I like to think of myself as a strong individual. The voice of sensible reason within a tumultuous world, but also a person not afraid to speak out against the status quo. Like every person, my goal is to make an impression on the world, to change it for the better. I have ambitions and emotions, dreams and accomplishments. But how blind I have been. All of this is for naught, because being a student, an activist, a musician, a reader and writer, a liberal, a Model UN enthusiast and aspiring diplomat and leader is not my calling in life. I am a body. I have no opinions or beliefs; my sole purpose in life is to be judged and rated and ruled by the superior gender: males. I am supposed to be pretty and vapid, to provide entertainment for boys and men and to keep quiet and follow the rules of our patriarchal society.
Let me explain further the occasion in which I was enlightened. It was all due to one life-changing bus ride, one moment in time that shattered all my visions and dreams, all my misconceptions of life. It was a dark night, the kind where, without a light, everyone’s faces blended together. Flush from the throes of an audition, I was seated with friends on a bus home. We chatted about mundane things, the kinds that female teenage musicians are wont to speak about - music, school, and of course, cute guys. Little was I to know that my perception of life was about to be flipped completely upside down. Immersed in our “girl talk”, other voices on the bus were muted to my ears. Gradually, snatches of a conversation from the boys behind me came to my attention. Their words, which I won’t repeat because their sagacity cannot be handled by the mundane, were numbered. They spoke about rating girls, not on their character but on their “bangability”. They spoke about their experience and exploits with the fairer sex, either real or imagined. Each new boy that chimed in attempted to better the boasts of the previous speaker. Such wisdom, at such a young age! They gave advice on how to “get it on” with a girl, especially if that girl is a bit reluctant, because you know, all girls need a strong man to take charge. They relegated us, girls, to things. This new and revolutionary idea, that women and girls are mindless objects to be taken when wanted, is just utterly incredible.
Oh wait. This idea, this mentality has been around since men were in charge. Which is, like, since forever. Reality check - this is the real world. It is not some sort of imagined feminist complaint, that the world is unfair and every word is an insult. It’s a reality that most females have to endure relentlessly. It’s not just faceless “bad kids” doing the objectifying, the assaulting, the sleazy moves. It’s these boys, who could be anyone, because I couldn’t see their faces, recognize their voices. They could be any young male, emboldened by the false sense of anonymity darkness provides. These boys, who are our age and go to our school, who have probably heard somewhere, from someone, that it’s alright to talk about girls and act this way. Maybe it was from their parents, their uncle, the man running for president, but they grew up to learn that objectifying and degrading girls and women is acceptable. Maybe it’s unfair to blame the culture, when everything is really a result of individual actions, of choices. But somehow, they learned that a boy’s worth is in how many girls he’s been with, just like a girl’s worth is in how pretty she is. They learned that boys don’t cry and create beauty, they must leer and boast and do. They learned of toxic masculinity, their culture imbued with violence against women, fantasies of choking and raping and taking. They learned that boys have to be strong and decisive and that girls have to be brainless and accommodating. They learned from society that when a woman is opinionated she is pushy and psycho and “who does she think she is?”, but when a man speaks up he is assertive and smart. They learned that when a girl or woman is assaulted she was “asking for it” or that she must be lying and want attention or that “boys will be boys” because somehow, somehow, it’s always her fault. They learned that their words people laugh at now can turn to actions that are okay in society, that will go unpunished, because only 6 in 1000 rapists see the inside of a jail cell even though 1 in 6 American women have been a victim of rape or attempted rape alone. They learned that no doesn’t always mean no, because you know, she’s just a stupid girl and you can convince her, guide her, so eventually “no’s” become “stops” dying out become silence.
Girls are taught to be friendly but not too friendly, because obviously boys all have one thing in mind. Girls are taught that no means no, unless he is an athlete, a politician, a comedian, or who knows what else and then what she says doesn’t matter anymore. Girls are taught to be alert, but not too alert, because “why are you being so crazy, he was just trying to be nice, you paranoid misandrist”. Girls are taught to smile, keep smiling until it hurts, even though we want to scream and cry and shout. Oh, and girls are taught that emotion makes you weak and such a girl, but you are obviously not a real woman if you show no emotion. Girls are taught that ambition in a man makes him strong and successful but a woman cold and calculating and despicable. Girls are taught that being assaulted or harassed makes you dirty, worthless, trash, so it’s better to just keep the anger and hurt inside you, festering and building up, poisoning you. Girls are taught perfection and beauty is pain and to be molded by your surroundings.
