Ever since I was a little girl, my mother would tell me that being polite was the most important thing a woman can be.
I am four
I am in the backseat of my grandfather’s car with my two male cousins. I excitingly exclaim, “I’m going to be an astronaut when I’m older!” My grandfather sternly tells me girls can’t be astronauts, especially pretty ones. My cousins say they’re going to be pro football players― he tells them they can be anything they set their minds to. When I get home I take down the glow in the dark stars on my ceiling; I don’t really want to be an astronaut anymore.
I am seven
I am the top of my class, and I win a student of the year award. A boy I have a crush on tells everyone, “no one likes a girl who knows everything.” They all laugh. I blush and stuff my award into my backpack; I don’t really want to be smart anymore.
I am eleven
I am lean and have cut abs from all my activities. All the girls in the locker room have prominent breasts, and hips. One of them tells me that abs on a girl are manly and gross― boys don’t like girls who look bulky; I don’t really want to be strong anymore.
I am fourteen
I am a freshman cheerleader, and getting noticed is important to me. Upperclassmen whistle at me as I walk down the halls, and one very popular senior grabs me by my waist and tells me I’d look good underneath him. I smile uncomfortably and tug at my skirt; I don’t really want to be seen anymore.
I am fifteen
I am very sick and gain ten pounds while on prednisone. My mother pinches at my arms and makes a joke about how they look like pillsbury dough. My friends mock the roundness of my face and a boy tells me he only likes really thin girls; I don’t really want to eat anymore.
I am seventeen
I am dating a boy who makes me feel like I am flying. He tells me that if I sleep with him it’ll prove that I care― I believe him. He holds me down by my neck and I am silent. When he’s finished I lay on stained sheets with my blonde hair in knots; I don’t really want to be in love anymore.
I am eighteen
I am every man’s image of a perfect woman. I walk, talk, and breathe just the way men want me to. I say thank you when I am whistled at. I am never too ambitious, too intelligent, too strong, or too opinionated.
I tiptoe around everything, because taking up too much space in a man’s world is never okay. I understand now that disagreeing or agreeing with a man can sometimes mean life or death; I don’t really want to be a woman anymore.
— When people ask me why I need feminism