The Rule Bender

“To a woman who knows the rules – and has earned the right to ignore them”

Issue #38

By Vivienne Arkell

Reading the greeting card, a grin spread ear to ear as I nodded, chuckling to myself in total agreement. Anne knew me too well. As college roomies we watched each other trying to blossom, but often withering and then crashing in piles of emotion. At a preppy university, it wasn’t easy for artsy types like Anne and me to find our voice. We had gotten there by following rules, being straight A students and model citizens. Yet now that we were out from our parents’ gaze, we were testing the sexual waters and letting our real desires escape.

The sentiment pretty much summed up my entire life, even as far back as high school. So many rules seemed rigid and old fashioned. Life in the Midwest often appeared dull, if one was left without experimentation and trying new things. In reality, my parents did appreciate a creative mind and pushed me to be my best. With flexible thinking you can also develop quite an imagination, bending rules so you don’t break. We could all see what chaos ensued with total defiance. A quiet rebellion seemed much more sophisticated.

Dad was a surgeon. So when my brother was destined to be a drop out, all eyes turned to me. Intensive studies did get me into a great college, but about that same time, I decided I wanted be an artist. It still involved my love of discipline and skills. Conceptually, I fancied myself to have the mind of an artist. Once a painter knows the rules of color theory and line quality, real life and truth would come through bending those facts and creating ones’ own combination of theories to make art and make love by as well.

However, going against rule number one proved truly turbulent. Everyone knew the first rule: proper girls don’t question power or patriarchal authority. Rightly imprinted in my mind, by my doting father, was the idea that girls could do anything guys could. With the conviction of a man, I declared my new course of direction. Who could conceive that I would use agency and confidence to rebel against my father’s wishes for me to follow in his footsteps? Resisting convention, Vivi acted on her own interpretation of what a female could or couldn’t, should or shouldn’t do.

Anne watched me struggle with the repercussions of this conflict, yet she too had her own regulations and laws of nature to contend with and question. Bending rules entails a slight modification, usually made to serve a higher purpose. Sometimes it can seem reasonable, or sometimes devious. Anne and other friends would often be on the fence. At times, I understood actual defiance and rule breaking might be necessary for them. Certain ideas need to truly be confronted and defied to be at peace with oneself. Most of my battles could be handled with private protests.

For me, rule number two was not quite as emotionally tragic to bend: good girls don’t have impure thoughts of premarital sex. It was easily resolved by only having pure thoughts when getting naked. There was no way it made sense in my mind for only women to wait for marriage or love for permission to be sexual.

The card’s message said I earned the right to ignore or bend rules. But you know what? I always felt I deserved the right, as long as I took ownership for the consequences. I, Vivi, had already learned to be a rule bender, as a secondary skill to thinking and learning, the minute I was shown the right to decide. I gave myself permission and I owned it.

Reality can be endlessly complex while rules are relatively simple. Choose to believe or break rules? Often the power is in bending with the wind.

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