When I was 5, I sat on the edge of my chair with my legs spread. I felt an itch between them, so I reached down to scratch, but my grandma grabbed my wrist to stop me and hissed: “Girls don’t do that!” I asked her why, because I had seen my father doing it, I had seen all the boys in primary school doing it, too. And it itched and I wanted to scratch it. Her answer was: “It’s just how it is. Girlsdon’t do that. Also, don’t sit there with your legs spread like that. Girls don’t do that, either.”

When I was 6, I spent a day on the beach with my family. I was excited about the new bikini my mum got me, but confused as to why she asked me to keep the top on when I went for a swim. She hadn’t made me wear it the years before, but suddenly, she was very fussy about it. “Look, I’ve got one on, too.”, she said to me. And I thought I understood: Women had to cover their breasts, because they were bigger than mens’. But I wasn’t a woman. I was a child. Later, I overheard a talk she had with my dad. “I don’t want old men to stare at her.”, she whispered. I interrupted them and asked her why she thought old men would look at me. Her answer was: “It’s just how it is. It’s because you’re a girl. And men do that.”

When I was 9, I got in a fight with my best friend. I went home and complained about it to my grandma, who lived with us. She told me I should have seen it coming. “That’s how girls are.”, she said. “A friendship between girls is always also a competition. Girls are jealous, manipulative and backstabbing. You can’t trust them.” But I had never fought with my best friend before and I knew we’d forgive and forget the next day, anyway. So, I asked my grandma why, and her answer was: “It’s just how it is. Catfights will happen. It’s normal. That’s how girls are.”

When I was 13, I fell in love with a boy from the neighbourhood. I couldn’t hide my excitement. He was on my mind all the time and I caught myself wishing we were together, so I could hold his hand and kiss him, too. I wanted to meet him, get to know him better, and I told my dad about my plan of asking him out. “Don’t do that.”, my dad said. “It’s not appropriate for a girl to ask a boy out.” Though I partly agreed, since I had never seen a woman proposing to the man in a movie, or read about a girl kissing her crush first, I still didn’t understand what would be so bad about being an exception, so I asked my dad why I had to wait for a boy to show interest in me in order to be allowed to openly requite it. His answer was: “It’s just how it is, darling. The man makes the first move. It’s always been this way. Boys like to conquer, and girls love being chased.”

When I was 17, I was part of a large group of friends. There was a boy who fancied me. I didn’t like him back, but I wasn’t used to anyone crushing on me, so I enjoyed the attention. He’d always tell me I was special. One of a kind. Different. “You’re not like other girls.”, he said. “You’re not a bitch. You’re funny, laid back, intelligent. You don’t just care about your nails or your hair. You get my sense of humour. You’re not like most girls. You’re my best guy friend. But with tits.” I was flattered in the beginning, but soon, I started to wonder if his compliments were any at all. I began to feel disgusted with him. I didn’t want to be his best guy friend with tits. So I asked him what’s so good about a girl like me, a girl unlike what he called a typical one, and his answer was: “That’s easy to explain. A pretty model type of girl is good enough to jack off to, but in the end, a guy wants some drama free pussy. You’re an exception. The majority of girls is superficial and slutty. The kind of girl you fuck, but dump when you’re ready to settle down. Or they’re just plain boring and prude. This sounds harsh, but it’s just how it is.”

When I was 19, there was a boy I regularly had sex with. It was nice. Not the breathtaking kind of passionate, ecstatic fucking I had dreamed of; maybe we lacked chemistry, maybe it would have been nicer if we had been in love; but I was alright with it. I adapted, obeyed and swallowed. Of course I did. In the beginning, he really put an effort in giving me what I gave him. He really tried. But his attempts at putting his tongue to good work quickly faded into halfheartedly rubbing me dry and at some point, he said: “I’m giving up.” I asked him why. His answer was: “It’s so hard to get a girl off. You women need ages to cum. It’s so exhausting.” I laughed and told him I needed about two minutes when I did it on my own. “Then stick to that.”, he said. “I’ve got a cramp in my wrist. Women are so complicated. It’s just how it is. I’m sorry.”

