In The Brutal Telling, Myrna, a former counselor, is talking to Inspector Gamache about a new family in the small village of Three Pines. She mulls that most people consider “outsiders” to be threats, and that as a black woman, she had firsthand experience with this.
“She’d been on the outside all her life, until she’d moved here. Now she was on the inside (. . .)
“But it wasn’t as comfortable as she’d always imagined the ‘inside’ to be.”
–Louise Penny, The Brutal Telling, page 161
Recently, I’ve been thinking about gender relationships: power dynamics, language, equality inside and outside the church. If I consider the men (specifically, the leaders) to be “inside” and women to be “outside,” then I wonder how to bring women inside, or better yet, dissolve the barriers entirely and grant full equality.
(To be clear, equality is not synonymous with sameness. I’m not saying that all differences between the genders don’t exist. See the Junia Project’s post on this topic.)
In re-reading Myrna’s thoughts, I considered, for the first time, that being inside might not be comfortable. Many women might balk at full equality, just as some men might. There were women who were against women having the right to vote, for example.
In the YA novel The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, young Frankie lives at an exclusive prep school. (Spoiler alert!) She is miffed that her boyfriend, a super hunky senior, is part of a secret society called The Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds; he won’t even admit that the society exists. It’s the same society her father was in, so she knows it exists.
Furious at being excluded, she decides to crash this all-boys society. By taking advantage of one boy’s absence, she uses email to orchestrate a series of pranks. The boys, believing the pranks to be the brainchildren of the absent leader, carry out the tasks, which she plans in great detail, right down to where and who should buy each item needed. Even when the leader returns, she isn’t caught: the leader plays along, even though he has no idea who is behind this.
But the inside isn’t comfortable, particularly because she isn’t acknowledged as being inside. And no one in the group seems to notice her socio-political statements in the pranks; the boys just think they’re funny. Then the administration busts the leader. He confesses. But he doesn’t admit that the pranks weren’t his ideas.
Frankie, now ticked off at her boyfriend for not guessing her involvement, tells him that she’s the mastermind.
But instead of admitting her to the “inside”, he breaks up with her. And—worse, to her—still fails to notice any socio-political statements in the pranks. So being “inside” costs her a boyfriend, wounds her pride, and almost gets another the society’s leader expelled (which would’ve cost him, too: He’s been admitted early entrance to an Ivy League school.) It does get her suspended after she confesses to the administration.
At some point, she wonders if she should’ve crashed the all-boys society.
In the end, though, she finds it worthwhile. She’s grown as a person: learned that she’s a leader, developed her management skills, and discovered her voice. And that she doesn’t need a boyfriend, either.
So why is it more comfortable to stay outside than to come inside?
Outside, there’s no responsibility.
You can be passive and defer difficult decisions to someone else. If the choices he makes are wrong, you can blame him; you bear no personal responsibility for the fallout of his bad choice. It was his choice, not yours. It’s a nice and comfy position, in some ways.
Frankie made an error in judgment when she chose to remain anonymous with the group’s leader. Between that and his pride, it could’ve ruined his future college career. That’s the risk she takes, though, in choosing to infiltrate the secret society. In the end, she takes responsibility for that choice, accepting suspension and saving the leader from expulsion.
Comfortable? Not really.
But she becomes a stronger person in the process.
Change and comfort rarely coexist.
It may be much more comfortable for a woman who’s always been in the subordinate, submissive role to stay there. She may complain about it, chafe under the restraints, or say that she wants change.
But if she suddenly is thrust into the inside, it may be more difficult than she’s anticipated. She may wish she were back on the outside.
But if I truly want change, I have to set my own personal comfort aside. I have to be willing to be responsible for my own decisions. I have to be prepared for whatever may happen. Like Queen Esther, if I’m put in a position of influence, I must accept that it may be for a “time such as this.”
And that time may involve risk, discomfort, and heartache. There is no way to accurately foresee what the results of a change will be, only what it might be. But that’s the risk we all take when we work for change.
And it is worth it.