IT’S DIFFERENT FOR GIRLS
This message is for men, women, young girls, daughters, and sons. Today I type with a heavy hand, despite fear of poor judgement or being misunderstood. But, difficult things sometimes need to be shared.
Back in grad school, one of our professors warned my cohort: “Don’t share too much. Don’t reveal too much personal stuff,” and that struck a chord. Ever since then, I hear his words in the back of my head, when I blog, when I post, when I chat with my girlfriends.
He was right and also wrong.
Silence is what enables wrong doings. Silence is what keeps us repressed. Secrets weigh heavily on our shoulders and suppress us from moving on with our lives.
Like the time I was out with my girlfriends and one of them found it difficult to discuss the changes in her body, the difficulties that come with menopause. Why was she afraid? Why do we, as women worry not share the ugly sides of aging? Why are we silent when we are hurting?
Like the period of my life in California when I dated a young man who abused me. I kept that secret well-hidden for a while, and eventually broke down and told an older friend, a father with four children. The night I decided I’d had enough, the guy I’d loved had threatened me with a knife in our kitchen.
Clear as day, I can see him stabbing a roll of paper towels. I remember the fear that rose up in my belly. Was he going to vent his anger on me next? He’d been mentally and physically abusive in the past, but until the paper towel incident, I never feared for my life.
I raced from my apartment and biked the streets of Santa Monica feeling more alone than I’d ever felt. I remember the wind on my face, the lights and noises of traffic, the shock and confusion, the embarrassment of letting myself get to that point.
I don’t remember the day it happened. I only remember the timeline because I was in school there at the time.
I remember it was the moment I decided to choose life and never let a person have control over me again. I’d hit rock bottom, but I saw light in the proverbial dark tunnel.
I took a leap, broke the silence, and my friend helped me get away from my abusive beau.
After that, it was hard to trust men. It was even harder to trust my own judgement. Six months later, I met the man who would one day become my husband, the father of my children, and much later my ex. I remember calling his step-brother, the person who’d introduced us, and asking him, “What’s wrong with him? He seems so nice, but he must be an ax murderer if I like him.”
I’d said it half-jokingly, but the truth was, I didn’t believe a nice man would like me. Not ever again.
Thankfully, I was wrong.
It took years to heal, and there are still broken parts of me, like a china pot that had shattered and been glued back together. It’s mended, but you can still see the crack lines, the dried glue. You still worry it’ll still leak water.
It’s different for girls.
In Maryland, our house backed up to Rock Creek Park. On pleasant days, when the air was cool and the sun was shaded by the canopy of trees, I’d go for long runs in the woods. There, I felt free, my music and woodland creatures, my only accompaniment. I ran whenever I could, until the day my neighbor told me a story of a woman who’d been running in the woods had been raped.
“She had a ponytail, like you,” my neighbor said.
After that, I ran inside on my treadmill.
Because it’s different for girls.
Years later, In Florida, while training for a half-marathon, I decided to run outside, lest I not be prepared for the event. Our neighborhood was relatively new at the time, and the road that ran parallel to my home was surrounded by palm trees, endless fields, and miles of open space. At first I loved the fresh air and picturesque landscape. But soon doubt picked at my brain. Someone could attack you. Who would find you? You’re not safe here, alone.
I told myself I was paranoid, yet I opted to run back inside.
Because it’s…you know, different for girls.
Here in my new neighborhood, I walk my dog before dark. Mainly to avoid being mosquito bait, but also because fear whispers in my head.
Sometimes my timing is off, night comes early, and I find myself backpedaling away from unlit paths, away from the basketball court, where shirtless men playing are playing innocent games.
Because fear still whispers to me. And because…
It’s different for girls.
My daughter is away from home, in college, and too often our breezy conversations switch to stern warnings. She tells me she’s going out clubbing with her friends, and I immediately go mama bear.
“Stay in a group. Don’t take a drink from a stranger. Have a code, or a call system. Don’t be alone. Stay on guard.”
My daughter assures me she knows all this, that her friends are all in sync. But then she tells me about the day she went to a guy’s home, one she recently met on social media, and I want to get in my car and drive the three hours and wrap her in a protective bubble and keep her safe.
Fear won’t quiet when I try to shush it.
When my son goes out, I warn him to be home on time. He’s too young for clubs or online dating, but I doubt if he were that I’d have the same fears.
Because it’s different for girls.
This week’s Supreme Court nomination was not a win for women. It wasn’t reason to laugh or gloat. It saddens and disturbs me to hear a president mock a woman who was assaulted. I am neither Christian nor conservative, yet I find it morally reprehensible that we live in a nation where we elected a person who openly bragged about grabbing a woman by her most private place, or watched young women stripping down to their skivvies, or shushed respected female reporters or rated females’ worth by their looks.
Honorable men don’t do this.
So, this week I mourn, because I fear we as a nation have taken our forward step back. Back to an imagined era some find “great.”
We have been catapulted into a time where a man might or might not upturn a critical decision that will affect women’s choices.
We will be represented by a person many of us cannot trust to be level-headed.
We are mocked or punished for speaking the truth, even when it means uprooting lives or hurting our loved ones.
Please understand this before you laugh and celebrate your “win.”
Your country is hurting. There’s no winning if we, as a collective, are bleeding.
I hope one day we’ll, again, have a president who celebrates women’s accomplishments. I hope one day, my daughter will not have to worry if her outfit is too suggestive, if she’s too outspoken, or if she’ll receive equal pay for the same job as her male counterparts. I hope one day, women won’t be regarded as emotional or inferior or unable to complete certain tasks because of uteruses or hormones or different chromosomes.
I hope one day, it’ll be…
The same for girls.