the art of combining opposites: Johnny Depp, the creative badass + the lover-warrior



Your heart is a weapon the size of your fist. Keep fighting. Keep loving.

I love this phrase. I saw it on a poster and then looked it up on the ‘Net, which says it originated as graffiti in Palestine.

Stripped of those associations, it still resonates.

It is, for example, a great rallying cry for the creative badass.

It reminds me of what Harriet Rubin in her book THE PRINCESSA refers to as the lover-warrior. This she says, is what a woman must be if she is to get all she wants (love, meaning, power, freedom, creative fulfillment, social change, wealth, success…).

She must be strategic and brilliantly disruptive, governed not by laws but by principle. She must change the nature of the game.

“The princessa,” Rubin states, “came to this earth to rearrange it.”


There is power in combining opposites, transferring skills and knowledge from one domain to the other.

There is a difference between fighting out of fear — and fighting for what you believe in.

You can be fierce and gentle. Formidable and vulnerable.

The creative badass fights for the right to be extreme, to ignite his inner freak, to defy easy categorization, to be a radical thinker, to express her true nature. To have love and power, in a culture that states you must sacrifice one for the other (so women seek love and men seek power).


Great ideas are disturbing. They overturn whatever body of knowledge they are connected to.

The creative badass seeks to be disturbed (and disturb the world in turn).

This takes moxie.

(And as a friend of mine recently put it: “You can fake orgasms, but you can’t fake moxie.”)


Psychologist Linda Austin observes that “the achieving woman must…separate and individuate from socially determined gender norms, which to this day decree that a woman is good, not great. At every step along her path she is challenged to draw upon her courage to assert her individuality.”

To be a creative badass – to pursue ambition and impact, self-expression and mastery — eventually requires a woman to redefine her sense of gender.

But I think this is true for men as well.

Recently I posted on my Facebook page a mouthwatering photo of actor Johnny Depp.

Let’s just say that a lot of women liked it. They liked it a lot.

Amid the comments, a man snorted, “Used to be the Marlboro Man. Now it’s mascara bandit.”

If you’re familiar with the Marlboro Man, you know that the powers of advertising invented him to transform Marlboros, in the collective public mind, from a woman’s cigarette to a man’s cigarette. It wasn’t about inciting female desire. It wasn’t about women at all. It was the culture’s big statement about what ‘macho’ is, what manhood means, just as limited and crippling in its own way as any passive, wide-eyed, thinking-hurts-my-brain, gosh-I-like-kittens sense of what it is to be a girl.

The Marlboro Man wasn’t off exploring his feelings, or reading pansy literature, or expressing his creativity. He wasn’t communing with nature. He was conquering it. He ate feelings for breakfast. Then he had a smoke. And if a ‘real man’ was going to write a story or paint a painting – much less pursue a career doing either – then by god, he would do manly things like hunting or brawling or binge drinking or drug taking to compensate, even if he killed himself.

(He might just kill himself, period.)

The Marlboro Man is no longer in fashion – and the actor who played him is dead of lung cancer – but we’re not so many years removed from that. There are forces in this country that would like to move us back to that, who see the rejection of the Marlboro Man ideal as some hideous ‘feminization’ of the culture. Who would seek to put the ‘feminine’ in its place.


The creative badass fights for the right to speak in his or her real voice, which is an authentic voice, and thus a visionary one.

The creative badass understands that sometimes you have to seem like a contradiction in order to be whole.

And when a creative badass manages to break free, to be as eccentric as he or she wants to be and still meet with incredible mainstream success – Johnny Depp or Angelina Jolie – we love them because they had the power to do it their own way.

She wasn’t afraid to take risks, to offend people, to be wild and sexual and bold.

He wasn’t afraid of a little eyeliner.

And the fact that these are two of the most intensely desired individuals in our culture would seem to indicate that what is ‘masculine’ and what is ‘feminine’ is more complicated – and interesting – than traditional definitions would allow.

The creative badass understands this.

Even when the culture doesn’t.

