By Iulia Gheorghe
The Macmillan dictionary says a hero is “someone who has done something brave, for example saving a person’s life”. Naturally, when we hear the words “life” and “saving”, our minds instinctively fly to doctors, soldiers, lawyers, sometimes social workers, artists, and psychologists. We rarely think about people who are incredibly close and almost mundane characters of our lives. Family is more associated to giving life than to saving it. But when defining “living”, let’s not limit the concept to breath, heartbeat and neural connections. Perhaps living is also about acknowledging self-worthiness and respecting oneself. Saving a life is not only preserving a bunch of cells, animating a body, but also empowering a spirit, nurturing a character and freeing someone from the tyranny of clichés including gender roles centered on rigid ideas about how men and women should act and live their lives accordingly to what has been done before.
When it comes to poisonous and destructive behaviours, our marvellous species didn’t do so much progress. It’s crazy to think that we are able to create artificial intelligence which (who?) is capable to teach itself and figure out pretty anything, but we are not able to regulate our own emotional intelligence and still struggle with atrocious conducts and abuses on a large scale, that the #metoo phenomenon has taken into the limelight.
And while two camps are debating whether men should have or not the right to “bother” women, little girls and boys are still not treated like human beings with universal feelings, but as packs of hormones trapped in a mix of power struggles and seduction games. Maybe time’s up also for children to be seen and heard just as they are and damn’ they are much more than reproductive systems enclosed into bodies that should either grow a beard or shave their legs, cooking dinner or trimming the garden. Childhood is the rabbit hole. Of course, people can change, heal, improve, and figure out issues later in life, however, a good start is jumping over a big pain in the ass.
I’ve grown up, like a lot of children in the early years of capitalist Romania, in a family in which the role of grandparents was crucial. My parents were very young (charming, but nonchalant) and working full-time, so I was spending a lot of time with my mother’s parents. We even shared the same house. My grand-mother was ruling over pretty much everything, except what was happening in the what we call in Romanian “sufragerie”, some sort of dining room in which we rarely dined. Most of the time, we used it as a workspace. I shared it with my grandfather. He was a history teacher and also a journalist. He breathed to read and his biggest pleasure was to lock himself in the “sufragerie” and devour the morning newspaper. I could feel the burden of the world fading away, worries discoloring on a canvas when he was starting to write an article.
I remember being a curious kid, eager to absorb everything and he always treated me not as a little girl, but as a human in progress: he respected my choices, he praised my curiosity and he never told me that I couldn’t do something because of my gender. He didn’t serve a moralistic sermon as expected from a man born in the ‘30. Instead, he thought me about Hera, Athena, Artemis, those Greek goddesses in all their complexity, generous and vicious, capable of great love and vibrant wrath. About Elizabeth I, fierce and tormented. About Veronica Micle, the lover of Mihai Eminescu, a popular poet in Romania, and her sorrowful pathway. I don’t think that he did it on purpose, as an enactment of a feminist official position; he was doing it naturally, from a humanist point of view. He simply watched through the curtains. And there was also the way he told my grand-mother “I love you”. I laughed so hard when he told us (without any malice in his voice) that he adored my grandma’s hairy legs. “Being hairy is normal”, he was saying. Gosh, I guess he was more millennial than a true millennial. Sometimes, he told me and my mother “You are beautiful”. In a transparent unflawed way.
Later in life, I discovered Simone de Beauvoir, sexism, gender inequality, me too experiences. I'm not saying that I haven’t fallen, sometimes, in the trap of gender roles; it’s obvious that I did. My hair comb is bright pink and how many times I didn’t do the first step, because I thought it was not appropriate for a girl to do it (or maybe that was just a lukewarm justification to hide the universal fear of rejection)?. I can’t help but shave my armpits and I often heard myself saying ‘I’m a girl, I don’t know how to change a light bulb, so you should do it!” (like really?!)`
But I am so grateful that there was by my side, in the first years of becoming myself, that person who saw the human in the woman and saved me from later possible frustrations by encouraging me to pursue my path in my own freakin’ way. Thanks to him, I am able to see through the curtains too. And to trust myself and other human beings, all genders included.