I Am A Woman

To any who will listen, 

I am a woman. This simple statement has defined and molded my life. My gender empowers and emboldens me. I am proud of my womanhood, and of all other women, however different their expression and experience of femininity is. For nineteen years I have navigated the world in this body, thus I have been treated in accordance with the world’s perception of women. For those who care to understand, this is my lived experience. I am a woman, and this is my life because of it. 

I’m a young girl, and my mother wants to protect me, she teaches me of the dangerous world. My friend and I are walking home when a van starts circling, we sprint to her house, our flip-flops pattering against the cement, even before puberty we know our girlhood puts us at risk. 

I’m in middle school there’s a coach, he has a reputation. He purrs down at me while I am doing sit-ups, and tells me “that skirt looks awful good on you,” the girls in the locker-room joke I should get a rape whistle, I’m twelve years old. 

In seventh grade I’m sure I’ll opt out of college altogether, choosing instead to marry and have kids immediately. I talk of having five kids by 25. This is the greatest value, the cultures and communities I interact in, teach me, I have. My mother tells me I should go to college. Her friend who did not finish schooling and whose husband later divorced her tells me I need to get degree and not depend on others because circumstance changes. I never forget that. 

At 13, the boys in my class take a longer than appropriate glance at my butt when I bend over the table. I learn to stay seated. If I need something, I will ask for it. 

I move to Utah, and make it to high school. A boy in my grade asks me what women have ever done, claiming that their lack of accomplishments makes them inferior, despite the significant successes of women even while enduring sexism. Another boy claims a woman should stay-at-home and be a mother, because “what if she doesn't have children and her son was meant to cure cancer?” Later, I thought what if SHE was meant to cure cancer but didn't because she stayed home. I never told him that.

At the high school I attend I learn that a former religious teacher was expelled for raping a student. My current religious teacher justifies it, calling him a good man, and claiming it wasn't really “you know” because “she wanted it too”. He can’t bring himself to say rape, but what else could it be? She was 16 and he was 38. I never trust that teacher again. 

I’m eighteen, the boy I’m dating hangs out with a large group of boys, one of them says to me once “when a girl gets raped, it’s her own fault.” I ask if he’d say something like that to his toddler sister if it were her who’d been attacked. She walks in the room and he tells her if she were raped it’d be her fault. She was two. 

One of the boys once made a comment about my body, and "what he would do with it". My boyfriend yells at him. I feel like an object. 

Senior year, in an AP History class, my teacher addresses only the males in the room and tells them to deny their wives credit cards when they ask to buy a dress, because they’ll buy shoes too. As if women do not have their own money and cannot make sensible decisions. The same teacher recreates his wife birthing their child and tells us how ugly and fat pregnant women are.  He continually disrespects women in our place of education. 

I’m leaving my hair salon and a man screams from his car "give me a piece of that body baby". I run to my car. 

I’m standing on a corner, holding a baby, a man yells from a passing car about my body. 

A boy asks the man I’m dating to control me because he dislikes my opinions.

I move to the city for school, and I run to and from my apartment and car. I’m scared someones waiting to attack me. It may seem paranoid, but a girl was raped on my campus in broad daylight. A girl is raped on every campus.

I read safety tips for parties, dates, parking lots, concerts, grocery stores, work places, school. 

I carry pepper spray and a taser. 

I ask my roommate to turn off Criminal Minds because the demented stories of women being abducted and tortured give me nightmares. They’re too real. 

I’m afraid to shower, for fear someone will peep in the bathroom window. 

I’m afraid to use public restrooms for fear there is a camera hidden in the ugly shrubbery (an event that has occurred to women close to me).

I’m 19, and I go on a double date with a stranger. I falsely believe I am safe in the presence of others. We go to my friend’s boyfriend’s place. He has a pool. We get in the pool. My date starts to kiss and touch me. I do not want to be touched, I didn't even want to be kissed. I did not say yes. I did not say anything. I think stop over and over and over, but my lips don’t move. My friend notices, she gets me out, and I cry. 

I am a woman. And I am a feminist. My life has not been a bad one. I have a beautiful family whom I love. I have supportive friends. I have amazing opportunities and a lot of privilege being a white, straight, well-off individual. But my womanhood has imbued my life with pain and fear that don’t operate the same way in the lives of men. So before you say why do we still need feminism, listen to the women around you, hear their experiences. Even in a country where women have more opportunities than much of the world, we are still restricted. We are restricted by the danger the world is to women, walking at night, traveling alone, are risky and often frightening experiences for women. And we are restricted by the harsh and false stigma our society systematically bestows to women. There is so much work to do, in so many fields, but start by listening, we will tell you our truths.

Photo sources: 1, 2, 3