May 12, 2012

11 comments · Add Yours

Very well put. It’s funny. Being in my mid-30s, I grew up idolizing the male rock stars with the long hair, tight pants, mascara and scarves. Of course, I also grew up primarily around females and never understood the whole Marlboro Man macho thing. Seeing the boundaries pushed by the successful hair bands of the 80s gave me the confidence to take risks in my own art, to push my own boundaries. Of course, I did take on some of their look by growing out my hair for a time. And I got bullied horribly in gym class by the “macho” guys in a conservative school for liking Bon Jovi. But I never stopped loving or fighting to discover my own truth. And, hell, I might be hetero, but even I can appreciate the beauty and all-around badassness of Johhny Depp! Life is too short to exist day to day with a macho stick up your a$$. There’s art to create, love to share, and a world to disrupt with the light struggling to emanate from the heart you’re trying so desperately to protect. We exist to set ourselves free. It’s damn hard. But so worth it in those moments that you do.




“You can fake orgasms, but you can’t fake moxie.”
This should be on t-shirts.


It makes me happy that this post acknowledges something a lot of people miss: Sexism and rigidly defined gender roles hurt everybody. Women have suffered the larger part of the hardship, but too many people seem to think that elevating one group comes at the expense of the other.

Just another side effect of competitive thinking.

We all win when every man, woman, and variant is free to live life as they see fit. That’s not going to happen if petty “Battle of the Sexes” style arguments dominate the discussion. This war will never end until we can all put down our weapons and realize that just the fighting demeans every one of us.

All of which is to say that Justine gets another big thumbs up from me for knowing what the real problem is and for being a part of the solution.


Also, because I’m always startled by how these comments handle line breaks, I would like to make a suggestion: Adding ‘white-space: pre-line;’ to the style information on comments would make them behave a bit more nicely. I can see that comments have their own class in the stylesheet, so it should be a pretty simple.

I actually had exactly the same problem when I was rolling my own comment system for my site, so I figured I could share what I learned ^^.


@Luke Redd Another gorgeous comment, Luke, thanks. I’m often struck by the difference between what women want/find attractive and the whole macho thing — macho is men trying to impress other men, and has little to nothing to do with women (other than ‘controlling’ them to prove to other men that you have your woman in line), and has zero interest in the female perspective (is scornful and disdainful of it). What women want is not that complicated; what’s complicated is that many men can’t risk giving it to us because of the (justified) fear that the culture will come down on them for being less-than. Macho causes a lot of pain and hurt, alienation and damage, heart attacks and suicides. And for what?


@John Colburn Great comment, thanks (and that is AWESOME ADVICE re: line breaks, thank you much). I would add “…while being respectful of others” to that bit about everybody having the right to be their authentic selves and live life as they see fit. There are some individuals (serial killers come to mind) who probably shouldn’t be given free reign.

Feminism isn’t about hating men or overturning patriarchy just to put matriarchy in its place. It is about “equal but different”. It is about democracy — the right to speak, to be heard — which you do not have when so many of those voices are ignored, disdained, bullied, underrepresented, abused, silenced, controlled, etc., because they don’t fit into a very particular box that the powers-that-be have deemed ‘normal’. And just because that box has traditionally been a masculine one doesn’t mean that all boys and men fit it.


I just wrote a post titled “Un-Apology” about this very topic and how it pertains to me. I appreciate your smart take and world view on having to fight to be authentic. Your posts are fuel to my creative badass!


Loved the bit: “The creative badass seeks to be disturbed” since, well, I often wonder why I would throw myself so haphazardly about, or why my badass sister willingly choose to come out right over Christmas dinner, or why best friend quit his job to manage a café in Death Valley… with this little phrase, everything makes sense. Loved this post.


“The creative badass fights for the right to

speak in his or her real voice, which is an

authentic voice, and thus a visionary

one…The creative badass understands that

sometimes you have to seem like a

contradiction in order to be whole.”

I’m an 18 year old kid, female, from the

Philippines, and I’ve been reading and

quotiong and posting and tweeting your blog

posts for quite some time. My discovery of

your blog — after reading Danielle LaPorte,

Kelly Diels, Cal Newport, and Chris

Guillebeau — has been very timely as I am in

a stage where all the conventions and

dominant belief systems in my country are

being questioned. Yes, I have always been a

very curious child and a willfull, stubborn one.

My country is known for its colonialism and

conservatism, yet I am perhaps among those

few produced by this generation who seem

restless and determined to clash with the

conventions that obviously keep limiting, as it

has kept limiting, the growth and progress of

my country for how many decades now.

Thank you Justine, for inspiring me with your

wisdom. I may be powerless by now, but to

start the fight for my country and countrymen,

I’m determined to be out and be a creative



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