This one is all about me.
It won’t be officially official until July 2, and I won’t have the super-whizzy bit of paper in my hand until July 15, but!
I have passed my English Language and Literature degree with a First. I have also won the departmental prize for the best performance in medieval language and literature.
It’s funny. Those two bits are just the plain facts, as down in black-and-white in various official places, and yet typing them out in a non-official situation seems dangerously close to blowing my own trumpet. I have just attained possibly the greatest single achievement of my life to date and am now vacillating over whether it would be unseemly to talk about it. Go me.
There are multiple kinds of conditioning at work, I think: the idea that women specifically should be quiet and unthreatening, but also that it just isn’t polite. Respectability, if you will. I think there’s an element of classism as well as sexism in the coding of self-appreciation – and for that matter outspokenness in many forms – as aggressive and uncouth. Observe the million and one shitty media portrayals of anyone who dares to be publicly proud of being working-class or having working-class roots – at best they tend to get looked at like they have two heads; at worst, shamed and vilified. I also think there’s a uniquely British component. It does seem to be ingrained in the national psyche that being loud and proud isn’t really cricket; that’s changing, as the national psyche becomes less old and less white (and more Americanised) but it’s still hanging around in places.
I think all the various oppressions that try to shut down people – of all stripes – from being openly happy with, let alone proud of, themselves, do it because self-confidence is a hell of a dangerous thing. You can’t properly oppress someone who knows to the bottom of their soul that they are exactly as good as their achievements say.
Some of the most badass characters ever created are the ones who see no shame in weaponising their personal awesome, the people for whom the words I am might as well be a steel wall. Listen to them.
- “I am the keeper of the sacred fire, guardian of the flame of Arnor. The dark fire shall not avail you, Flame of Udûn!” (Gandalf, Fellowship of the Ring)
- “I’m Batman.” And for that matter “I’m the goddamn Batman.”
- “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” (The Princess Bride)
- “I’m the Doctor. Basically … run.” (Doctor Who)
There’s many more, of course. “I am the law.” Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith: “I am the Senate.” Julius Caesar in the play of the same name: “I am as constant as the northern star.” But even those few stand as testament to the incredible power of self-declaration, of refusing to be shaken in one’s own self-confidence.
The oppressions don’t go away, of course. Being heroes, the speakers of the above quotes are mostly exempt from them: outside the class system (Gandalf, the Doctor) or at the top of it (Batman); they’re all men (and the two theoretically capable of changing sex have conspicuously not chosen to be women); they’re all white; they’re all able-bodied, to inhuman extremes of resilience; they are all relatively conventional in their performance of (some kind of) masculinity.
The existing oppressions make it that much harder for not-white, not-male, not-rich, not-masculine people to claim a similar space for self-declaration. Arguably, though, it also makes such declarations incredibly subversive and hence gives them a kind of power of their own. Sady of Tiger Beatdown said it already and far better than I could, so I’ll just quote her saying it:
… I have accordingly been taught my entire life to view myself as lesser-than, to devalue my own accomplishments, to accept it when other people treat me as lesser-than and devalue me, which they (if they are men, especially) have been taught to do. And I refuse. I say no. I tell you I’m Sady fucking Doyle, and I expect you to believe it. Being a woman who likes herself, is proud of herself, is impressed with herself, in public: There might not be a more subversive act.
The Beatdown post spawned a sister thread at Shapely Prose, entirely dedicated to the commenters – mostly women – declaring to the world how and why they were FUCKING AWESOME. And it is a thread of epic, a thread of win, a thread of almost unbelievable heartwarming goodness.
I didn’t post in it. I didn’t post at TB, either. Because I am an extremely rare commenter at other places in general, though I lurk every day on about a dozen blogs, and I sure as hell didn’t want my first comment in someone else’s space to be all about me. But now? This is my space, my personal little corner of the Interwebs, and I have something to shout about and I’m damn well going to shout about it.
I got a First, and I came right at the top of the goddamn year, and I am going on to do a Masters in Medieval Literature in a wonderful medieval city on full government funding. I can turn out a first-class essay on minimal preparation and a high 2:1 on no preparation at all. I can quote Shakespeare until the cows come home, translate three dead languages and tell you the difference between zeugma and syllepsis. I am a grammar whiz. I have forgotten more stuff about King Arthur and the Grail legend than Dan Brown will ever know. I wrote a goddamn computer program to generate random poems for me and learnt Python from scratch to do it.
I’m wickedday and I’m made of win. Thank you.