I am 20 now, and I’ve come to realize that my female identity has been shaped by a biased, hypocritical excuse based on ridiculous gender roles: “It’s just how it is.” All my life, I have asked them why, and all they said was “It’s just how it is.” And it didn’t matter whether I’ve asked men or women. Internalized misogyny is just as harmful. There were as many women as men who said: “It’s just how it is.” But that is not the answer I wanted. Not the answer I needed. These few words don’t fucking answer the countless questions concerning my gender identity.

Why can’t I sit with my legs spread? What’s so shameful about what I keep between them? Why must I cover my breasts? Why am I being sexualized long before I’m even told when sex is? Why am I being taught to mistrust other girls? Why do I have to compete with other girls? Why am I only a good girl when I’m not like most girls? Why do I have to keep quiet about the way I feel? Why am I not allowed to show affection like men do? Can’t I conquer a boy’s heart, too? Why must love be about conquering, anyway? What if I don’t like being chased? What if it scares me? Why do boys scare me, anyway? Why do you make me feel inferior to them? And why do I have to like a boy in order to be liked? Why am I being shamed for being a “slut”, them shamed for being “prude”? Why am I expected to adapt, obey and swallow without praise when boys who return the favour are considered grateful, dedicated lovers, heroes, almost ,because to the majority of them, it’s not fucking understood that if I make them cum, they should make me cum, too? Why am I exhausting to be with? Why am I complicated?

Is it because I’m a bitch? Because I’m an oversensitive little baby? Is it because I’m a slut? A prude virgin? Is it because I’m on my period? Cause women are just crazy? Cause I am jealous, manipulative, backstabbing, competitive or any of the other countless negative traits that are immediately connected with the female identity? All summed up, is it because I’m a girl?

I’ve asked them. And they said yes.

And when I asked “But why?”, they said it again: “It’s just how it is.”

“It” is that context, is a never ending circle of resigning acceptance of the circumstance that girls are being raised to disrespect their own gender from their childhood on. I was, and am, expected to accept the fact that being female automatically makes me inferior, and that I should be thankful for being treated equally, because that’s not the standard. I was, and am, expected to appreciate and take it as a compliment when people tell me that I’m not like other women. Because I was, and am, expected to look down on women even though I am a woman myself. But I refuse. I refuse to adapt, obey and swallow. I refuse to accept that “it’s just how it is”. I refuse to take this as an answer, and I will not stop asking why. I won’t ever stop asking why. Not because I want people to give me a proper response, but because I want them to question themselves, too. I want them to start wondering. Want them to start doubting the concept of the role I’ve learned to stick to before I knew how to spell my “typically female” name. I want them to think about it, lose their sleep about it, until they ask, too: “Why?”

In order to eliminate misogynic stereotypes, we must unlearn to understand them. We must refuse to accept “It’s just how it is” as an answer, until we forget what “it” stands for. Keep asking why, until nobody knows an answer anymore. “It’s just how it is” is not an answer. Neither is “It’s cause you’re a girl”. Or “That’s how girls are”. Because girls can be everything and anything they want to be. That’s how it really is.

—Mia Morgan, I REFUSE! A rant on how my female identity has been shaped by excuses and lies.

Artwork by Andrea Mendez (FB) and published here for safe keeping.

It Was Easier to Give in Than Keep Running

I saw this today on Reddit, and realised I could easily write my a list of my own youthful experiences of what it was like to grow up female, and it would be a similar list of being imposed upon treated a certain way on a thousand different occasions, simply by virtue of my gender.  I can completely related to this, and no doubt it is just as relatable to the experiences of so many girls/women. The very fact this all reads so ‘normal’, is the very reason we still need the feminist movement constantly striving for equality.

“In first grade, a boy named John— a notorious troublemaker—systematically chased every girl in our class during recess trying to kiss her on the lips. Most gave in eventually. It was easier to give in than keep running. When it was my turn, I turned and faced him, grabbed his glasses off his weasel face, and stomped on them on the hard blacktop. He ran to the principal’s office and cried.

In fifth grade, I was asked to be a boy’s girlfriend over email. It was the first email I ever received. He actually told me he wanted to send me an email, so I went home and made an AOL account. We went to a carnival and he won me a Garfield stuffed animal, and then he gave me a 3 Doors Down CD. A few days later, he broke up with me, and asked for Garfield and the CD back. I said no.

In sixth grade, a girl in my year gave head to an eighth grader in the back of the school bus while playing Truth or Dare.

