The Art of Joyful Subversion

today's upi column

So There I was…
Sliding the motorcycle into a freeway rest stop -- high summer, families out touring en masse. When riding, I am encased in a leather and Kevlar exoskeleton including full face, reflective, helmet. It is not real obvious who, or even what, I am. So when I whip the lid off, folks are often surprised to see a woman emerging from this cocoon. It’s a little like sipping your Coke and finding out that it’s a root beer -- disconcerting expectations. After the startle, some people are interested. Little girls are especially curious. Their dads and brothers usually compliment me on the machine -- girls want to know all about ME. Countless times I had had this conversation in nearly identical form.

Little Girl: “Are you a lady?” (By which she means gender female?)

Me: “Yes, Indeed!”

LG: “Do you have a daddy?” (Are you married?)

M: “I do – he’s at home.”

LG: “He lets you ride a motorcycle?”

And then I lean down close, look LG right in the eyes, and whisper to her soul –

“I didn’t ask – You don’t have to ask!”

Ah, the sweet taste of subversion!

LG rides off in the back of the minivan, eyes wide, looking back at me, thinking new thoughts.

Their moms ask similar questions, usually in the privacy of the ladies room, and they ask more obliquely.

“Does your husband ride with you?”

My answers to the mothers are also a little more oblique. I tell them that my husband of 28 years doesn’t care for motorcycles, but that we have an agreement that allows me all the safe fun I can handle. I leave alone the issue of what constitutes safe fun and who decides how much I can handle.

The mothers exhibit more surprise when I am off on a multi-state, multi-day ride. It is amazing to me how many adult women have never traveled farther than the mall unaccompanied by someone. They will travel in groups and gaggles, but rarely solo. Sometimes they get far enough into the questioning to ask where I am headed to that night. I often answer that I do not know, that I will stop when and wherever I get tired. I choose to trust God to supply the place. They usually stop asking questions at this point and back away. I become alien and a wee bit scary.

A Baptist minister once asked me how long Quakers had allowed women in the ministry. I answered,

“Oh, 350 years or so – from the get go.”

And we didn’t ask -- because you don’t have to ask.

I love this post! Your story reminds me a bit of something I have heard said about my grandmother, who ignored disparaging remarks made by her husband about studying art, and painted her way into her happy life.

I have many of her paintings in my home... and smile at the fact that she was educated at Friends School of Baltimore, despite her Jewish upbringing.

Grandma O was my favorite relative when I was growing up, and I think her spirit has knitted itself more and more into my life as the years go by...

Liz, The Good Raised Up
Hello Peggy,

I'm worried when I read of your encounter with the little girl. You interpreted "Daddy" as husband -- but my concern is that she really meant "daddy." So I'm afraid that the message she actually heard may have been that she needn't ask her parents if she wants to engage in some dangerous activity. If this comes up again, would you consider replying "grown women like me can make our own decisions!" or words to that effect?

In Friendship,

Dave Carl
Thanks for writing Dave,

I would remind you that the child in question is a 'composite child' made up from many encounters. I do not think I have mistaken their meaning. Girls under 5 usually sat daddy to mean male head of household - girls over that are more sophisticated and say husband. Women are more subtle yet.

I am almost 50 - I don't think anyone even a four year old would mistake me for a child under the care of a parent. Kids are smart.

I do think it is interesting that these kids are talking to a stranger! Frankly, I think we all need to talk to strangers more often. I also think that the average american kid is not getting enough risk in their lives these days. And I say this as a mother of two daughters.

Well, there's a lot to this. I didn't mean to criticize. It does seem to me that there's a difference between "grown women don't have to ask" and "YOU (little child) don't have to ask...." However, the composite nature of your post may by necessity leave out dynamics or details of these encounters that would have allayed my concerns had I "been there."

In Friendship,

I'm re-reading this post and its comments (don't ask me how I got here today) and I want to add:

Dave, many times I see little boys--especially white boys--not asking permission to do all sorts of things, like run around the lobby of a bank, climb a tree outside the meetinghouse, pick up a ball on someone's yard...

But I see little girls asking permission A LOT.

I don't know that little boys should *have* to ask permission as much as little girls should be encouraged to "just do it."

It's about equalizing privilege and access, not maximizing limits and oppression.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

It is my first time here. I just wanted to say hi!
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