Stories from Girlhood

I was not allowed to skateboard or rollerblade or to do anything my mother considered dangerous to my fragile female body. I did however own a bicycle. I played mostly with my younger brother and his friends and we would race throughout the neighborhood. My younger brother was allowed to leave the neighborhood and bike along the creek trail, and I was not.

At twelve, my younger brother was given his own chainsaw. There is a video of him doing a kickflip on his skateboard on the roof of our 2 story home. There were no rules or boundaries for him, and he could accomplish anything he wanted. he was always taught to believe in himself. He was taught he could do the impossible.

At 16 my mother took a soda can away from me when I was kicking it in the street. She scolded me because the can had sharp edges from being kicked around, and I could injure myself from it.

My parents are lower middle class and never had money for me to pursue any interests (though I was taught that I should never tell people what my interests are–my mother would often tell me that wishes came true for you if you kept them a secret, and being annoying would just hinder you from getting what you want out of life). I was told karate would be too rough for me and too expensive. Both of my younger brothers were enrolled. Both of them played sports.

The only contest my mother ever entered me in was a beauty pageant. I was 5 and that was the day that I learned I was ugly. At this beauty pageant I learned that my gender was judged on how good we look and that was all that is important. And I learned that I was not valuable.

I was enrolled in piano lessons along with the older of my 2 younger brothers. It was hard for me to practice at home because we had one keyboard and my brother was given preferential treatment, which is standard for male children. They bought him other instruments, an accordian and a violin. He wasn’t interested in the violin. I was. My brother smashed the violin so I wouldn’t be able to learn it, and my parents said that was OK because it was his violin, after all.

When I was 8 and he was six, we were swimming at the community pool when he cannonballed right on top of my spine. I still have lower back problems. I know he did it on purpose but he was never punished because my parents always took his word over mine, because “girls over react.” My brother was taught his word is objective fact, that is how he was raised because he is male.

Whenever my parents talked about my future, it was about what kind of man I would marry and when I would get married and how I should get married and how to be a good wife (serve the man I married) and how many children did I want and when my parents talked to my brothers about their futures it was about what did they want to achieve?

On my fourteenth birthday my dad asked me why I couldn’t be more feminine? Why did I hate make up and the color pink? And I told him it was because I didn’t want to be weak. Because my parents taught me that these things mean you are weak. That to be feminine means to be weak. And I read Sojourner Truth’s poem, “Ain’t I a Woman?” to him to show him that womanhood is not about weakness.

And my father told me that I am weak and that’s just how it is, because I was born a woman, and I should accept that and learn to enjoy being placed on a pedestal.

I have suffered from an anxiety disorder since a young age. I have gotten panic attacks from a young age. My father would always tell me that I am just exaggerating things, that I am being overly emotional. My brother picked up on this and still does it to me. My brother tells me I am weak, I am overly emotional, I am illogical, when I have a panic attack.

My brother has bullied me throughout my whole life, but my parents never did anything about it because “boys will be boys” and his maleness is a free pass for him to treat me however he wants.

He was socialized without any rules and allowed to do anything he wanted. He was told he could be anything he wanted, do anything he wanted.

As a teenager he stole my friend’s cell phone and smashed it in the creek bed. My parents did not punish him because they thought having to talk to the cops was enough punishment for him. The cop told him, “boys will be boys” and he got off Scott free.

Right now, he sleeps in my bedroom with my furniture on my mattress that I paid my money for. Because while I went away to Finland, he decided to take my bedroom. I have been living out of my suitcases for a year because my younger brother said “finders keepers” to my furniture and my mother doesn’t give a shit.

He broke my laptop, he lost both of my GPS’s. And when I ask him to be quiet at 3 am, he turns up the volume on Mario Kart so I can’t sleep, and tells me that it is my problem and I should just “get used to it” because I am the one who is entitled if I think he will change his habits to accommodate me.

As a teenager I hated being a woman so much. It felt like a cage, because being a woman meant all of these things I was NOT allowed to do. Being a woman meant I was barred from all of my areas of interest. Being a woman meant I was punished for not being meek. I would be the one to be punished if I defended myself against my brother because I was older so therefore I should know better and nobody ever let me get away with something and said “boys will be boys.” When I would come to my father with a problem he was always too busy or I was bothering him. he did not have time for me.

When my grandfather died he left the most to my younger brother. none of us were close with him.

I used to want to cut off my breasts because being a woman made me so angry. Being a woman closed in all around me, it defines my life by telling me what I am NOT allowed to be or do or say.

But I never identified as a man or wanted to be a man. What I wanted was to be a woman without the barriers. What I wanted was for the cage of gender to be lifted away from me.

