There’s sweeter music when she speaks, isn’t there?
A different bloom about her cheeks, isn’t there?
Could I be wrong, could it be so?
Oh where oh where did Gigi go?
Over the weekend, Netflix brought us Gigi. My mother loved that movie, and I was excited to watch it with The Princess, to share that enjoyment that I remembered from my youth. I hadn’t seen the movie in many years and had only fragments of memory about the songs and a few of the scenes.
It begins with that old dog, Maurice Chevalier, singing his anthem to little girls.
The Princess gave me a look and said, "Isn’t that kind of disturbing?"
And sure enough there were many moments at which we both had to consider just what was being expressed in this story of a young girl becoming a young woman and being offered by her family as the potential mistress to a very rich man. We talked about the way women have been treated as commodities throughout history. I tried to give her an eye into the expectations of Parisian society circa 1900. I wondered what it was my mother had liked so much about this story?
First, she loved Louis Jourdan, much as she had loved Charles Boyer. She really went for the French accent. She even liked old Maurice Chevalier. I find them all a bit oleaginous, but part of that may be the generational difference.
But more importantly, I was sad to think about how keenly my mother must have identified with the world view of the story. In her world, a woman was powerless except to the extent she could manipulate her situation while appearing to be passive and submissive.
Talk about something I don’t want my daughter to ever, ever think!!!
This year I have been chairing a denominational committee and serving as President of an ecumenical board, and there is no question that there are men in both situations who have had a hard time accepting me as a person with authority. I have wondered if it is because I look young for my age (and frankly am young compared to others in many ministerial situations), or wear my hair long or have a girlish voice. But I think the most important thing is showing I believe I have authority.
Clearly, this was not a lesson taught at my mother’s knee. I’m trying to learn it now, on the fly. I’m discerning when to push on the people who don’t accept me in a role requiring authority, and when to push on to the next challenge instead. I’m learning to do it by being as much myself as possible, using humor and honesty and good nature, but also having mental force in reserve for the moments when it is necessary.
Today The Princess and I went shopping for something new she can wear to the school dance on Friday. In my mind, I’m no better than Gigi’s Mamita and Great Aunt Alicia. I hope the boy she likes will see her and be sorry he asked another girl to the dance. But I’m not telling her that! We put together some things that looked fun and festive to wear. She informed me that she would probably spend most of the dance in the girls’ locker room and the snack room, anyway, since dancing with the boys is not on her list of things to do that evening. She likes the boy, but not so much that she won’t be her self.
An older woman colleague said something to me today about the difficulty for clergywomen in making the move to a second call. I have a feeling this also has to do with authority. The kinds of jobs we go to right out of seminary don’t require a boatload of authority. We go to little churches where the pastor doesn’t last long enough to need a lot of authority, or to work on a staff where the authority rests on a senior pastor’s desk. For the second job, we expect to move "up," just as our male colleagues do. Larger churches expect something different, feel they have more choices, turn women down just because they can, or think they can. Maybe it’s different in other denominations, but the UCC operates on a free market type of basis. Bigger churches can pay more, smaller churches have to "settle" for whoever is willing to work for a salary below the guidelines or able to accept a part-time call that may require as many hours as a full-time church, or have the freedom to decline the expensive health insurance because a spouse is covering the family. A lot of the time, those whoevers are women.
I’m working through this. As I read the Advent texts, I become more and more convinced that faith is about a willingness to let God break in and create utter upheaval in our lives. I do think there’s something spiritually significant about becoming
more authentic, and I suspect this authoritative voice I’m finding is
part of my journey through the refiner’s fire. I’m not sure how that connects to seeming career success, or why I should even be thinking about it at all. It seems as false an idol as a big-screen TV for Christmas.
Gigi learned Latin in the morning and how to please a man in the afternoon. Her aunt and her grandmother did not want her to learn too much from books. My mother gave me the same confusing messages about work and learning. She made it clear that finding and keeping a husband was the most important goal a woman could have. When I did well at something, anything, I never felt she cared about it. Was I threatening? Did it simply not compute? Or did the pursuit of things I loved appear to be in direct conflict with living a life as much like hers as possible?
The Princess studies French pronouns and pre-algebra, writes paragraphs about the books she is reading, learns to play "Linus and Lucy" on the piano, and sings "Ding Dong Merrily on High" with her choral group. Schoolwork and music are disciplines that are forming her. She takes them seriously because she knows her family takes her seriously. She’s wise enough to understand the silly old movie in the first five minutes. She’s confident enough to allow the thought to enter her mind that the other girl in her romantic triangle is prettier, yet sure enough of herself not to dwell on the concern. She’s brave enough to put herself out there and chance a mistake and resilient enough to recover from most injuries.
And that’s Girl Power. I’m working on mine, too.