A couple of weeks ago I got a note from a reader.

It was one of the kindest, most thoughtful notes I’d ever received…but she was writing to tell me why she was unsubscribing from my email list.

She said she loved hearing my stories each week, but she just couldn’t stand my liberal use of the F-word.

She felt that the swear words I used affected the poignancy of my message and diminished my professionalism.

I thought long and hard about this note. It gave me pause.

I thought about what would happen to my blogs and programs if I removed the F-word from all of them. Would they still be strong? Fierce? Powerful? Absolutely they would. And yet…

Something in me knew with a fiery certainty that there was a reason I use the word ‘fucking’ so deliberately, and I realized that I haven’t ever explicitly said WHY.

Years ago, I landed on “epic fucking badass” as my own personal mantra during a bitterly hard time in my own life. I didn’t feel strong or fierce at all; I felt scared and beaten down. So I claimed the fierce transgressive energy of that phrase to give me strength. To give me momentum. To help me keep going when I didn’t think I could.

And it worked.

I did things I did not think I could do; I was braver than I thought I’d have to be; and I walked out of that fire stronger and fiercer and tested.

In order to get through that time, I couldn’t be a good girl. Or a nice lady. I had to be a fierce, wise, transgressive woman. I had to step outside of the role of compliant and agreeable femininity. And the phrase “epic fucking badass” was like a vitamin I took to help me do exactly that.

Like many of us, I absorbed a bunch of myths about what it means to be female. I didn’t know that’s what was happening, of course– the power of tribal beliefs is that they are almost invisible to the very people who believe them. I absorbed ideas like:

  • Work hard, and someone will reward you
  • Be pretty, and a strong man will rescue you
  • Be nice, and you’ll be safe in our society
  • Don’t make waves, and you’ll be ok
  • Don’t talk when men are talking
  • You’re a girl, which means you are less-than
  • But you can still be second place, so be grateful
  • You don’t get a say on the important things
  • Know your place, woman
  • Be pretty but don’t be sexy or bad things will happen
  • Don’t be too big, you’ll make people uncomfortable
  • Be good, and you’ll be safe.
  • Be good, and you’ll be safe.
  • Be good, and you’ll be safe.

Be good.

Every day, I talk to women who are still trying SO hard to be good. They are busting ass to be kind enough, pretty enough, polite enough, generous enough just to be okay.

I talk with women who are so angry, because they followed the rules. They were so, so good.

But it did not guarantee them success, and it did not guarantee them safety.

Good girls still get catcalled. They get leered at. They get assaulted. They get screwed over in court. They don’t get promoted. They get ignored in meetings.

We have to go back to that old belief, the one handed down by a great-great-great-grandmother who whispered in fear to a daughter, “Just be good. Don’t make them mad. Keep your head down.” In certain times and places, that is good advice. In fact, it’s the only advice there is.

But it’s time for us to outgrow that advice.

I watched Little Women with my oldest daughter last night, and as always, I choked up when Marmee said, “I so wish I could give my girls a more just world. But I know you’ll make it a better place.”

I cried for all the ways it is still unjust– and I cried for the justice that we now have that the women before us didn’t.

We can vote. Work. Own property. Have custody of our children. Keep our names. Have our own bank accounts. Decide who to marry and divorce. We can choose to exercise our sexuality without fear of stoning or 14 successive babies.

And yet, my loves. Yet.

We still see blatant disrespect for women in the workplace, on tv, even coming from the mouth of our president-elect. I can’t promise my girls that if they are good, they will be safe. I can’t even promise them that if something bad happens, any level of the legal system will protect them.

I don’t want my girls to be good.

I want them to be whole.

And in order to be whole, we must embrace our fierceness. We must transgress the rules in our head that still whisper down through our emotional DNA that if we are just nice and kind and sweet and pretty enough, we will be protected and taken care of. That is not how it works.

And one of the ways I remind myself to claim and live in this strong, fierce place of womanhood is by reclaiming language that was originally used to demean me. I place myself squarely outside of the role of ‘good girl,’ with its false promises.

Call me a bitch? I will own that strong, fierce part of me that scares you.

Laugh about grabbing a pussy? This pussy will grab back.

Use my sisters’ bodies roughly? I will stand up and tell you to fucking stop it.

Belittle me as a slut? I will laugh and relish how I am in charge of my own sexuality.

Spit the word cunt at me? I own all the parts of me, and I am not diminished.

I will work tirelessly to change our world.

I know you will too.

THIS IS NOT A TASK FOR GOOD GIRLS.

It’s a task for the love warriors, the epic fucking badasses, the wise women.

So I will keep my F-bombs. If they make you or me even a little bit stronger, a little bit fiercer, they are worth it.

We need all our tenderness. But we also need our fierceness. So bring them both to the table, dearheart.

much love,

Anna