Author’s note: After reading a beautifully written article, “A Personal History of Misogyny,” I was inspired to revisit moments in my life when I experienced deeply-rooted sexism and misogyny in childhood and adolescence. These are by no means the only experiences I’ve had with misogyny, nor are they anywhere near the most significant or dangerous situations I’ve been in. Rather, they are small moments that I have not truly thought about critically–or at all–due to their normalization. Through this piece, I hope to shed light on the pervasiveness of heteronormative gender roles and how they sneakily and unescapably affect our belief systems, our goals, and our self-esteem, to name a few. I invite readers to continue to challenge the everyday sexism, small and large, that young girls face simply for being born a girl.
I am a baby.
And as of now, I am unaware of what it means to be a girl. I am free from the weight of societal expectations although the world is already screaming for me to be pretty. Quiet. Pretty. Obedient. Pretty. Happy. Pretty. Pretty.
I am five.
The girls play with Barbies and the boys play with cars. I want to play with the Hot Wheels, but I am a girl. It doesn’t matter that the boys act out characters and play “family” with the cars, just like the girls with their Barbies. Cars are for boys. Barbies are for girls.
The cars get to race and roll on their own and go fast fast fast on their tracks.
The Barbies can’t really move or do tricks. But they are pretty. Pretty. Pretty.
I am six.
A boy in my class tells me that girls are not strong. I laugh at him because he must not know my mother. My mother is very strong. The strongest. And my grandmother is strong, too. My sister is only ten, and she is already strong.
The boy in my class must not know what strength is.
I am seven.
Boys are good at math. Girls are good at talking.
I stop trying at math. I am a girl.
I am eight.
Girls are not allowed to wear tank tops with a strap smaller than 3 inches. My mom gets angry at this.
But it makes sense to me, girls can’t just wear whatever they want.
I am nine.
I am sitting in my fifth grade classroom when a substitute teacher makes us feel strange.
His name is Mr. Grossman, which seems all-too fitting now.
After recess, he tells us how none of the girl yard duty aides will go on a date with him. He tells us it is unfair that they keep saying no when he asks. I also think this is unfair.
He tells me he likes my cookie monster shirt and rubs my black and red striped arm warmers. He asks me for a hug and I feel odd.
He keeps hugging all the girls in the class and plays with their hair.
I start to feel bad for him because he is so lonely. I write him a letter telling him he is a nice man and I am sorry he is lonely.
I tell my friend about Mr. Grossman and she says that is strange. Her mom tells my mom and I begin to cry.
I feel sad and guilty that he was getting in trouble, but more sad and guilty that I wrote him a letter and gave him a hug.
I am ten.
I am walking home from school with glasses on and one shoe untied. My backpack is bigger than I am and the weight of the books makes me slouch.
A white car with two men in the front seats slows down and drives next to me. Instinctively, my pace quickens and my gaze turns to the ground.
The men yell animal noises and vulgarity out the car. I look up to see one of the men wiggle his tongue out his mouth in-between two fingers. I am unsure what this means but it makes me feel gross.
I look down at my body, with no breasts or hips yet, already beginning to hate it.
Harassment by men three times my age will become a part of my daily routine.
I am eleven.
My body has not yet developed and I am angry. I want to feel pretty. Pretty. Pretty.
I drink can after can of Ensure and eat as much as possible, hoping all the weight goes to my breasts and hips so I will look like the women in the movies.
I am thirteen.
I am insecure.
I paint my face with makeup to try and feel pretty. I walk a tightrope of trying to look desirable, without looking “slutty.”
The “slutty” girls at school don’t respect themselves. I hate them, and I’m not sure why.
I am fourteen.
Health class. I learn about how boys and girls are very different.
I learn again that boys are good at math and girls cry too much and talk too much.
Everyone laughs, including me, and I accept these as facts until my later college years.
Boys have a lot of testosterone and can’t help but to objectify you and stare at your breasts and butt.
Boys will be boys. They have no control over their hormones—they are slaves to their genitalia.
So girls have to let them stare at them, or catcall them, and when we are married—because sex is after marriage and all of the boys will marry all of the girls, with no exceptions—we have to give the boys what they want.
My ninth grade health class normalized objectification, harassment, and sexual abuse for my entire adolescence. Boys will be boys. And girls will be pretty. Pretty. Pretty.
I am fifteen.
I am dress coded. The teacher takes out his ruler to see if my dress is one inch longer than my fingertips.
My legs are inappropriate. It does not matter that it is over one hundred degrees outside. I am shamed into P.E. clothes and given detention.
I feel ashamed and gross that I dressed like the “slutty” girls.
I am sixteen.
I make a lot of jokes about women belonging in the kitchen. It makes my guy friends and then-boyfriend laugh.
It is cool to not “be like the other girls” by purposefully perpetuating sexism. I try my best to stay in my stereotypical gender role.
I am submissive. I try to be pretty. Pretty. Pretty.
I make a lot of sandwiches because it is “cool” and “funny,” and I’m unsure why but I do it anyway.
I am seventeen.
I am trying to find my place. Where I belong.
I still feel insecure and unsure of myself. I feel too tall. I want to be shorter. I want to be tiny and small. I want to be dainty. I want to be pretty. Pretty. Pretty.
I am nineteen.
I am playing a game with the five-year old I babysit. She tells me monsters are attacking me.
I start doing karate moves to fight off my imaginary attackers when she tells me that girls cannot fight back. We must sit down and cry.
I feel my heart sink down to my stomach as the weight of what she believes fully hits me. Although I thought for so long that I was not strong or brave, I would never want her to think this way. I want her to be so much more than pretty. Pretty. Pretty.