In the summer after sixth grade, I kissed a boy for the first time at sleep away camp. He was my summer love. During the end-of-the-summer dining hall announcements, where kids usually announced lost sweatshirts and Walkmen, an older girl stepped up to the microphone, tossed her hair behind her shoulders, and proudly stated, “I lost something very precious to me last night. My virginity. If anyone finds it, please let me know.” The dining hall erupted into laughter and cheers. She was barred from ever coming back to the camp again, and wasn’t allowed to say goodbye to anyone.

In seventh grade, I told my brother I decided when I was older wanted a Hummer. What I really meant was I wanted a Jeep, but I didn’t know a lot about cars. My mother overheard and screamed at me for “wanting a Hummer.”

In the summer after freshman year of high school, I went to sleepaway field hockey camp with many of my close friends. One of them, named Megan, I had been friends with since kindergarten. One night when I was showering, she ripped open the curtain and snapped a photo of me on her disposable camera. I screamed. She laughed. We both laughed when I got out of the shower a few minutes later. After camp was over, her father took the camera to the convenience store to get it developed. When he gave the finished photos back to her, he said, “Your friend [Anonymous] has grown up.”

Sophomore year of high school, one of my best friends Hilary had a party in her basement while her mom was away. We invited some of the guys in our grade and someone’s older brother bought us a handle of vodka. One of the boys who came sat next to me in Spanish class. His name was Thomas. I remember playing a simple game, where we passed the bottle of vodka around in a circle and drank. I remember being happily tipsy and having fun, to suddenly being very drunk. Thomas and I started chanting numbers in Spanish, and he leaned towards me and kissed me. We kissed in the middle of the party, with all of our friends cheering. Then we went into Hilary’s bedroom.

Hilary’s bedroom was in the basement, on the ground floor, with a large window next to her bed. When someone went outside to smoke a cigarette, they realized it was a front row seat to what was happening in the bedroom. It was dark outside, and the light on was in the bedroom. They called everyone outside to watch. I don’t remember getting undressed, but apparently we were both completely naked in Hilary’s bed. A friend of mine told me later she tried to open the door and stop what was happening, but Thomas must have locked it. They said they pounded on the door. I don’t remember hearing them pounding. I don’t remember seeing everyone’s faces outside the window.  I remember Thomas holding my head down, and shoving his penis into my mouth. I remember trying to resist, pulling back, but he held his hands firmly on my head, pushing my face up and down. That’s all that I remember.

The next day, my friends and I went out to dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants. I couldn’t eat anything, and it wasn’t because I was hung over. Every time I tried to put food in my mouth, I felt like I was choking. Anytime a flash of the night before appeared in my mind, I felt like vomiting. My friends sat with me in silence. Then they told me a girl named Lindsey, who had briefly dated Thomas freshman year, had stood outside and watched the entire time. Even after everyone else stopped watching. My friends said they didn’t watch.

On Monday, Thomas and I sat next to each other in Spanish. We didn’t speak. We didn’t make eye contact. I went to the girls bathroom and threw up. I hear Lindsey and Thomas live together, now, ten years later.

Junior year of high school, my teacher for Honors Spanish was named Señor Gonzales. Señor Gonzales had all of the girls sit in the front row. Señor Gonzales called on any girl who was wearing a skirt to write on the chalkboard. Señor Gonzales asked a friend of mine, who had broken her finger playing an after school sport, if she broke her finger because “she liked it rough.” Señor Gonzales was a tenured teacher.

Senior year of high school, I got my first real boyfriend. His name was Colin. He was on the lacrosse team with Thomas. He told me that sophomore year, Thomas told everyone on the team what happened that night at Hilary’s. Everyone cheered. Colin said that, even then, he had a crush on me. Even then, he wanted to punch Thomas.

Colin and I lost our virginities to each other. Colin said if I got pregnant, he would make me have the baby. He didn’t believe in abortion. Colin said if I got pregnant, he would make me have a C-section. Colin said that if I didn’t have a C-section, my vagina would be too loose for him to ever enjoy having sex with me again. Colin said that he wouldn’t let our child breastfeed. He said his mother gave him formula, and that he turned out just fine. I didn’t get pregnant.

