To Be “She”

November 10, 2021

Childhood & Adolescence

I notice a chunky girl in the novice class at gymnastics struggling to get through her beam routine. I watch her, low-key horrified, and make a silent vow to never look like that. For weeks I fret about getting fat. I am nine years old.

In P.E. class, a boy turns to me and tells me I need to shave my legs. I look down, mortified and ashamed. Why did no one tell me? I go home and steal my mom’s razor and make all that nasty hair disappear, after which I discreetly add shaving cream to the shopping list. I am eleven years old.

All the cool girls have “compacts” sticking out of their butt pockets, so obviously I need one too, even though the cheap powder makes me look white as a ghost. I become hyper aware that I have over-plucked my eyebrows yet again. I look around and take mental notes from the pretty girls. Maybe someday I will get a handle on my appearance. I am thirteen years old.

For a couple years now, I have settled for pads, which always made me feel like I was riding a horse, so I go through a whole box of tampons before finding sweet success.  Cramps and hormones have plagued me for what already feels like a lifetime. I hear boys at school make jokes about a girl who bled through her white jeans. There. Is. Nothing. Worse. I am fifteen years old.

Seventeen educates me on all things boys: how to flirt, what to wear on a date, how to make a good first impression. Oh, and of course how to kiss so he will want to come back for more. I cut out the bottom corner of a page with an ab workout so I can make myself look like the tiny, tan girl on the front cover. I am sixteen years old.

My body is changing and I am always hungry. At school I eat salads and at home I make and devour chocolate chip cookies. I hate wearing a swimsuit at diving practice. My church leaders remind me to be modest in my dress; meanwhile all the girls at school wear clothing that I can only dream of wearing. I feel forever uncomfortable in my skin. I am seventeen years old.

Sweet freedom comes and I am on my own, navigating college life and dating. I get asked out by weird guys who I wish would leave me alone, but I feel obligated to say yes to dates. Why do the ugly ones have to ask for my number in class? I find myself trying to be sweet and accommodating; otherwise the boys will tell me to smile more. What am I, a doll? It gets exhausting. I am nineteen years old.

Adulthood

Dating ends and I settle into married life. Except I must have missed the memo about how to be a wife. I silently fume as I find myself doing dishes and cooking and cleaning toilets while he plays video games. Not what I signed up for. Mom tells me to get used to it. *Dr. Laura says to learn how to dote on my husband; after all, he spends all day at work and deserves to come home to a sweet wife. I curse womanhood and vow to change things when I muster up the courage. I feel stuck.

And then there’s Cosmopolitan; what used to be the most scandalous magazine is now my bible. I learn how to be successful in a career, how to lose the weight for good, which products will make my skin glowy. I realize that I can learn to be just the right amount of smart and sexy if I keep consuming the world’s ideas. Page after page instructs me on blended orgasms and how to contort myself into positions that he will like. Forget that none of this feels right to me; I keep devouring so that I can be an acceptable woman.

It is my third year of teaching and I am so dang sick of getting mistaken for a student that I consider quitting and choosing a career where I never have to show my face. A student cusses me out again. The counselor tells me I am “too nice.” Interesting, I think, since he called me a bitch. I know I cannot please everyone, but sometimes being “just the right amount” feels like an impossible task.

I am pregnant and throwing up twice a day, forever nauseous and exhausted. Yet I still go to work and suffer in silence, since I decide not to share the news until I am in the clear. I do laundry and grocery shop even though I want nothing more to curl up in a ball and hibernate. The sight of raw chicken and smell of ant spray makes me want to hurl. I gag at the most unexpected times. The internet tells me to suck on ginger. Nothing helps. I am depressed, miserable and lonely, and yet…I carry on.

The HR lady tells me I will be using my sick days for maternity leave. I gawk at her as if she has just told me there’s a ginormous monkey on my back. Sick days? But I’m not sick. “You have to use your sick days and then when you run out of sick days you can come back or we will take money out of your check to pay for the sub.” I look at my husband, puzzled. I don’t understand; I don’t have very many sick days. What the hell is maternity leave then? And why have I been duped?! I feel bitterness consume me.

9 months of pregnancy has made me sore and irritable. For the past two months I have felt like an old, slow duck waddling around campus. The night my water breaks I leak all the way to the hospital. I experience the most excruciating pain as I endure a 13 hour labor. I am exhausted. Why isn’t the world gathered around outside my window cheering for me? I just pushed a baby out of me for cryin’ out loud. I wonder this too many times to count. As I hold this tiny newborn in my arms, fear overcomes me. The lactation consultant tells me it isn’t normal to have sore nipples. But, I protest, my friends tell me it is. “It isn’t,” she assures me. I feel helpless and alone.  And freaking tired.

