Because I Am a Girl

It was the school playground that taught me the unfairness of the world

I was five, too young to experience the first incident in a road of injustices

I was playing make-believe with my girl friends when he and his friends ran by

They were playing cops and robbers, and that piqued my interest more than a wedding

I wanted to join them, but he said no

“This is a boys’ game,” he said. “Girls can’t play tag”

But I, in my stubborn five-year-old mind, wouldn’t budge

I wanted to play, and I wasn’t going to take no for an answer

Eventually he relented, but very unwillingly

I tagged him, but he wouldn’t follow the rules of the game and go to jail

I played this game as well as him and his friends, but I wasn’t taken seriously

Because I was a girl and according to him, this was not my world

Five years old and I already was told I wasn’t as good as him

That I was lesser than him

Because I was a girl

 

I was thirteen before my mother allowed me to walk home from school

Or go anywhere alone

She had me carry pepper spray on my person at all times

And told me to walk beside busy traffic where I would be seen

My curfew was any time before the sun began to set, so summer was my favourite time

Because I could be with my friends longer

I thought nothing of it until my younger brother turned eleven

He was already allowed to walk home from school and hang out with his friends

By the time he was fourteen, his curfew was not with the sun’s schedule

But eleven o’clock

When I asked my mother why, her only response was, “Because he’s a boy”

As if that explained everything

 

I was fifteen when misogyny came in the form of a classmate

He was someone I despised because of how he treated people

Every day, too lazy to bring his lunch to school, he would go up to people and ask for food

He came up to me that day and asked if he could have my lunch

I politely said no

“Why not?”

I replied that I had only brought food for myself

He shrugged. “Well, go make me a sandwich”

“Why should I? Go do it yourself”

He repeated himself: “Go to the kitchen and make me a sandwich”

I refused

He laughed and said to me, “Women belong in the kitchen. Now go make me a sandwich”

I stared at him, speechless; I wanted to tell a teacher, but without proof, how could I? The sounds of his laughter trailed behind me as I walked away  

 

I was seventeen when I first got catcalled

We were waiting for the train to come

When he looked at me up and down, his eyes fixated on my body

“Hey, pretty lady,” he said

I was terrified at what he was going to do

But I gave him a glare and walked further down the platform

Distancing myself from him, hoping he would not follow

It was late and the platform was deserted, save for a few people

I could only pray that if he ever came close, they would help me

 

I was twenty when I began working late nights and would go home after the sun had gone

I would constantly be on my guard and looking over my shoulder

Afraid the shadows around me would give me nightmares

And that the shadows hid even worse nightmares

My keys held tightly in my fist and my heart pounding

It didn’t help that the sidewalk was barely illuminated by the streetlight

Every step closer to home felt like a personal victory

One step closer to safety When I asked my boyfriend to walk me home because it was getting late

He gave me a strange look and asked why

And when I told him it was because I feel unsafe walking home at night

Accompanied by only shadows

He didn’t understand

Because he’d never feared in a way I’d feared

Because he wasn’t a girl

 

I was twenty-two when my best friend was sexually assaulted by a mutual friend

My best friend alerted the police and took this case to court

She gave compelling evidence, never told a lie, and told the court what had happened

I was proud of her for standing up to her assaulter

My best friend was a student studying English Literature

Her attacker was a student studying Engineering

She worked at Trader Joe’s part-time to pay her tuition

He received multiple basketball scholarships and played on the college basketball team

The judge sided with my best friend’s assaulter

“How do I know you didn’t lead him on?” he asked

“You were at a party; you were drunk. Maybe you gave consent and forgot”

“Maybe you wanted it but you just changed your mind and are blaming him”

“What were you wearing? You should have covered up”

No, she said, I remember what I wanted and it wasn’t this

But her words fell to deaf ears as the judge pronounced him not guilty and cleared of all charges

Letting him go scot-free, because “jail time could hurt such a brilliant mind”

He lived while she paid the consequences for his actions

 

I was twenty-four when I started my first full-time job

I had heard so many horror stories about the treatment of women in the workforce

Many of these had occurred to people I knew, people who were truthful

It scared me, my first thought every day being, “Is this the day?

“Is this the day someone assaults me and gets away with it?”

Every day it wasn’t, but I left my office wondering if it would be tomorrow

I had worked with my company for four years and had gotten a raise

My coworkers and boss frequently praised me for my work ethic and punctuality

They promised me a promotion next year

I got it, just like they promised

I thought to myself, “This office is very fair; could the stories be false?”

But as it turns out, I later discovered, a male co-worker who had started later than me

Who was less than competent

Who was frequently late and constantly needed someone else to clean up his mistakes

He was paid more than me

Even though I already had a raise and a promotion

I was shocked, but not surprised For this was the world I’d grown up in

And it hadn’t changed from twenty-four years ago

 

I should’ve done something when I was younger But I was too fearful of not being taken seriously

That “This is just the way things are; deal with it”

It wasn’t fair that I had to deal with your sexism

That the world has grown used to it

It wasn’t fair that we had to fight for something that should’ve existed in the first place

But it’s not too late to change the world

And slowly and surely, we are beginning to fight back

Beginning to reclaim the place that was rightfully ours

Before you unceremoniously threw us into the dust, leaving us behind so we could not catch up

 

She is five years old and she is the best tagger on the team because she’s faster than everyone

Everyone runs away from her, pretending to be terrified

They’re all screaming with happiness as the fastest runner comes upon them and tags them all

And they all go to jail because those are the rules and who cares if she’s a girl?  

 

She is thirteen when she is allowed to walk home or go anywhere alone

Her brother is given the same privilege when he turns thirteen

And they walk home together as the sun sets behind them

Because they are kids and their mother worries for both of them just the same

 

She is fifteen when a classmate voices his agreement to a sexist comment

Spoken by a once-notable politician, left behind when society moved forward

She doesn’t walk away; she goes to the teacher and informs him of what her classmate said

He is suspended, because those words are not tolerated in school, in society, anywhere

 

She is seventeen and waits on the platform for the train to come

A middle-aged man stands beside her, waiting for the same train

And they wait for the train in silence

Because they’re just waiting for the train to come and nothing more

 

She is twenty and her shift sometimes ends at 10pm and she gets home at 11

The walk home is short, but she feels safe

She doesn’t need to grasp her keys tightly in her hand, doesn’t need to keep looking back

She looks forward to getting home but the shadows do not leer behind her like wolves

 

She is twenty-two when her best friend is sexually assaulted by a mutual friend

Her best friend, through her pain and hurt, bravely stands up to him and tells her story

The court finds him guilty and he is sentenced to jail

Because in this world, assaulters do not walk free and victims are not blamed

 

She is twenty-four and she is working in her dream job

She gets acknowledged for her work and praised for her work ethic

She receives a promotion and a raise because she deserves it and people value her talents

And her paycheque – and her paycheque alone – reflects that

 

She lives in a better world because her mother changed it to be

A better, fairer, more equal world for her children

And children everywhere

This doesn’t have to be a fantasy

This can be our tomorrow

And we can change it

Because we are not who the world says we are

 

You cannot underestimate us

We are capable of more than you believe

More than you give us credit for

Because we are girls