The theme that I was “book smart, but dumb” was always reiterated by friends, family, and even high school counselors. I was always told that I couldn’t afford to be naïve because I was a woman. As a woman, I knew I had to work harder in this largely male-dominated society. But they were referring to women being biologically weaker and needing protection, not the competitive disadvantage I had in the professional and social world as a woman.
I was aware, and I chose to ignore it. I could see evidence of it all around me. How loose my parents were when my brother wanted to go meet his friends or go “hoop” at the park. Yet with me, they were always cautious. My parents never let me go anywhere for the simple reason that “bad people hurt young girls.” Activities I thought were normal were seen as real threats to me by my parents. I never understood them. I just wanted some freedom.
I had another eye-opening moment at Mount Holyoke College. While sitting in the dining hall, having a simple discussion with my friends, I asked if any of them wanted to join me on my daily runs in the morning. The groans and eye rolls started as usual (I’m the only sporty person in my friend group). Suddenly one of them asked, “Do you carry pepper spray?” I said that I have never owned a pepper spray and didn’t think that I needed one. It was just a short run. The disbelief in their eyes brought back the same memories of being called naïve in high school. In a short moment, one of them grabbed my phone, made me unlock it, and downloaded a Life360 app so they could know my whereabouts. It felt nice to see that they cared but it was also sad, sad that we even had to do that.
To be a woman doesn’t merely entail academic excellence above my male counterparts; to be a woman means being vulnerable or to be thought so. However, I refuse to accept the notion of intense paranoia, carrying around pepper sprays, pocket knives, or other forms of defense. So what if the world isn’t all sunshine and roses? That doesn’t mean it has to be dark and gray or that I have to be closed off to it. I refuse to believe that my gender has been cursed with eternal watching of our backs just because we are women. But I will become more self-aware about my surroundings now. Ignorance isn’t bliss in terms of personal security.
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