I’m eight years old, playing at my friend’s house. My parents are also there, visiting with my friend’s parents. My dad looks at me and yells, “Go home and put on a bra! I can see your mosquito bites!” I’m horrified that he would say this in front of everyone.
Another time, about the same age, I’m at my grandma’s house. I overhear my dad yell at my teenage sister, “I don’t want to ever catch you riding in cars with boys! They’ll twist your boobies!” I feel uncomfortable, but I don’t know why, because I don’t fully understand what he’s talking about.
I’m in fifth grade, walking home from school. I hear whistles and catcalls from construction workers. I try to ignore them, but I think, “Do they realize I’m only 10?”
I’m in seventh grade. I’ve gone through puberty already. My body is too mature for my age. I walk into a classroom to deliver something from another teacher. A boy whispers under his breath, but loud enough for me to hear, “Thunder thighs! Thunder thighs!” I know I’m not fat; I’m bewildered why he would embarrass me in front of the whole class.
These are just a few examples of my childhood experiences that were common, memorable, and formative. These experiences—that started when my body turned into a woman when I was eight—have stuck with me after all these years.
Is this what it means to be a woman? Defined by your sex as soon as your breasts start to show? I don’t know. I certainly didn’t experience the traumas that a lot of women have. I haven’t been sexually assaulted—although I have a sister and cousins who have. Some women live in countries where they can’t show their face; some women go to prison for being the victim of a rape; and some women have their genitals mutilated as a matter of cultural or religious tradition.
But this is my experience: I was raised by a father who only spoke about women with insults. I was raised by a mother who kept quiet and, when she made her own choice about something, hid that choice from my dad and lied to him about it when confronted. These were my role models.
But I knew better. I knew my dad was a jerk. Even when I was little, I wondered why my mom put up with my dad instead of sticking up for herself. I knew I would be different. I would respect myself. I wouldn’t allow men to bully me or put me down. I would be better.