I mentioned that I took a parenting class in high school, people would almost reflexively snicker: Isn’t parenting a set of skills everybody should just have? My sophomore-year roommate said, “I just think of classes like that as classes for idiots,” and went on to snark that we needed more classes telling people how to avoid becoming parents in the first place.
For a long time, Vietnamese food made me uncomfortable. It was brothy, weirdly fishy, and full of the gross animal parts that other people didn’t seem to want. It was too complicated.
I wanted the straightforward, prefabricated snacks that I saw on television: Bagel Bites, Pop-Tarts, chicken nuggets. When my grandmother babysat me, she would make tiny concessions, preparing rice bowls with chopped turkey cold cuts for me while everyone else got caramelized pork. I would make my own Bagel Bites by toasting a normal-size bagel and topping it with Chinese sausage and a dash of Sriracha. My favorite snack was a weird kind of fusion: a slice of nutrient-void Wonder Bread sprinkled with a few dashes of Maggi sauce, an ultraplain proto–banh mi that I came up with while rummaging through my grandmother’s pantry. In our food-centric family, I was the barbarian who demanded twisted simulacra of my grandmother’s masterpieces, perverted so far beyond the pungent, saucy originals that they looked like the national cuisine of a country that didn’t exist.