You’ve got to know yourself. You’ve got to know what ignites your magic, what fires your soul into performing majestic acts of love. You’ve got to know yourself so much that not even a hundred voices will drown yours. You’ve got to own yourself, this journey is all yours. All yours. No one can do it and you decide whenever you are ready to embark on it. Unlearn, learn, master yourself and love yourself or else they will define you and that’s a poisonous kind of life. That’s death.
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This is what transgenderism does to women and their identities. It supports the idea that the more time and effort that a person puts into their appearance, the more of a woman they are.
Woman doesn’t come in degrees. It isn’t conditional on the use of nailpolish, hair straighteners, and make up.
Women can present as masculinely or femininely as they like and they are still women. They are still whole women. A butch lesbian is no less of a woman than a feminine presenting heterosexual woman.
It is internalised misogyny to think that a man is more of a woman than you because he paints his nails and does his hair.
Women are adult, female, humans.

Angelina Jolie Says Her Womanhood Is Not Dependent On Her Body Parts

Two years after Angelina Jolie wrote an op-ed in the New York Times explaining her decision to have a double mastectomy, the actress haspenned another piece to announce her more recent choice to remove her ovaries and Fallopian tubes. Throughout it all, the 39-year-old actress has challenged society’s assumptions about what it means to be a desirable woman.

Pizza, Plato, and Platonic Love

An essay by Meggie Royer

Content warning: sexual assault

“Do you have a boyfriend yet?” my grandfather asked, and when I shook my head no he turned to my sister and asked her the same thing. He must have asked me this question dozens of times over the bittersweet span of adolescent life stretching from seven years old to eleven years old. Of course my answer was always no. I wasn’t concerned with boys; I was concerned with the garlic mashed potatoes my grandmother had just placed in front of me, or her pot roast and famous rhubarb pie. Boys were an alien concept, one I frankly had no time or care for. I was seven years old. Boys? Dating? What about surviving high school, or building miniature ecosystems in science class?

Plato once wrote about a group of men attending a drinking party in The Symposium, each one making a series of speeches about the nature of love. I don’t know about you, but I would have much preferred a group of women discussing love instead, but the civilizations of Ancient Greece aren’t really known for their superior treatment of women, especially since philosophers at social gatherings back then used to compare men to the gods and women to the animal kingdom. Plato wrote that “According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.” And as I grew older, and my grandfather died of an aneurysm and passed out of the world and into what I hoped was some form of afterlife, I began to wonder why I didn’t have a boyfriend yet, or why I wasn’t even trying to search for my other half. Shouldn’t that have been my highest priority? Surely Plato knew what he was talking about. After all, he was one of the greatest philosophers to ever walk this earth.

So, as many women do, I began guilt tripping myself for not having another half. I would see all the other girls holding hands with their significant others in high school, or sneaking makeout sessions behind the bleachers. When a woman doesn’t believe that anyone is in love with her, she comes up with reasons why. Sometimes I think the umbilical cord doesn’t really get snipped at birth for women, but instead stays attached for the rest of her life. The air supply of some babies gets cut off when the umbilical cord wraps around their necks, and this is what it’s like for women a great deal of the time. We constantly have to work twice as hard as men to earn the air we breathe, and if we don’t feel like we’re earning it, we pull the cord a little tighter.

But lo and behold, after several years of feeling misunderstood and unlovable (and after writing a short prose piece about twenty-year-olds who have never been loved that instantly skyrocketed to fame on the popular blogging site Tumblr), I became involved in my first relationship ever as a freshman in college. I was sure I had found the other half that Plato wrote so eloquently about after the first several wonderful months full of sappy goodnight and good morning messages and nights spent ordering pizza over movies. It soon turned out to be the most traumatic experience of my life. I was raped and abused emotionally to the point where I became a stranger even to myself. And everyone else around me was going on with their lives, but I felt petrified and stuck. I felt like all those bodies encased in lava in the ruins of Pompeii, some of the bodies with their arms around each other like lovers, except I had no one left to put their arms around me, or I shook them off because I was now afraid of touch. Everything was just torn. There was so much tearing and ripping and taking away, and so much dark. I just wanted someone to remove all the pieces of broken glass that had been placed inside me, but at the same time I was afraid that without them I would collapse. Funny how my rapist had always made such a big deal about how uncomfortable I used to be with anyone touching me until he met me and helped me overcome it.

But then he reversed it.

I lost a great deal of weight, was hospitalized five times, started antidepressants and therapy. Trauma is second nature to many women, and like many other women, I invited it into my bed. I needed it to replace the person I had wrongfully assumed was my second half. I made trauma my companion. Like many other women who have been abused, I sank. That was a year of misery I’ll never forget. The worst part was that I had been so sure. I had trusted this person with my life, and I had truly believed he was my other half.

So I set out in search of another half. I wanted to believe in the concept of soulmates, but the person I once thought was mine was a monster, and I was tired of searching beneath my bed and in my closet for claws and dark shadows. I told myself that each person in this world has multiple soulmates. Plato had written, “Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature.” Well, that obviously hadn’t happened. A wound had been created, not healed.

