There is a phenomenon that comes with being a girl that I have never been able to explain to those who do not experience it– the feeling that you can do no right simply because you were born a female. Some will say this is exaggeration or that it is not worth talking about, but I would argue that it matters more than we can ever realize.
Growing up, I was very classically feminine. I liked to sew and cook. I decorated myself with bows and glitter. I was a girl’s girl, the kind who would make any mother proud. I thought that displaying all of the attributes that I was supposed to exhibit as a girl would make me feel whole, would make me the best version of myself that I could be. However, I began to notice that while I was encouraged to be all of the things, I was also treated like I was lesser because of them. Whether by peers, the media, or older women, I was told to be feminine–to be delicate, cover my mouth while I ate, and worry about what boys liked. Yet, I was treated like I was shallow for being exactly what I was made to believe I should be. I was a “silly girl” caught up in trivial girl things that did not really matter. I started to notice all that I was not allowed to do, like have body hair, or pray in church service or serve communion (lest God get distracted by the fact that I have boobs). I had things to say, questions to ask, and songs to be sung, but I felt like there was no place for me. I felt like being born a girl was a disability, like it started me out with less choices and talents.
Beginning to notice the lack of respect I received for being the “good old-fashion” girl I was supposed to be, I gave it up. At around age 13 I stopped wearing dresses, I stopped painting my nails, and I stopped associating myself with anything considered girly, even something as arbitrary as the color pink. My mother begged me to paint my toe nails and wear something other than camp t-shirts. I had always been “funny…for a girl.” Second class funny. At this time, I just accepted that girls were not allowed to be as funny as boys. I guess something about having higher pitched voice made my jokes lose some kind of punch. Still, I held onto to the misguided hope that if I made myself a little less female, my humor might be more highly respected. I played the classic “I have more guy-friends than girl-friends” card whenever I could, claiming there was “less drama” that way. (This was a total lie. I had maybe two guy-friends.) Almost every girl you know has played this card at one point or another. I was disassociating myself with women in an attempt to raise my status. Praying that if others thought I was cool enough to be “one of the guys”, they might take a moment to listen to what I had to say the way they listened to boys. I thought I had discovered the secret to success: pretending to be care-free by shedding my femininity, the former image that made people consider me too soft to have something powerful to say. I found it to have the opposite effect. Instead of gaining power by rejecting my femininity, I gained glances of distaste. I was thought to be messy and immature. I was a disgrace. Something had gone wrong.
This is the feeling that burned inside of me, yet went unactualized for years and years: you cannot be a girl in the “right way” when the society around you has set you up to fail. If you become the pink, glittery girl of dreams, you are considered shallow and weak and incapable of depth. If you ignore the “rules” of being female by cutting your hair and leaving legs unshaven, you are a failure, unwanted and undesirable. I felt like I was destined to be a second class citizen of any community of which I was a part. I felt like no matter how smart I was or pretty I was, it did not matter. I felt like, because I was a girl, because of something I had no power over, no one would ever listen to me. There is no such thing as being a girl the “right way” when the world wants so desperately for you to feel wrong. So many industries profit off our insecurity and self-hatred that it is enforced at every turn.
So, women—whether classic or unorthodox or somewhere in-between—this is for you. You are enough. If you feel like you are doing this whole “being a woman” thing wrong, that is because there is not just one way to do it. When you decide that you love yourself, whether delicate or harsh or somewhere in-between, you become something dangerously beautiful. You are something the world does not know how to handle. You are uncontainable. So, instead of trying on all the versions of womanhood that you are told you should, put on whatever makes you feel confident. Put on gorgeous and smart. Put on care-free and strong. Put on funny and wild. Put on logical and quiet. Put on confidence in the face of a world that wants to see you doubt. Whatever you are, whatever you have been taught is a deficit, you are enough. And beyond being good enough, you are powerful and strong and radiant. It is okay to define these words differently than the way you were taught.
Happy International Women’s Day to all women of all different walks, colors, and battles of varying degrees. Thank you for continuing to fight for a world in which I do not have to make myself smaller to feel like I belong.