Junior year of college, I lived in Denmark for the spring semester and studied at the University of Copenhagen. Copenhagen is one of the safest cities in the world. Guns are illegal there. Pepper spray is illegal there. One night, my friends and I went to a concert at a crowded club in a part of the city I didn’t know very well. I brought a tiny purse with money, my apartment key, and my international cell phone. For some reason it made sense at the time to put my purse inside my friend’s purse. Maybe I didn’t feel like carrying it. We were both drinking. My friend left the concert to go home with her boyfriend. One by one, everyone I was there with left the concert, until I was suddenly alone and I realized I didn’t have my purse, or any money for a cab ride home.

I started walking in the direction that felt right. I walked for a long time. I had no idea where I was, and didn’t recognize the area. It was almost 4 am. I was on a residential street when a cab pulled up next to me. I asked the driver if he could drive me to an intersection down the street from my apartment.

I don’t have any money, I said.
I really need your help, I said.
I will do it for free, he said.
Sit in the front, he said.

I sat in the front. We drove in silence for some time, until he pulled over on the side of a dark street.

I don’t want to do it for free anymore, he said.

He locked the car doors and reached across the center console and slipped his hand up my skirt. He grabbed my vagina. Hard. I pushed his hand away and unlocked the door. I ran down the street and realized he had taken me a block away from the intersection I wanted. I walked to my apartment and threw rocks at my roommate’s window until she let me inside. She yelled at me for waking her up. I escaped. Nothing happened. I was fine.

The summer after I graduated college I helped Hilary find an internship. She was an art major and wanted something for her resume besides waitressing. We found a posting on Craigslist to be a studio assistant for a painter in the Bronx. It was listed as an unpaid internship. The toll for the George Washington Bridge was twelve dollars, plus gas, but she got the internship anyway. She wanted the experience.

The artist was a 38-year-old Canadian painter named Bradley. Hilary was 22.There was another intern there, an art student from Manhattan named Stella.  Bradley needed assistants to help him make bubble wrap paintings. Stella and Hilary would take a syringe and fill the tiny bubbles with different color paints until it formed a mosaic. Bradley always had Hilary stay after Stella left to clean the paintbrushes and syringes. He told Hilary she was beautiful. More beautiful than his wife, who he only married for citizenship. He told Hilary they had a loveless marriage. He told Hilary he wanted to have her beautiful children. They began an affair. He told Hilary has wife knew and didn’t care. He told Hilary he was going to leave his wife soon.

Everyday Hilary drove to the Bronx, cleaned Bradley’s paintbrushes, and had sex on the studio floor. Everyday she went home with no money, and everyday she paid the toll at the George Washington Bridge. She needed the internship for her resume, she said. It was too late to find a new job, she said.

I could go on. I could tell you a lot more. About the whistles on the sidewalk, the kids who sat at the bottom of the stairs in high school to look up our skirts, my friend who was a prostitute in South Carolina, the men who’ve cornered me in parking lots and bars calling me a tease, the unwanted grabbing on the subway, the many times my father has called me fat, the time I traveled to the Philippines and discovered Western men pay preteen locals to spend the week in their hotel, the messages on OKCupid asking to “fart in my mouth.” About how I wasn’t sure if I had been raped because I was drunk and kissed Thomas back. How he raped my mouth and not my vagina, so that must not be rape. How easy it was for me to escape the dark street in Copenhagen, and how that made it not matter since “it could’ve been worse.”

Men have no idea what it takes to be a woman. To grin and bear it and persevere. The constant state of war, navigating the relentless obstacle course of testosterone and misogyny, where they think we are property to be owned and plowed. But we’re not. We are people, just like them. Equals, in fact, or at least that’s the core of what feminism is still trying to achieve. The job is not over. We’ve made great progress. There are female CEOs, though not very many. There are females writing for the New York Times and winning Pulitzer prizes, though not very many.  There are female politicians, though not very many. But these advances are only on paper. The job won’t be over until equality permeates the air we breathe, the streets we walk and the homes we live in.

I think back to how easy it was for me, in first grade, to feel fearless and strong in my conviction to stomp on John’s glasses. I felt right in reacting how I did, because John’s behavior was wrong. But his was an elementary learning of the wide boundaries his gender would go on to afford him. For me, it would never again be so easy.”

– Anonymous, age 25