“One creates oneself”

March is Women’s History Month (in the US).

This is a series of posts about women who’ve influenced me.

The early 80s was pretty awesome for developing a love of science fiction and fantasy. A bunch of classic sci-fi movies and programs were being broadcast on public broadcasting stations on a regular basis, and franchises like Star Wars had just hit the airwaves, and the Star Trek folks had begun releasing feature films. This also opened the door for new movies based on classic books.

I don’t know if you’d call Robert E. Howard’s Conan series “classics”…I mean, many would. I’m saying I don’t know if YOU would. But they were pretty popular books, and since most movies made in the 80s really catered to preteen and teenage boys (with the exception of the ones that catered to post-pubescent boys), the screen adaptations were pretty popular. And while everyone around me was oohing and aahing over Arnold Schwarzeneggar, I was transfixed by Grace Jones.

Grace Jones as Zula in Conan the Destroyer
Grace Jones as Zula in Conan the Destroyer
Like every kid in the 70s and 80s, I’d watched Wonder Woman from the edge of the couch. I had Wonder Woman comics. I loved the idea that there were women out there who could fight alongside men, who demonstrated that that was even possible and that women didn’t have to be demure and subservient and genteel.

And then I saw Grace Jones.

She was the first person I’d seen who really pushed the boundaries of gender fluidity. (I hadn’t seen David Bowie yet.) Kids in my school thought she was the weirdest, “gayest” person ever (and “gay”, here was used in the derogatory manner which meant “bad” or “lame” or “vaguely, but somewhat undefinably dangerous”). I thought she was gorgeous. Amazing. Handsome. Stunning. Mysterious.

I remember sitting on the loo in our basement bathroom, and reading one of those ‘fashion’ or ‘entertainment’ magazines, and Grace Jones was on the cover. I think she’d just been in a James Bond film or something (films of which I was not fond. I had read some James Bond books and the whole international man of mystery thing didn’t turn my crank. I’ve since changed my mind about that), and she was wearing a squared-off sport coat and she had a flattop haircut. I couldn’t actually tell if she had breasts. I couldn’t tell if she was a man or a woman.

Grace Jones as May Day in "A View to a Kill"
Grace Jones as May Day in “A View to a Kill”
That intrigued me. I began to think about gender expression. I myself had always been a tomboy, preferring dungarees with torn-out knees and no pockets to skirts and stockings. I preferred to go shirtless rather than wear blouses, and if I *had* to wear a shirt, it was a tee shirt or a boy’s button-up denim shirt. I liked my hair short, and the day in grade 5 when I realized I needed a brassiere was the worst day of my life. I did not want to ‘become a woman’. I didn’t want to be a man, either. I don’t know what I wanted to be, but I didn’t want to have to “be” one or the other for the rest of my life.

So Grace Jones really caught my fancy. She was a woman who could also pass as a man, who seemed not only comfortable with androgyny (a word with which I would become intimately familiar in those awkward pre-teen years) but who was really, *really* good at it. When all of the other girls in my junior high school and high school moaned about not having large enough breasts, and told me they envied me, I thought of Grace Jones, and how wonderful it would be to be so fluid in the expression of your gender.

I was jealous of the girls in my school who could wear boys’ trousers and not wear bras. I envied the skaters’ acceptance of and promotion of androgyny, and I drifted toward it, even though I could never quite pull it off. More than anything, I loved the idea that gender *didn’t matter*, and that there were people out there who were successful in *spite* of what happened between their legs, not because it was one way or the other.

I still love how Grace Jones pushes boundaries and makes people uncomfortable.





One response to ““One creates oneself””

  1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Avatar

    Loved her in the Conan movies – she moved beautifully.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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