i said oooh girl
shock me like an electric eel
When I was in high school, I used to think life would be easier as a guy. They made more money, had more political power, could do things alone without of the fear of being attacked, play football and hook-up with as many girls as they wanted without judgment. So, why couldn’t women do these things?
Growing up, I wasn’t your “typical” girl. Saying I was strong-willed would be an understatement. I was stubborn, knew what I wanted, and had such strong opinions that if I didn’t back down it would likely get me in trouble. As a child, I was called “spirited” and “bossy” and as I got older, I was often told I was “being a bitch.” Demure would never be a word used to describe me.
Whether it was orchestrating a make-believe fitness class or playing “classroom,” I was always the teacher and I enjoyed taking charge. At the ripe age of 4-years-old, I even led a preschool protest encouraging my fellow classmates to chant “WE WON’T GO!” as the teacher called us in from recess. They listened and I was immediately sent to the principal’s office. While my leadership skills were admirable, that was the first time my mouth got me in trouble outside of my own home.
My mom allowed me to push boundaries, within in reason. Although back talking wasn’t acceptable, she was always open to discussing my feelings. When I went through a tomboy phase in grade school, wearing baseball hats, my coveted Michael Jordan jersey, and baggy jeans, she never questioned my clothing choices. My parents supported me and even bought me hats or jerseys. When I made the switch from public school to private school in 4th grade, my tomboy attire was made fun of on dress-down days. By 6th grade, I caved to peer pressure and knew that if I wanted to fit in I had to dress more feminine.
In the 90s, there was a call for girl power often quoted by the beloved pop group, the Spice Girls. Girl bands like TLC, Destiny’s Child, and En Vogue all touted strong, independent black women that taught me what it was like to be “unpretty”, a “survivor”, and to free my mind. Pop artists like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Jessica Simpson batted their eyelashes and sang sweet love songs. These wholesome girls were to be considered our role models.
It wasn’t until the early 2000s that Britney and Christina burst back onto the scene asserting their sexuality dressing provocatively and being a “slave 4 u.” Critics claimed they were overly sexual and too extreme. Meanwhile, guys like Nelly encouraged us that when it got “Hot in Hurr” you should take off all our clothes.
Young women were sent a lot of mixed messages. Was it ok to speak up? Did we need to be but a little “dirrty” to get some attention? What happens when we act out? It seemed like if a woman did speak up or dress provocatively it was at the cost of losing her softness, and that wasn’t something that was easy to get back.
Going to an all-girls Catholic high school certainly had its challenges. Female leadership was praised but only within means as a lady should act. I often wonder why I was being told how to act? I’m still a lady regardless. I challenged teachers in class and sparked debates but was treated as a disturbance. Would my male counterparts have been seen as a disturbance or more of a welcomed challenge? Our motto was “Softly, but strongly.” I wondered why I couldn’t just shine strongly.
I often credit my father for my strong-will, determination, and drive; but it’s my mother’s confidence and uncanny ability to be self-assured, with her mind and body, that I’ve always admired and can appreciate now more than ever. She rarely wears makeup or conforms to what everyone else is wearing and exerts her confidence in a way that most women could never comprehend. I’ve never seen her back down from a challenge, especially if you tell her she can’t do something.
Spending majority of her career as a stay-at-home mom, as my dad frequently traveled for work, she ran the household, managed the chaos and I never heard her complain. If she ever had a problem, she would somehow figure out how to fix it on her own. She always encouraged me to speak up if something was wrong, stand for what I believe in and taught me that gender shouldn’t define who I am or what I am capable of, and for that I’m forever grateful.
Gender is a box you check off but it doesn’t have to define you. Who cares if people think you have more feminine or masculine tendencies? You shouldn’t feel the need to completely hide your boobs or your butt to be taken seriously. If you work hard and think you deserve more money, ask for a raise. And never apologize before speaking up or saying what you feel. Most importantly, stay true to yourself, whether you shine softly or strongly.