To you, being a woman is being the little girl in the t-shirt and cargo shorts, playing soccer and basketball with boys at recess. It’s dodging alien creatures in flower dresses and bows who sit on the swings braiding hair. It’s knowing your soft features and long ponytail make you different from the other firefighters, astronauts, and athletes that populate the playground, but it’s not caring, because you’re all kids and your primary question is “will you play with me?”
It’s suddenly realizing that it’s weird to hang out with boys, that it’s ugly for a girl to wear baggy shirts and sneakers. It’s when all of your friends stop asking you to play, when you always get picked last for teams by the team captains who are always male. It’s hurting, wishing you didn’t understand why they don’t want you anymore, but deep inside feeling it too: the unconscious fear of social misstep in a culture that dictates that girls and boys are fundamental opposites of a binary that cannot mix. Being a woman is acquiescing when the teacher tells you to sit still while boys squirm in their seats. It is, for the first time since you began to clothe yourself, putting on a new flower dress and sitting on the swings at recess.
To you, being a woman is being ugly and late to develop, stuck in the lanky body of a child while caught in the awkward intermediate of almost-adolescent. It’s subtle gazes that evolve into fluorescent signs, harsh on your sheltered eyes, too bright for the tiny blossoms on your dress. It’s a quiet childhood that could not prepare you for sudden contact with a culture in which being a woman matters.
Being a woman is the moment when you are first exposed to your own sexuality, a projected image that hardly belongs to you but that you can still learn to associate with shame. It’s kids protected by an armor of friends and beauty cutting apart your body with taunts like knives that slice through the petals of your flower dresses in one stroke. It’s being nothing in a popular paradigm of hot and sexy. It’s realizing the painful duality, that, in order to be accepted you would not be able to choose what to do with your own body, that even if you do nothing words, and judgments and, god forbid, physical violence will be forced upon it. So being a woman is associated with total lack of control.
Being a woman is being covered, ensnared, by push-up bras and makeup and chemical hair. It’s curves that emerge, a face that grows up, and flower dresses with rising hems. You were once so small and ugly and safe, and it was simple. You thought that the fear and shame would go away, but they didn’t; they just changed. “You’re so pretty, sweetheart; you shouldn’t be so pretty. I’d be scared if you were my daughter. Bad things happen to pretty girls.”
No matter how desperately you scramble to cloak yourself in layers of false maturity and conformity, your petals will never be big enough or the right color. Being a woman will always mean being naked.
You enter a new adolescence still in flower dresses: simple, delicate, graceful clothing that you have grown to see as beautiful. For the first time, you find the world is fascinating and kind. Being a woman is finding friends, passion, talent, and love. Being a woman is being human.
Then, being a woman is the new information that boys have deemed you “hot” and “fuckable.” It’s not knowing what to feel, because, on the one hand, you’re reduced to nothing, but on the other, you’re told you should feel good. So you take it as a compliment because you’re fourteen, insecure, and have no idea how to belong in this big school, in this big world.
It’s when boys you thought were your friends or boys in your classes who you thought Just Wanted to Study try to kiss you, try to take off your flower dress. It’s having never been aware of yourself as a sexual being in anything other than a negative context. It’s being lost, wondering what to do, because you know that once they peel back your petals you’ll be unprotected. It’s sometimes kissing back. It’s sometimes liking it and sometimes hating it. It’s being told what to feel. It’s your worth being again diminished to a timid, quivering sexuality not strong and confident enough to bear the weight of a full person.
Being a woman is possessing a body that is not fully your own, an object that can be taken as public property by innocent words the moment you step outside. It’s men and boys on the street stripping you of humanity, talking about things they want to do to you, things that seem less about sex and more about power. Just words, mostly. Then it’s the condescending voices that overpower your instincts. Just ignore it. Take it as a compliment. Boys will be boys. Take it like a lady. I wish men did that to me. That’s what you get for being hot. If you want it to stop, you shouldn’t wear those flowered dresses. It’s your fault.
But it’s seeing nothing but blurred lines, because if he sees his own desires and violent propositions as a compliment, what could a “no” ever mean? It’s wondering how you could ever do anything meaningful if you’re meaningless, nothing but an ornament, an object meant to decorate a world for men.
Being a woman shrinks to just wanting to hide.
It’s enveloped in the comfort and protection of a thick cloak of privilege and warped by shoddily constructed goggles that shape how you experience the world.
To you, being a woman is when you stop wearing flowered dresses so that people will take you seriously. It’s working twice as hard to be twice as good to justify yourself against the boys in your class. It’s finding that you don’t trust anyone; it’s building up walls and being intentionally cold so that no one can say they got the Wrong Idea. It’s chopping off your hair and throwing away your makeup in rebellion, then, when some of the attention drifts away, when the way you experience the world changes because you don’t fit the only standards of beauty that you know, it’s crippling insecurity when it should be peace; the guilty, nagging feeling that something is wrong with you because you will never look like the girls in magazines. It’s sometimes putting on old flower dresses and glitter around your eyes and twirling around in front of the mirror because you want to look nice just for yourself. Then it’s washing it all off. Every time you find yourself wanting to be pretty, it’s reminding yourself why you don’t. It’s casually brushing off everyday comments and actions while screaming inside to drown out the voices that tell you what and who you should be.
Being a woman is something you haven’t experienced yet, because you’re still a girl.
To you, being a girl is trampled, wilting flowers on a manufactured dress.
Being a woman is learning how to be proud, how to be good, and how to be strong.
This piece was taken directly from the Out of the Blue book. To read more like this, be sure to check your mailbox or online on December 13.