Margaret Mitchell, the woman who wrote Gone With The Wind, said this extremely cool thing which I fell in love with as a teenager. The quote goes: “Until you’ve lost your reputation you never realised what a burden it was, or what freedom really is.”
As someone who spotted and rejected the ridiculous double standards dictated by gender roles and forced onto boys and girls from a depressingly young age, this sentiment greatly stoked the fires of my rebellion.
I was fed up with being told that my worth was connected to my purity. I was sick of being forced to participate in a game with skewed goal posts and a very uneven playing field. And I had enough of people judging my character on the basis of how ladylike, or meek, or compliant I was.
Because I realised pretty quickly, if you went that route, you could never be meek and submissive and compliant enough.
So I decided to become a badass instead.
In order to pull this off successfully, I needed to work on my image. Lose my reputation, if you will. And cultivate a bad one...
And so I started smoking on the street, and taught myself to open beer bottles with my mascara, and expanded my vocabulary to include every swear word known to man, and pretended to know and understand a lot more about sex than I actually did.
Your typical bog standard adolescent rebellion in other words. A little embarrassing, perhaps, but cute. (Except for the smoking bit. I wish I never started smoking.)
Now that I’m an adult, I think rather differently about reputation, of course. Not only because expectations of me have changed, but also because the world has changed. Women aren’t only expected shut up and look pretty anymore. And men aren’t only expected to succeed and provide and to suck it up anymore.
So these days, while I still cling somewhat desperately to my street cred, I can’t pretend what other people think of me is not important.
Because it is important that people think I am kind. And generous. And diligent. And decent. I want to be a good citizen, who does my civic duty. I want people to know that they can rely on me in a crisis.
And these are the things a young girl’s reputation should be about. Not how many boys she’s dated or what type of language she uses. And I am glad I’m living in a world where this is slowly but surely becoming the norm.
But that sure as hell doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped opening beers with mascara or given up swearing.