It takes years to own the body we’re born into.
We slide into skin from the safest place there is, and we come out wailing if we’re lucky. That howl is a manifesto, our first proclamation of being.
I am here. I am worthy. Hear me.
But if you’re a person born a woman, in your body, mind or both, you won’t be. Not until your speech becomes a scream and you grab the mic from someone higher, someone who didn’t have to climb there, because their first scream was one of privilege, one of right.
It’s your right to scream too, little woman. It’s your right to be heard.
So keep screaming.
I was born in a family where my womanhood was not a curse. Where I was raised and lowered to the same level as my brother, where we shared toys and sometimes clothes and always meals, the TV, our lives. I went to a girls’ school where we didn’t have to shout over deeper voices. Where the line for the microscope was only women, where we knew our place and that place was right alongside the rest of the population, the population that made many of us blush and run and roll our skirts above our knees, the better to display the only bargaining chip we thought we had because we were taught so outside those walls that tried so hard, so hard to lift us above that kind of barter.
And yet, we dressed in tight pants and short skirts and low shirts when the boys came for dances. They bused them in and we painted our faces to hide the people the TV, magazines, the Web (such as it was) taught us weren’t enough. During the week, we farted and burped and slouched and argued literary theory and scientific facts without a backwards glance but on the weekends, we were the same painted Russian nesting dolls as all the rest, because you can’t protect a girl from the world. Even Rapunzel escaped into tyranny.
Because that’s what we’re taught to want, is a man to climb our vanity and rescue us. Because we’re supposed to speak truth to power only when power is willing to listen, knowing damn well that power can hurt us where we won’t recover, not without power’s help.
I don’t want that for my daughter.
We all have stories of men, don’t we? We all hold in our secret places a moment when or hearts whispered, “no,” but our mouths didn’t feel safe enough to follow. We all have caches of moments, hours, days, years in which we crossed to the other side of the street, pulled our skirts a little lower, cast our eyes to the safer sidewalk and tried not to think of the centuries that brought us here. Tried not to think of what the men could do to the bodies they think they own because everyone from Disney on up teaches them that yes, these women dress for you, dance for you, preen for you like peacocks waiting to be plucked so take them, gentlemen. The gentle sex is yours.
Be gentle, men. You have that power, too.
My parents raised me against the society that tells us to wait for our prince. My teachers taught me to go out there and get him, with my brain and my voice instead of what’s between my legs, growing on my chest. I slid into a skin I didn’t ask for, didn’t deserve, and I threw my voice into the air with the same primal wail as my brother did. But he was heard that moment. I’m still learning to speak.
Because I don’t want this for my daughter.
I don’t want to bring women into a world that abhors their existence, don’t want to live in a world anymore where the color of your skin, the preference of your sex, the vacuum between your legs is a curse. I don’t want to buckle under inequality and say we’ve made progress because progress
separate but equal isn’t, is it?
This world is too dark for my daughters, my sons. And in this election year, I can’t help but think the stakes are higher and growing. I can’t vote myself into oblivion and it frightens me to the place I keep my power that there are those, so many of those, who would. I’d like to challenge you, my sisters and brothers in solidarity, to use yours too. We’re born with a howl that turns too quickly into a whimper, then a whine, a whisper. It took me years to learn I had a voice worth using.
Let’s teach our girls to scream.