She Is Someone
“You can’t wear that, sweetie. It’s against the dress code at school. I know it’s hot, but you can wear it this weekend, okay?”
“But I want to. I just got it. It’s just a shirt.”
“I know you did, baby, but the straps are too thin. You’ll get in trouble, and Nana will have to come get you, and you won’t be able to read books or learn about Harriet Tubman anymore.”
I don’t know why that one conversation in particular has always stuck with me, but here I am, at twenty-one, and I still remember where we were standing and the color of her lipstick that morning. I still remember.
I was ten the first time I was told I couldn’t wear my favorite outfit because it would distract the boys I shared my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with each week. I was ten the first time my grandmother—my fiery, independent, kindhearted, strong, brilliant, overwhelmingly beautiful grandmother—told me with furrowed eyebrows and disapproval inherently positioned along her tongue in a single file line much like the one my fourth grade class often organized itself into between P.E., lunch, and snack-time—I was ten the first time she looked at me and essentially told me that my shoulders made me dirty. That the freckles decorating my limbs made me a liability. That the skin I slept inside and had already, at ten years old, begun to tug at between summer and spring was now somehow an out-of-control weed rather than a tiger lily (my favorite flower) because it had grown in exactly the way that it should… just a little too before the boys I loved as if they were my own brothers would be able to compartmentalize why the rise and fall of my chest meant more to them suddenly than just that I was out of breath after beating them in basketball.
I was ten.
I grew older, of course, and my hips fell prey to lefts and rights, my collarbones gave lean to would-be motherhood, and my waistline became easier and easier to tuck my shorts inside. I grew older, and I still remember the first time one of my teachers referred to me as “curvy.” I still remember.
At some point in my journey toward becoming the woman I ultimately am now, I developed this really terrible excuse for a backbone: It would only work in regards to other people. My self-worth stagnated early on, and I found purpose in always being the girl who raised her voice never in defense of herself but at the aide of someone in need. I am still that girl. I like her. I think she’s here to stay.
At around eighteen, I re-discovered my voice and re-directed my broken martyrdom. I had always been a feminist (and I’ll always owe that to my Nana. Missin’ you always). I had always been fiery and independent. I had always been smart and funny. I hadn’t always known any of those things. I still barely know them sometimes… but that is because we are conditioned away from loving ourselves. I know that now.
Who is the “we” I’m referring to?
I believe we are taught in small insignificant ways throughout our lives exactly the opposite of loving oneself. I think we are conditioned to spend our existences endlessly hoping to improve ourselves, not because personal growth and enlightenment is important, but because we are never, ever, ever good enough.
We are told from the very beginning, in the simplest of ways about the most basic of attributes: Be ladylike. Don’t be a priss though, that’s annoying. Be seen, but not heard. But speak up, or you’re a pussy. (By the way, being a pussy is a bad thing. Because women have those. Being anything related to being female is a bad thing, and when boys behave inadequately, make a habit of calling them by these sorts of names, such as pussy or bitch. It’s an insult to be like a girl.) Look pretty 24/7. But don’t try too hard, that’s annoying. Be funny. But not so funny it makes boys feel uncomfortable by being forced to acknowledge your intelligence, that’s annoying. Don’t give it up. But do, eventually after playing hard to get because you know you’ve actually been dying to have sex with him for weeks now.
I could go on forever. (Really, I could.) These are the impossible standards we as women grow up being forced to adhere to. Always. And it is so ingrained in who we are as people, as a culture, that most of the women I know don’t even understand what I mean when I point these things out. There are days that I catch myself doing and saying things that make me want to poke myself in the chest and ask the girl in the mirror, “What the hell are you doing?”
We call each other sluts, whores, skanks… We band apart rather than stick together. We don’t encourage our girls to be smart and funny and beautiful. We encourage them to be beautiful and desirable and simple. We don’t uplift one another and pursue growth or positivity. We go for the throat. We are ruthless.
And do you know why?
Because we have to be. Because at the end up the day, if someone finds my lifeless body strewn naked behind a dumpster, the first question even people who love me will ask is, “But did she do this to herself?”
You’re damn right I did. Let me show you how a “real woman” takes responsibility for her actions.
Let me show you how a “real woman” fights for her right to go out at night just so she can spend it worrying she might be attacked by a jilted you-were-never-my-lover simply for exercising her right to say “no.”
Let me show you how fair it is that every man I’ve ever loved has no idea what it’s like to change clothes four times before he leaves on Friday night because he doesn’t want to “attract the wrong kind of attention.”
Let me show you how fair it is that all the men I’ve ever known have no idea what it means to feel guilty each time a man you don’t know is kind to you because your very first instinct since the time you were a little girl has been to run away whenever a stranger without breasts speaks to you at all.
Let me show you how fair it is that more men than I care to count have referred to me as a bitch, as intimidating, as cruel, as unlovable, because I am no longer afraid to showcase my brain or my disgust when I am not interested and he is unable to understand that I don’t owe him my time or my kindness.
Let me show you how fair it is that more men have touched my ass without my consent than with it.
Let me show you how fair it is that I’m “over-dramatic” for being heartbroken by that.
Let me show you how absurd it is that women ever feel at fault for being violated, how terrifying it is girls must look the world in the eye and say, “Let me show you how I made him rape me.”
She made him rape her because she looked hot that night and, although women are the creatures of emotion, he simply couldn’t control himself.
She made him rape her because she had too much to drink (just like him).
She made him rape her because she kissed him before he ever tried to have sex with her (and a “yes” once means “yes” forever).
She made him rape her because they’d already had sex once before, and she liked it then, so it didn’t matter how her body arched against his in terror. It didn’t matter that the only “o” that escaped her skin that day was preceeded with the letter n, with fists against his chest and eyelashes drenched in the physical embodiment of, “Yes, I was drunk. Yes, I was wearing a short dress. Yes, I was alone.
But I said ‘no.’”
The best defense people who love me will have is, “She is my friend/sister/aunt/wife/mother/daughter/other half.”
“How dare you! She is someone’s daughter.”
But the fact of the matter is this: That means nothing. Whoever she is to me or to you? It means nothing.
Because she is someone’s love. She is someone’s confidant. She is someone’s sweeter half. She is someone’s sunshine.
She is someone.
We teach our babies to take responsibility for their actions. We teach our babies to never steal or lie or hurt others needlessly. Sometimes it works, and our babies grow into the people we wish we had been. Sometimes our babies were never good to begin with. I don’t know where that line begins and ends. I just know it’s there.
She. It’s a simple word, a pronoun, three letters. Nothing special. But each time I’ve used this word, she, in the context of sexual assault, you held inside your heart and painted atop the canvas in your head the image of a little girl. A young woman. A grown woman. There is always a she for someone. We are all touched by rape (without consent, imagine that). We all know someone who woke up Sunday morning disappointed in herself rather than in the world who failed her endlessly as it waited on the sun to rise once more. We all know someone who never told anyone who could help because that very world told her that had she not put herself in the position to have her dignity torn from her and stolen as if it were an overpriced handbag, it would never have happened. We all know someone who cried to you until his or her eyes burned with self-loathing because for them, the only person at fault is the person staring back at the now-broken version of them in the bathroom mirror.
We all know someone. That’s how big this is. It’s you and it’s me. It’s here. It’s us. It’s better or it’s worse. It’s on us. It’s on me. It’s on you.
It’s your mom. Your sister. Your best friend since you could walk. Your aunt. Your boss. Your daughter. Your heart, outside your body.
But she is someone.
She is someone.
She is someone.
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