Against the Grain This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

October 18, 2009
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“Ow. Ow. Owie ow ow!”

I looked around to make sure no one saw my clumsiness. I had just “gutted” myself - a term used to describe lumber flying off a table saw aimed towards my stomach, knocking the wind out of me. No one noticed my slightly doubled-over posture, no one saw my wincing look, no one heard my quiet gasps for air. Air, oh God, give me air! But to ask for breath aloud, to exclaim my “ows” in anything above a murmur, was a sign of weakness. And I would rather hold my pride and handle my pain than conform to that image.

A girl in this world is a delicate thing of beauty. A girl in woodshop is a weakling of submission.

The first, and most important, rule was apparent since day one: stay strong. Being a lone girl in a room teeming with testosterone creates vulnerability. So I put up a brick wall to protect myself; a façade. I reflected insults with sarcasm and I glared at catcalls. I replaced my sweet nature with stubbornness, inner-kindness with b*****. To prove I was just as good as, no, better than the guys I wouldn’t take assistance from anyone. I’d conquer the power tools by myself, carry my own wood, clean up my own mess, and do a damn good job of it. I was the second grade girl standing with hands on her hips declaring girls’ superiority over boys. No matter how horrible I was feeling; no matter how much I felt like crying; no matter how badly I was hurt or PMS-ing, I held my head high, walked with confidence, and followed the instructor’s words: “Get to work!”

One time a boy randomly turned to me and said, “why are you even in this class? You’re a girl.” I was just sanding away at a section of soft southern magnolia, left to right, always going with the grain. He took me by surprise – I was unprepared. How do you answer a question that has so many answers? Because my mother was in woodshop, and since I was five years old I dreamed of following her footsteps? Because I love to build and fix things? Because I want to prove myself to the world that I, Anna Elizabeth, <i>a girl</i>, could wear a skirt and use a power saw at the same time? Deep breath. “Just because,” I answered with a shrug.

My lexicon now contains every cheesy pick up line and crude joke in existence. It takes both hands and feet to count the amount of times I have had “lovely” suggestions made to me about what I could do that night. Every killing of every alien in every edition of “Halo” has been explained to me in vivid detail. I may lack the buff muscles and physical physique of my classmates – but no matter how many pounds they can lift, I possessed an inner strength they lacked. Through it all I have obeyed the number one rule: <i>I am a strong woman</i>. And no smack in the stomach can change that fact.

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