Long story short, I had a lot of hookups after my rape. More than I’d care to admit to, but I was just hoping one of them would click. Sometimes online dating sites really do come in handy. All of this searching took several months, but as time passed, and my trauma began to ease, something strange happened. I began to be okay with being lonely, or at least being alone. I enjoyed my solo pizza nights in front of my laptop screen watching Netflix. I could get crumbs all over the sheets and not worry about embarrassing myself in front of a significant other by eating the whole pie. I could watch whatever I wanted. I could do whatever I wanted. And I didn’t feel owned. Because of my work with abused women through my literary magazine Persephone’s Daughters and my advocacy work for them through my poetry and books, I have come in contact with a lot of women who admitted they felt like an object to their partner. You might say, “No shit, Sherlock,” but in the context of my previous relationship and my readings of Plato, I could finally see that Plato was wrong. Someone who treats a woman as if they own her is not the kind of person a woman deserves.

Plato argued that “Love is the name for our pursuit of wholeness, for our desire to be complete.” And even though I’m in a healthy and happy relationship of several months now, I can still appreciate what my trauma and my time alone taught me as I searched for my other half.

Platonic love is sometimes just as rewarding as romantic love, and every kind of love comes with wholeness pre-packaged. I was never a half or anything less than full. I’ve always been whole, and so has every woman on this planet. The next time I see my grandfather in whatever kind of afterlife comes after this, I’ll tell him that.

Meggie Royer is a writer and photographer from the Midwest who is currently majoring in Psychology at Macalester College. Her poems have previously appeared in Words Dance Magazine, The Harpoon Review, Melancholy Hyperbole, and more. She has won national medals for her poetry and a writing portfolio in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, and was the Macalester Honorable Mention recipient of the 2015 Academy of American Poets Student Poetry Prize.

Meggie’s books, The No You Never Listened to and Healing Old Wounds with New Stitches (ebook version here) are for sale now. You can read more of her work at writingsforwinter.tumblr.com. Persephone’s Daughters will be available in September.

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In June, I spent some time in Jamaica. It was one of those trips that really taught me a lot about myself and how I adapt to foreign places, people and cultures. I found myself utterly relaxed and stress-free. It was two weeks after my college graduation and I felt so liberated. A great weight had been lifted from me and I began to see the world in vibrant colors again. I looked at the world and felt no fear, only abundant curiosity.

These self-portraits were taken a few days before I left Kingston. They are different then my previous portraits. In the past, I expressed my sexuality and sensuality overtly as a form of validation that I was sexy an sexual. 

In these, my confidence in my sexuality and sensuality comes through subtly. There’s no sense of desperately needing validation from others because I hold that within. In these, I finally manifested my own power.

Ireashia Monét, Portraits in Kingston, 2015

All female bodies are amazing. Women with uneven breasts, women with small breasts, women who have undergone mastectomy with one or both breasts, women with stretch marks, women with cellulite, women with body hair, women with facial hair, fat women, tall women, women with big hands and big feet, women who are amputees, disabled women, bald women, black women rocking natural hair, all of you, all women, you are all beautiful people, you are all 100% womanly because you are female. Womanhood belongs to you and is defined by you. 

To understand the meaning of womanhood we have to start with God. If He is indeed “Creator of all things visible and invisible” He is certainly in charge of all things, visible and invisible, stupendous and miniscule, magnificent and trivial. God has to be in charge of details if He is going to be in charge of the overall design.
—  Elisabeth Elliot, Let Me Be a Woman
Womanhood is

Womanhood is the collection of experiences that connects me to other women, a collection of experiences not shared by men.

There are beautiful and ugly things to womanhood.

Womanhood is facing misogyny. Womanhood is being told that you are weak and inferior, while also being the one expected to carry most of the burdens of life. Womanhood is men joking about marriage being “game over” for them, when in reality it would mean us women looking after them, cooking for them, cleaning for them, taking care of them and raising children for them for the rest of their lives.

Womanhood is having your secondary sex characteristics scrutinized to hell and back: your hips, your waist, your breasts, your cellulite, because women form fat differently than men do and it is considered inherently inferior despite the fact that the structure of our cellulite aids us in creating new life.

Womanhood is the power to create new life. Womanhood is sisterhood, motherhood–womanhood is responsibility for those around you. Womanhood is being responsible for others’ material well being as well as others’ emotions.

Womanhood is helping another woman get away from a strange man at a bar because you saw the looks she was giving. Womanhood is being told your body’s sexual nature is shameful. Womanhood is clitoral full body orgasms. Womanhood is being denied sexual satisfaction.

Womanhood is being denied your importance while doing work for others.

Womanhood is being hyper aware of every miniscule flaw in yourself, from your appearance to how much space you take up and how you take up that space and your mannerisms and slight gestures. Womanhood is being socialized to make yourself appear weaker so others can feel strong, even when you are stronger than they are, you know they will not accept it.

Womanhood is your body’s hormone cycle. Womanhood is cramps and pain and being the one responsible for safe sex. Womanhood is being shamed for ordinary natural functions of your body.

Womanhood is what gives me something in common with every other female on this planet.