What Can You Do?

Tell me what you can do.

Can you whistle the William Tell Overture? Tie a cherry stem in a knot with your mouth?  Change the oil in your car?  SCUBA dive?  Code an app?  Raise chickens?  Play the ukelele?

Do you not want to tell me?  Do you not want to say it in public?  Why not?  Do you think your accomplishments aren't impressive enough?  Do you think you don't do anything well enough to justify putting it on a list of things you can do? 

Maybe you think it's wrong to brag.  Maybe you're afraid I'll feel bad if you talk about being able to do something I can't. Maybe you have been taught that humility is a virtue and talking about your skills shows a lack of humility.

A few years ago I was at a pool party where one of the guests had brought her young daughter. The little girl and I were playing by the poolside and somehow the topic of doing pushups came up.  I began doing pushups.  I did them the normal way. I did them with elevated legs.  I was having fun.  My ability to do pushups is a real accomplishment for me.

One of the hosts of the party was watching us and exclaimed, "Show-off!"  He said it jokingly of course, but there was still an implication.  He was scolding me, even if it was in jest.  He was implying that showing off is wrong.

I surprised myself by jumping to my own defense.  "I worked hard to be able to this.  Why shouldn't I show off?"

If my friends around me were disabled or injured and had no means whatsoever to be able to do pushups, but wanted to do them, I would not have shown off.  I wasn't being insensitive.  Every person at that party could do pushups if they worked at it.  They simply chose not to - and that's cool.

My friend who called me a show-off has many talents of his own.  He is a professional photographer who takes beautiful portraits.  He restores old cars.  He can ski.  These are all skills I lack.  When he runs the screen saver in his apartment showing off a constant rotation of his photographic work, would I scold him for being a show-off?

Our society still tells women to downplay accomplishments. We're not allowed to "show off".  We are not supposed to make others feel bad.  Most importantly, we are not supposed to be more accomplished than men.  We are taught to make men feel as if they are the most accomplished and competent ones.  If we do manage to accomplish things men can't, our skills are marginalized as "girly" and not as important as what men can do.

Men are also taught not to respect women's accomplishments.  Go back a decade or so from that party and meet my old boyfriend.  I once dated a guy who utterly refused to ever be proud of me.  He could never be happy for anything I achieved.  Whatever he did was so much more impressive and important than what I did.  He avoided being in situations where he could not do things I or his friends could do.  He never wanted me to be as good at anything as he was.  He needed to be smarter and more talented and more impressive.  I look back on that relationship now and think about what an insecure jerk he was, but at the same time I realize he is a symptom of how this culture views the goals of women.  I was never allowed to show off my talents because there is a belief that they would downplay his.

I think another reason women we often don't like to let our abilities shine is because we don't think we're good enough. We won't give ourselves credit for what we can do because we know others who do it better.  If we don't do it perfectly, or at least do it well, then it's not really a skill.  I find myself following this train of thought all the time.

I can bake.  No really.  I can't bake that well.  I just make basic cakes and brownies and cookies.  My cakes are sometimes lopsided and my piecrusts are all patchwork.  I have friends who own novelty cake decorating businesses.  I can barely hold a piping bag at the right end.

I can dance, but even though I know my dance vocabulary well, I pick up choreography so slowly.  It takes forever for me to learn a routine.

I can sing, but not that well.  I mean, most of the people in my theater group and half the kids in my niece's school musical can blow me away with their talents.

I can ride a horse.  Well, I can't ride just any horse. I need to ride a fairly calm and well-schooled horse to have a good ride.   I can't do advanced dressage moves.  I am intimidated by big fences.  I can't ride western very well.  I piss off my own pony with my bad riding mistakes.

See how I downplay my accomplishments?  It's amazing I can get out of bed in the morning if I'm so mediocre and incompetent.

I'm not going to do that anymore.  I may not do everything well, but I do a lot.  I should take credit for my accomplishments as as I should take responsibility for my failures.  Maybe the things I can do don't contribute to society.  Maybe they don't mean much in the grand scheme of things.  Maybe they're not that impressive.  Still, they are things I worked at and learned and I am allowed to be proud of them.

What can I do?

Get on an average horse under an English saddle and make it walk, trot, and canter on my command and stay on.  With the right horse I can jump a course or perform a basic dressage test.

Perform a dance routine in tap or jazz for an entire song.  I will do it front of an audience if I feel I know it well enough.

Sing in public.

Act in a play and perform it.

Give a talk in public.  (Fear of public speaking?  No way!  I love it.)

Cook a meal - for multiple people even - entirely from scratch.

Bake a cake, a pie, cookies, brownies, and various other desserts from scratch that people enjoy eating.

Drive a stick shift

Explain basic petroleum economic concepts to a layman.

Paddle a kayak or SUP.

Do pushups and deadlifts.  Squat to full dept with a barbell.  (I know my way around the weight room).


So tell me.  What can you do?  Don't be shy.  Speak up and don't be afraid to shine.

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