Motherhood proves to be challenging and a real juggling act. I have chosen to be a part time teacher so that I can hold onto some semblance of my former self but also have some time to be a mom and “housewife” (ew to that word, btw). I deal with nightly tantrums while my husband coaches water polo. The resentment is palpable. I clean up dirty dishes and wonder what all this is for. Yes I relish being in the classroom, but I also curse the time I spend grading at home, always interrupted. The paradoxes are endless.

I now have three kiddos and often feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. One night I try to explain to my husband the silent pressure that women face on a daily basis. Pretty sure he thinks I’m crazy because I can’t properly explain this phenomenon without sounding like a whiner. I feel aggravated and resentful and lonely. I’m tired of doing laundry, tired of being the one who gets called to pick up my sick kid from school, tired of not being able to fall asleep at night because I feel so guilty about yelling at my daughter, tired of worrying about my kids’ emotional health, tired of trying to figure out what to make for dinner, tired of helping with the school projects, tired. SO. EFFING. TIRED.

To Be She

To be “she” means from birth you will be conditioned to think and feel and act a certain way. If you don’t smile at just the right time, you are a bitch. If you are not accommodating to those around you, you are selfish. If you turn down a date, you are stuck up. If you have a lot of pre-marital sex, you are a slut. If you have no sex, you are a prude. (And if you read all the sexy magazines just to find out you have no clue what you’re doing, don’t worry—the world just lied to you and it’s not your fault). If you choose to stay at home and raise your kids, you have no goals. If you choose to work outside of the home, you are a bad mom. (And somehow, if you choose to do both, you are a “supermom”—except you are not. You’re a regular mom who just needs someone to rub her feet and cook her a meal). If you choose to have no kids, you are self-centered. If you don’t volunteer at the bake sale, you just don’t care. If you opt for leggings and no makeup, you are frumpy. If you wear a lot of makeup and tight clothes, you’re a tramp. If you’re not skinny, you are fat, and if you’re fat, you are a slob. Heaven forbid when you PMS, the world will say you are over emotional and overreacting…always overreacting. If you say what you need, you’re demanding. If you don’t say what you need, you’re a doormat. If you complain while pregnant, well…YOU had the choice to have kids, after all. If you question patriarchal structures, you must be a raging feminist. And if you don’t…well, you still do, just not out loud. If you tell your husband to help around the house, you are a nag who expects too much. If you don’t, you fume with resentment and end up exploding like an insane woman who is not really insane at all, just so damn tired of holding up the sky for your family who doesn’t appreciate a thing you do.

To be “she” means you gift your sister some pepper spray, you watch your back when walking alone at night, you shrug off the cat-calling from the construction workers across the way, you hold your breath and speed up while you pass the group of guys at the park on your run. It’s all par for the course. It means you compare yourself on social media to the influencers and bloggers who have seemingly perfect hair, homes and husbands. It means you think about (or obsess over) wrinkle cream and botox and tan lines and a tight ass and boob jobs and highlights and white teeth and and and…so many ands.

To be “she” means the world spins regardless of how you’re feeling on the inside. It demands to be taken care of by you, knowing full well that you will rise to the task, because that’s what a woman is supposed to do. It knows you will carry on even though you often feel so tired, so strung out, so worn down. That world keeps on spinning and it doesn’t give a rat’s @$$ if you never stop spinning right along with it. The world takes you for granted and always will. Despite the sacrifices, the silent pressure, the invisible workload, the unfair demands, the juggling, the hormones, the inequality, the constant messages that proclaim YOU ARE NOT ENOUGH…the world will tell you to calm down, stop acting crazy, not be so emotional. It will gaslight you until you gaslight yourself. It will tell you to be sweet, compliant, silent…nothing more and nothing less.

If you’re a woman and you ever feel emotional, hormonal, sad, ragey, lonely, angry, resentful, pissed off, disrespected, underappreciated, objectified or tired…don’t worry, it’s not your fault. Welcome to the club and free hugs for all.   

P.S. Despite the tone of this post, I actually love being a woman. I am not bitter, I am not a man-hater, I am not depressed, I am not miserable or unhappy. One day I will write a post about what I love about being female…about the privileges of being able to embody feminism in all its gloriousness, about the blessings of motherhood, about the power we hold in our ability to empathize and nurture and protect and be fierce badasses all rolled into one amazing intuitive soul. But I wanted to do this piece (and myself) justice by focusing on the hardships of what it means TO ME to be “she.” I do not speak for all women, but I know I speak for many, at least to some degree. Everything relayed in this piece is a reflection of my own experiences and thoughts, but I hope that other women can see themselves in my experiences…that I can be a mirror of sorts. I think there is great power in coming together and recognizing what is really HARD about being a woman and what it means for so many of us in today’s world. Also, this book is on my to-read list…I’ve heard good things.

*Author of the book The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands

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