Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Why I March

When I was little, I wanted to be a boy.

I'm not saying that I believed that I should be a boy.  No, it was very clear to me that I was a girl.  This is evident by the fact that some of my earliest memories are of sitting in my stroller, or atop my dad's shoulders, and precociously telling strangers "I'm a girl!" every time I was misidentified due to my bowl cut and brother's hand me downs.

I was (am) a girl.  I liked being a girl.  I was PROUD of being a girl.  But somehow, even at such a young age, I had learned that being born a lady meant that you were getting the short end of the stick.  This was not something my family taught me.  Gender roles/norms were not forced down my throat in my home life.  My parents were SUPER cool about me dressing as the Tin Man for Halloween in the third grade.  When they decided to repaint my room, they let me pick out a blue and green color scheme.  And I don't think anyone is going to forget the time my mom bought me a tutu for dance class and I freaked out.  My parents signed me up for sports after that.  I grew up in an environment where your interests need not be dictated by your gender.  I was lucky enough to be surrounded by strong, smart, loving, interesting women AND men.

And yet, somehow I still had this idea that being a girl meant you were weak.  And I didn't want to be weak.  Boys got to play sports.  Professionally.  Boys got to be president.  Boys were good at science and math.  Boys got to have adventures.  Boys had the best parts in musicals.  And if not the BEST parts, they definitely had MORE parts to choose from.  Boys were not ruled by their emotions, and boys were never scared.

Obviously, now I know that these things aren't true.  About girls OR boys.  But I was a fiery little kid.  Who was oddly aware, and against, gender-specific stereotypes.  We had to do a project about our favorite colors in first grade.  I was the ONLY girl who did not choose pink.  There was a healthy amount of diversity amongst the boys, but all the girls' names were stacked up in the pink column.  Save one.  As a huge F*CK YOU to the Man, I picked blue.  And purple.  Because I was accidentally given two of the work sheets, so I assumed that I was meant to do twice as much work as everyone else.  I was an odd little overachiever.  And I asked to keep the chart as proof.

What I'm saying is that, even though I grew up in an empowering, accepting family, I still sensed that there was some underlying difference between girls and boys.  Society had been informing me that I wasn't quite equal, that there were things for girls and things for boys.  It seems cute and innocent when kids are cute and innocent, but then things get more serious, and the damage is lasting.

I know my experiences are far from the extremes, but I still feel like I need to share them.  We are all aware of the BIG issues, the BIG inequalities that face women in our country, and in the world, and many smarter, more eloquent people have spoken for those causes we are all fighting for.  But I want to share my small experiences.  Those small, specific moments, that I know many will relate with, and hopefully will shine a light on how those tiny things add up and lead to a need to stand up.

So why do I march?

I march because I was taught that "It's the girl's responsibility to say no".

Because wearing a shirt that said I play like a girl. I win. was an open invitation for snide comments and teasing.

Because, starting in middle school, I thought that the only way to keep myself from being sexualized was to wear boy's pants and extra large sweatshirts.  Something I did through most of college, even though I LOVE fashion.

Because I found it necessary to have someone on the phone when I walked across campus alone at night.

Because when I moved to Portland by myself, by brother felt he had to buy my pepper spray.  Or a two-by-four with a nail in the end.  (He went with the pepper spray.)

Because I cried at the fifth grade camp dance.  A boy counselor asked me to dance, and I was scared of boys.  I told my teacher it was because I was homesick.

Because when I cut all of my hair off for a show in high school, someone called me a dyke.

Because there were so few women in the history books for me to look up to and admire.

Because I wasn't that into love stories, but there were so few female children's characters who were NOT the object of romantic interest.  Seriously guys, why do you think I love The Wizard of Oz SO. MUCH.

Because these were two of my favorite books growing up (non-fiction, of course, and no one is surprised): Lives of the Artists: Masterpieces, Messes (and What the Neighbors Thought)
Lives of the Musicians: Good Times, Bad Times (and What the Neighbors Thought)
In one, five out of the twenty artists are women, in the other, I think it's two of the twenty musicians.

Because someone once told me that "Fritsch" must stand for "Frigid Bitch".

I could go on.

These are not "I was raped" moments.  These are not "I wasn't promoted because I'm a woman" moments.  These are not "I can't afford childcare" moments.

But they are moments that I've kept with me.  Moments when I felt like I had to change my behavior.  Moments when I didn't see myself represented.  Moments where I felt threatened or insulted or less than.  Moments when I felt unsafe.

Moments that make me march.          

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