Girl Power

Standing Up too Close or Back too Far?

          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.

16 thoughts on “Standing Up too Close or Back too Far?”

  1. That brings back memories…of when I watched Gigi with MY mom. She had loved it when she was younger.
    When we watched it together, we were both horrified by the message it sent. Cute tunes, creepy plot.
    But we had a good talk about how our reaction to the film was so different now than the reaction my mom had years ago. She shook her head and said, “I can’t believe I liked this movie!”

  2. “faith is about a willingness to let God break in and create utter upheaval in our lives.” resonates with me …
    thanks (again) SB

  3. I had to look up the word oleaginous:
    Of or relating to oil.
    Falsely or smugly earnest; unctuous
    I love it when I learn new words.
    I don’t think I have ever seen the movie Gigi – but have seen snippets
    In wondering why people love certain movies/musicals, I think it is because they love/loved it and didn’t think of the messages or thought about it too deeply – it was strictly entertainment.
    Great post, and I do believe you have a beautiful daughter — intelliegent!

  4. Wow…what a teachable moment. Is it not amazing how much the world has changed in its view of women in just our life time? It is still not there yet is it?
    Bebe and I were flipping though channels the other day and ran across an old 50’s sitcom called *I Married Joan*. He, at age 14, was blown away by the characters and what they believed was important.

  5. Song birdy,
    I’ve been reading a book lately, that is about this very thing: clergy women an up hill caling. you might find it interesting.

  6. I, too, had to look up oleaginous – working my thesaurus overtime girlfriend!
    I really resonate w/ your thoughts about the “second move.” What wild wisdom and insight you have shared! I have a story of my own that sounds exactly as you have described.
    I am anticipating meeting with a couple of “next generation” women ministers in the coming weeks – young women who are in, or soon entering, seminary. I’m 38 years old and I’m already having the thought, “Well, maybe for THEM it will be better.”
    Is it too late to be better for us??

  7. I wonder. I do think churches better get used to women as the model of pastoral authority, because I see a LOT of gifted young women going into ministry. Now, if God is ready for them, why are “we” not? I’m thinking about those words in Malachi for this Sunday:
    But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness.
    Isn’t this telling us to get the heck ready for things to be different? Then why are we so determined to hold on to “the way we’ve always done things”? (Myself included on some matters.)

  8. Man, that Princess! She is completely amazing! I want to be her when I grow up!
    Oleaginous. As another POEM member, I got the word and grinned largely in appreciation of a friend who could use it with such facility.

  9. Once again Princess appears to be well on the way to be the woman that I want to be.
    Thank you for this and thank you for being the mom who allows Princess to be all that she is and is going to be – without apology.

  10. Well, I think Gigi is a mixed bag . I do get the creeps when “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” plays, no doubt there. And the wily aunt is vile. But the character of Gigi is interesting. She is appealing to Louis Jordan because she does not fit the mold, and is curious about life and experience. When she tries to become “loke everyone else” to win him — she is miserable, and he cannot bear to let her slide into society’s mold. He sees that to do that would be to lose her forever. Granted it is very dated, and not PC at all, and offensive in many ways (although I love Hermoine Ginghold) but there is a shred of hope. It may be that is what we liked:-)

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