Simone de Beauvoir writes in The Second Sex that women have not created art as great as men’s because of their overwhelming desire to please. The truly original writer is “always scandalous,” and women’s desire to please keeps them from daring to “irritate, explore, explode.”
I have no idea whether or not women have created art as great as men. But I do admit that my first thought when conceiving "Girl Falling" was decidedly un-scandalous: Am I allowed?
Am I allowed to write about a family tragedy shrouded in shame and silence for five decades? Am I allowed to incorporate what I tripped on when Googling my own name one afternoon: the legal decision on our tragedy, Rubis v. Gray Rocks Inn, by the Supreme Court of Canada, posted on the website?
The language of the courtroom was gripping and dramatic, great stuff for stories. But I couldn’t rip it off from the Internet. Besides, I didn’t want to expose the gory details of how my parents were or weren’t negligent when I fell out of a fourth floor window on an ill-fated vacation.
Fortunately, I’d been taking a graduate course where I was reading writers who made me brave. I felt reckless and bad but decided Hell yes I could steal from a website; it was about me, after all. It stripped me naked, my history out in the Ethernet, and I had the right to take it back for my own. I also decided to spill the family secret because that was about me too, one of my biggest stories. I’d never written about the accident before and I knew deep down that I had to.
Writing Girl Falling felt risky and dangerous but it was also thrilling and cathartic. It was out of my comfort zone but ultimately felt like a breaking free. Turns out it’s empowering to be displeasing, to steal, to explode years of this never happened to me, to explore what if it did.
Now, when I hear the phrase “Am I allowed?” from women or men, and I hear it often, spoken or intimated, I can barely keep myself from shouting YES! Why wouldn’t you be allowed? Who’s the arbiter of what’s allowed? You are. You’re the boss.
It’s scary being scandalous. But it’s also fun. And according to Simone de Beauvoir, it makes great art. Personally, I need all the help I can get.
Anastasia Rubis blogs for Huffington Post and has published in The New York Times, The New York Observer, and Literary Mama. Her short film, "Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner" is on YouTube. Anastasia's piece, "Girl Falling," is featured in issue 298.3.
Photo by Doris Antony