There are cinematographic moments that define a generation—the kissing in the street of the sailor and the nurse to herald the end of WWII; the stoic images of Civil War veterans with sabers drawn across their chests; the portraits of our great American Indian warriors with their soul-searing eyes holding within their depths their vanquished spirits; the stiff family technicolor photographs of the 60s with women imprisoned beneath their bouffants and bowed frocks; and in the wildly reckless abandonment of propriety in the pictures of women who came of age in the 70s.
What changed for these women? What made them so irrepressible and impetuous? And the answer is simple: We were cowgirls, then.
The world was our wild west. We were progenerated by the backcombed women of the 50s, who married (mostly) deserving the virginal white of their wedding gowns, truly believing in the religious dogma that effectively bound them, and who honestly assumed that the repressing of their daughters’ spirits was in their best interests. However, no matter how hard our mothers tried, we did not lay down for any man–unless we wanted to, of course.
What. The. Hell. Changed?
We don’t really know. Gloria Steinem? Betty Friedan? Yes! But there was something more afoot. My friends and I were not activists or even intellectuals, for the most part. We were smart enough to fly through college all the while defying conventions, dissing boys for girl fun, and redefining the rules at play. Was it an orchestrated revolt? No. It was far sloppier–intrinsically defiant of the existing parameters, not some existential awakening. We were not Glorias. There was nothing purposeful in our revolt. We changed the world by just being the way we were. When we overindulged, we left the carnage behind raucously laughing at our missteps without apology. We took no prisoners. Good girl? Nah. Bad girl? Hell, yeah! We were gunslingers of the first order. We lied to our parents, lied to the world, and just stopped behaving in order to live our truth.
Cowgirls of the Highest Order
I think of all that this generation of women may take for granted (even in this dark and perilous age). We changed their world by not accepting what was. We went to work and fought our way to powerful positions with the same intensity and focus we once applied to girl fun. We raised children early or later in life or not at all, it didn’t matter. We called the shots when it came to reproduction. It was our bodies, after all. We had great adventures, traveled, worked out, drank and did drugs, fucked up, bounced back, married, divorced, married again (and maybe even again—who’s counting?) bought houses, finished degrees, started businesses, saved the world, blew off church and synagogue (or not), found yoga, cancerous moles, meditation, and the cure for Hepatitis while writing dissertations and op-ed diatribes. I think of my role models and heroes—true cowgirls of the highest order—my sisters, Raina & Resa, my friends Lisa, Jenny, Kim, Dorothy, Diane, Sarah, and Chrissy—all of whom redefined the world and my own by their brave exodus from the status quo. We were champions of the new order by simply divesting the old.
We Pass the Gauntlet
For a while I believed that I wouldn’t want to come of age now when the roads are paved, the frontier tamed, and every waking second chronicled. But recently I realized there is still much work to do. We toss the gauntlet to you. Make it count, ladies. Keep up the fight by defiantly being exactly who you are.
Cowgirls live boldly and without apology. Don’t let anyone grab you by the pussy (without your consent, that is). Leave some parts of your life and experiences out of the public view. Keep your private moments (and parts) private. That’s damn good advice that you’ll never regret heeding. Savor the deliciousness of the mysteries of your time.
There should always be shadows left behind, in addition to the indelible images to define a generation–the secrets only that generation knows and holds impregnable. Our legacy is turning into vapors and whispering ghosts. Our time will be forgotten as all great epochs are—but we know we changed the world, ladies. Because we were cowgirls, then.