I have this very vivid memory from my childhood, probably somewhere around the age of 10-12, or thereabouts, of my mother and I getting ready to go out. It was a Queensland summer day, so pretty damn sweltering, and Mum lamented that she was going to have to put on pantyhose in this.
“Why?” I asked. She paused, and the obvious answer was, Because that's what one does. I hurried on with, “I mean, who's going to care if you do or not?”
It was obviously not something she'd thought about before. You wore pantyhose because that was part of being properly dressed – just like she also made up her face (not with foundation, but eyeshadow and lippie, always).
In the end, that day, she still wore pantyhose, but I like to think of that as the thin end of the wedge, and increasingly, as the years passed, she didn't bother more and more.
Years later, I would comment in passing to my maternal grandmother that I held the opinion that I come from an unflinching tradition of no-nonsense women who don't care for society's expectations.
“Oh,” she said. “Really? Do you think so? I've… well, I've always just wanted to be normal. Doesn't everyone?”
It was a highly disorienting moment. Stories in the family of my grandmother include the way she used to quell badly behaved Sunday School boys with one look. I grew up visiting a house full of golf trophies where half of them were hers, and the photograph of my young and trim grandparents on the dresser showed both of them heading down the beach to surf. My sense of Grandma had always been that she held her own, that she was a strong lady, that she couldn't be having with nonsense.
I have always considered irrational societal expectations, norms, “just-becauses” to be nonsense with which I could not be having. And while I do still believe I come from a strong and original line of women, I'm just honestly not entirely sure where that came from.