We are taught that not all guys act like jerks to women, that not all guys are sexist, but that those guys that say creepy, vulgar sexist things are kind of common, and we shouldn’t be upset because that’s just life. We are taught to speak our mind, because women can, should have opinions, but then told to shut up or go back to the kitchen whenever we offend men’s delicate sensibilities. We are taught to have ambitions, but not too many, because 4.2% of Fortune 500 CEO’s are female and less than 20% of the US Congress are women and it will take 170 more years to close the gender pay gap and it’s a man’s world out there, even though 51% of Americans are female. We are taught that we should wear makeup to cover up our blemishes, but not too much, because that’s just unattractive and desperate. We are taught from childhood to be quiet and good little girls and “sugar and spice and everything nice”. We are taught that these comments about females are just how society is, because everyone says them, it’s just locker room talk, deal with it, boys will be boys, it was a joke. We are taught that it’s always his word against her word, and that his trumps hers. We are taught that a woman can’t control her own body because she’s just too stupid and flighty, that she needs the laws of men to dictate what she does. We are taught that we are liars until proven innocent. We are taught that when people make sexist jokes like “shut up and make me a sandwich”, when they mansplain or quip about assault, that’s alright, even though 1 in 4 American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime and 99% will be harassed. We are taught sorry, sorry, sorry, without even knowing what we’re sorry for. For breathing, for thinking, for existing? We are taught that just because women got the right to vote less than a hundred years ago, sexism and gender inequality are over in the US, even though “Repeal the 19th” is apparently a real hashtag, that “just turn off her mic” is heard on national TV. We are taught that we have all our rights, that we can’t, shouldn’t ask for more. We are taught history in school, but never her story. We are taught that feminists are crazy and psycho, that women are irrational and too emotional, not emotional enough. We are taught silence and fear, worthlessness and materialism and acquiescence. We are taught that shame is our burden. And the saddest thing? I could go on and on and on.
Hearing those boys talk in such a crude, terrible way brought back memories. These boys are the relative that told me I shouldn’t go into politics or government, because that’s a job for men. They are the boys that called me “teacher’s pet” when I answered her questions because “no one likes a girl who knows things”. They are the boy that stared at my chest a second too long at swim practice, that stood uncomfortably close at a Model UN conference. They are the family friends that commented on my broad shoulders from swimming that somehow make me unfeminine, told my mother to put me on a diet because of my curves. They are the presidential candidate that his party comes crawling back to, even as he demeans women, trivializes assault, and threatens women’s rights. They are all the little things, that every girl, every woman has become used to. They are what make women tiptoe in this man’s world, aware that disagreement can mean violence or death in volatile male eyes. They are what make me, some days, want to give up, to be a perfect doll for men and for society.
But you know what? I’m done. I’m sick and tired of being held down and told to shut up. Shame is not a synonym for woman; it is not a burden that we must bear. I don’t hate boys, or want the end of men like you might think. I just want equality, true equality. I want for it to not be normal or accepted for boys to casually objectify girls. I want to live in a world where not only are girls told that they can be anything, but that it is actually feasible for them to be anything. I want for boys to understand that when they refer to girls as a body part or as an object, they ignore that she is a daughter, sister, friend and individual, diminishing her worth to that of a trinket, something pretty to be used and thrown away. I want for women to close the gender pay gap, to run for office, to shatter each and every glass ceiling society has built. I want for there to be more girls, more women out there that speak out, that make the laws on women’s issues because we’ve been told by men all our life what to do, and it’s exhausting. I want to not have to apologize for being myself, for thinking and existing and asserting my rights. I don’t want to be called a “feminazi” or “witch” or a “nasty woman” when I say something boys or men disagree with. I don’t want to hear a bunch of adolescent boys demean girls on a bus and be excused with “it’s just locker room talk”, because it’s not just locker room talk, or to hear of yet another Brock Turner, Cory Batey, Elliot Rodger. I want for all people to speak up when they hear such crassness, to do what I was too embarrassed, too sorry to do. There it is again. Sorry. I want women to not be valued as another conquest or a toy, but as an equal, someone whose place is in Congress, in the CEO’s chair, in the Oval Office. I want to be able to contribute to society even with two X chromosomes, to be a student, an activist, a musician, a reader and writer, a liberal, a Model UN enthusiast and aspiring diplomat and leader. I want for “feminism” to get praise and equality, not hate and abuse from fragile men. I want femininity to be as important as masculinity. I want people, all people, to take a stand against this culture, to not accept it as the norm. I want to be valued as a female and as a living, breathing, thinking human, because it’s not an either/or case. So go ahead. Laugh it off. Tell me that society doesn’t have a woman problem, that rape culture and misogyny and sexism are dead. To the boys out there, you might think words mean nothing. But they aren’t just words, they are demeaning attacks that chip away at our self-esteem, our individuality. And so you laugh, tell me that it’s just words, there’s no problem, even when words become action become every 109 seconds, one American is sexually assaulted. Because you boys won’t ever have to experience the fear, the shame, the helplessness. And as long as men continue to dictate laws for women, as long as it’s accepted for boys to continue to demean and harass women with their words and actions, we, every new generation of girls and women, will always have to feel that crushing fear, that burden of shame and that helplessness. But hey, a girl can dream.