outwait outrun outwit


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Indelibly written on my body are moments of tenderness or violence, sometimes both/I did it because I love you. Sometimes these memories flood the senses, the flesh seeming to pulse with too much blood; words and spaces and gestures familiar may trigger them awake, quivering as everything around me fades away. Walking through campus earlier tonight, my mind suddenly flashed back to last winter: some white girl yells, in my face, Get off the fucking runway!

Then and tonight, I was previously intent on mapping the geography for a new story; then and tonight the words run fugitive, dragging threads as they fled/ the words escape me/ escape!/ unraveling under the immeasurable force of emotion, violently sparked by this girl and her memory, a phantom somehow burned on skin, the only sound a cigarette hissing sinister.


Can't help but recall him: the young white man who asked, nonchalantly, before walking past me into the diner, Where's the Chinese food?


I could play innocent. I could speculate simply, She was having a bad day; I was fair game. I mean, what could motivate this girl to pick on me, a stranger, in broad fuckin'daylight? Maybe I just wasn't mean-looking enough. Not tough-looking enough.

What, I wonder, makes a tough girl tough?

What sort of images and words surface when you think a really tough girl?


In the killer compilation zine Hard As Nails, assembled by the brilliant Lauren Jade Martin, writer Christina Varner stresses:

"The image of toughness we are fed is racialized and exoticized. How often do you think of tough as a white girl with flowing blonde hair and small breasts? The tough girl has dark eyes, dark hair. She's thick; no skinny girl that can be pushed over with a flick of a finger. She's Black, or Chicana, or Puerto Rican, maybe a dark complected Italian, nice ass. If she's Asian, she is also a seductress, packs a gun."

Theoretically framed as a category thus dependent upon images and words in order to assess authenticity, "tough girl" comprises a fantasy, or many fantasies, which, as Varner reveals, are entangled with fantasies constructed upon notions of class and race and sexuality, the fantasies of the other. Since I don't look to kill, I must be the submissive, quiet sort of Asian, a bona fide member of the Model Minority. Go ahead, whisper it or yell it, tell her she's shit; I could never beat the fuck out of anybody.

Of course, these representations of tough girl are not necessarily static; instead, they are dependent upon the vagaries of culture--film, books, etc., which, with the rare and crucial exception of independent producers, are often controlled by corporations and corporate sponsors. By that fact, they must be challenged by the critical, market-wary tough girl stances put forth by zines like Hard As Nails, books like Ginu Kamani's Junglee Girl, and girls who, although they might not look tough enough, will--when push comes to shove--push back as hard as they can, as hard as nails, to divest these stereotypes of their monolithic mythic status, the either/or-ness, the always-is-ness and never-could-be-ness.


Had I been introduced to a tough girl revolution earlier in my life, like, in high school when I really needed it during the years of sexual and racial harassment, perhaps my reflexes would have been honed enough to grab that girl by the shoulders and push her out of my face, grit my teeth, Go back to high school, bitch, I'm not as docile as you think I am.


"As we all know, this shit is hella fucked up! I suggest some motherfuckin concrete change, all right? Because I am tough, and I do not pack a gun and I am/not butch and I FEEL about things, I like to rationalize but more often I don't. I like to smile sometimes while walking down the street. I don't like to be in the middle of conflict. I don't always open my mouth or throw a fist when I see a problem, but I do like to theorize and write about it. Tough girl does, tough girl isn't supposed to think like that. Tough girl is tough to get by. And that is the problem't am not tough enough because I calculate my every move on my free time. I have the luxury to withdraw and not keep my guard up 24/7. So I am not tough then. Tough Girl lives a life where men are not the central figures. She is the way she is because she pleases. She fucks to enjoy herself, not because he said so. And she enjoys to fuck herself, just because everyone says she shouldn't. She has control over when and how many babies she wants to have. And she can because she can take the pain.

She is butch when you're not looking, where you can't see. She is tough when you least expect. Tough girl is/not all of the above. She will/not fulfill your pigeon-holed, cliche fantasies. Confused, aren't you?

Tough Girl is refusing to fit in your box, bitch."--Christina Varner, untitled essay from Hard As Nails


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