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What It Means to be a Woman

I went to a formal during Winter Term last year. It was my first formal, and it was an overnight in Charlottesville. My date was a guy that I was friends with from my hall. The night was really, really good. I hesitate to say “perfect” in this scenario because I really didn’t have any expectations for it.

This formal came at a time early in my sobriety, and my date knew about this. He got a cigar for us to share because he still wanted me to be able to “participate in the debauchery.” About halfway through the party at the club, we went outside and shared not only the cigar, but moments that really were special. We talked about nothing and everything. He tried on my heels. He missed his pledge class picture. When we had reached the end of the cigar, he said “I’m really glad we did this. I got to know you a lot better, and I think you’re a really cool person. I really hope we stay friends throughout college.” And then we went back inside and basically parted ways until we were ready to go.

Back at the hotel, we participated in more debauchery. He jumped off the 6 ft wall of the hot tub into the pool, fully clothed, twice, because I didn’t video it the first time. Back in the room, we showered, watched some spooky ghost shows, and then he slept on the floor. The bed was a king with plenty of room for the two of us, but he insisted on sleeping on the floor.

I went to bed feeling so respected, but also confused. Didn’t boys only ask you to formals so that they had an excuse to have sex with you? Wasn’t that in the terms of agreement when they ask you over snapchat? I felt like, as cliché as it sounds, one of the boys.

Well really, in this reflection, I have realized this sequence of events didn’t just make me feel like one of the boys having a sleepover with my friend. I felt like a human with feelings and morals and values and opinions, not just an object with a pussy and an ass and some tits. I wasn’t a number added in a tally book of “bodies.”

In the morning, we went to brunch with another couple at a small, quaint restaurant near the university. The menu sounded delicious. There were so many good options, and we could see them cooking the meals from scratch in the small kitchen behind us. The other boy we were with couldn’t decide on what he wanted to eat. His date suggested the avocado toast, to which he replied, “Are you kidding? That’s such a girl’s breakfast.” I still don’t know the level of seriousness with which he meant that statement, but I immediately dropped the smile from my face regardless.

I had thought through this experience I had had with my date, and with my friends back at school, that gender had become a decreasingly important factor in life. We all hung out as friends, as if there were no gender barriers or binaries preventing the people with penises from hanging out with the people with vaginas. We were all just people. But this boy destroyed that idyllic arena I had been living in for the past couple weeks. It was the people I had chosen to be around that had open minds and liberal perspectives.

What it means to be a woman should not be defined by the clothes you wear, how you style your hair, the classes you take, what you choose to be involved in, or by what you eat, for god’s sake. We all deserve to be respected equally, men, women, and anyone in between.

My boyfriend called me a feminist the other day. I said that I really didn’t attribute the feminist label to myself, but I certainly believed in and supported some, if not most, feminist ideas. Last night, we were talking about pregnancy and kids and how we would raise them. We both said we would ideally have a boy and a girl, and that in a perfect world, they would be twins.

He said he would raise his daughter by “spoiling the fuck out of her” and making her “daddy’s little girl,” but that he would “put [his] son to work.” It was there that I took issue.

I said it wasn’t fair to either of them to be raised separately, that they should be raised the same way. They should both be allowed to dress the way they want, to be involved in whatever activities they wanted to whether they be sports, theater, activism, etc., and that they should both learn work ethic, respectfulness as well as respectability, and overall how to be a good human.

Because what it means to be a woman shouldn’t be defined by how you were raised. It should be defined by your own feelings. Because boys and girls should be raised the same way and given equal opportunities to express themselves and be whomever they want to be.

I listened to a podcast last night entitled “The Economist Asks: Margaret Atwood.” It was about Atwood, the author of The Handmaid’s Tale, and about her views on feminism and prophecy. She attested she was not a prophet, but she does read the news; she is an informed author, not a prophetic one. She admitted she is not a universal writer: she likes science fiction, but she is not good at writing it, therefore she writes about the material that inspires her: feminism.

Atwood and the host talked about a controversial topic, the Kavanaugh hearing and accusations of sexual assault more broadly.

Atwood mentioned the controversy of several southern states attempting to make all abortions illegal, therefore claiming state property on women’s bodies. A comparison for men is registering for the draft: when the state or country decides their body is needed, the men are shipped off, but they are paid and their clothing, food, and housing are paid for. If the state wants to claim rights to any body, be it male, female, indigenous, white, black, etc., then they need to provide that body with the same materials.

Atwood, 79, has lived through many episodes and generations of bodily oppression, accusations, and general inequity.

What it means to be a woman should not be defined by your invincibility in accusing another human of sexual assault. It should not be defined by the beliefs you hold about a certain topic, and it should not be defined by the extrinsic ownership of your body.

I guess this article really should have been titled “What it Means to be a Human,” because the gender binaries and expectations and roles are so skewed that we have been so consumed in fighting for our right to our gender, that we have forgotten how to be a decent human, who respects other humans and is cognizant of their rights to themselves, to their thoughts, and to their bodies.

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