I was already thinking about it because of Mity Myhr's presentation about 1989 at last night's Dionysium, but then a couple of songs I listened to a lot that year popped up in the musical rotation: Lyle Lovett's "Here I Am," for which I memorised the spoken part because I loved how the words fit together, and "Walking on the Moon," which was included in my mild obsession with the Police (I have no idea how my long-suffering mother endured the constant repetition of the Synchronicity album I'd appropriated from my older sister, especially when the first track started to skip and you kind of couldn't tell it was repeating...).
So here I am thinking about what it was like to BE a Smart Girl in the late 80s, especially an extroverted one. The desire to dim your shine so you can get along and be liked is a powerful counter to the drive to excel. That was the year I really discovered how few men in this world actually like women who are smarter or stronger than they are (and how many others are lying about it), and it started a 20-year-long fight with myself to accept "it's better to be alone than to cut off pieces of yourself to be loved." That's when I started to have enough awareness to see the boys getting praised and called on for knowing the answers I was 'showing off' by having. That was the year I decided a weight I'll never see again was 'obese' and really dove into that cycle of food-shaming and body-hatred that governed my 20s and early 30s. That's the first time I can really remember being aware of all the different directions in which the world demanded I become less.
One thing I really remember about that year was how rarely I talked about the things that I loved. In fact, several of the high school friends with whom I've reconnected are probably thinking to themselves, "I never knew she was low-key obsessed with the Police..." None of my friends really did, because by then they'd broken up but it hadn't been long enough for them to be retro so no one else I knew was into them; I was afraid if I said, "Oh hey this thing that no one else is doing is really cool to me!" everyone would think I was weird and liked stupid things. Enjoying them was just a thing I did on my own.
How does this tie into being an Extroverted Smart Girl? I built my arguments like brick houses because speaking an unpopular idea opened me up to criticism and unless I could support that idea, the criticism quickly became personal. Every point defensible, every position at least touching on if not anchored in objective fact. I got used to having to defend my positions in science classes with ridiculous amounts of backup because my hypotheses themselves held no value. Even now, if you ask me what I think, you'll likely get an answer on the tip of an evidentiary iceberg. I also got used to gauging, in a room, whether anyone wanted or needed to hear the opinion I held, and if I decided that answer was no I just opted out of voicing one.
Years later, when I started learning about different forms of intimacy, I realised that the one that's hardest for me is a specific kind of intellectual intimacy: the ability to express completely subjective opinion. The idea of sharing my online playlists, or my reading list, or making my Netflix queue public, horrifies me. What if I tell people what I'm reading and they think it's stupid and pedestrian? What if I tell you the band I like, that no one else likes, and everyone else thinks they objectively suck? How can I defend "I just like this song because it makes me feel happy," to my musically adept friends who will recognise that the beats are lame and the lyrics are trite? What if I'm the last person I know to find out this artist who creates beautiful things is also a terrible anti-Semite?
There's an irony in this, because I'm a huge advocate for letting people enjoy the shit they like without judging them for it, and for the ability to appreciate the artistic merits of problematic stuff. If you like a band I think is complete shit, I'll tell you they're not my cup of tea but I'm glad you enjoy them. I'll advocate against enjoying *actively harmful media* but not shitty media. I've got ten thousand words on why "Fifty Shades of Grey" is dangerous and promotes abuse, but if it was just badly written I'd shrug and say "Everyone enjoys different things. Some people juggle geese."
Also, I legitimately don't *have* a lot of strong subjective opinions. A surprising amount of how I feel about various media is "Well, it seems nice enough." Maybe 10% of what's out there falls into either "I love that" or "I think that's terrible" territory. The rest is reasonably pleasant and generally unremarkable.
I've changed to a different sort of geek, the kind that offers reasoned and intelligent criticism and supports people finding things that they love, and it's made a real difference. "That's not really for me," is no longer met with a wall of self-righteous advocacy, so much as "Yeah, it's not everyone's cup of tea but I really enjoy it and it's been meaningful to me."
Maybe I'll still never be comfortable voicing subjective opinions, and maybe that's OK. For what it's worth, though, I still totally love The Police and will turn them up very very loud if they are on the radio, and probably sing.
You've been warned.