Whenever prompted with the topic of sexuality and gender identification, I had never thought twice. I would simply brush off the subject since I had always been confident in who I was and who I felt that I was: a girl. I always thought that was a confusing conversation topic, thinking that there was not much to discuss. More clearly said, sexuality was always something simple to me. When preparing for the conversation of gender and sexuality with Dr. Joy Ladin and my peers of the Strong Women Fellowship, I did not believe my thoughts would change. But, seeing different perspectives and hearing the struggles and stories of my peers completely altered what being a “man” or “women” could be.
When you look up the word “woman” in the dictionary, you will find the definition, “an adult human female” or “a wife, girlfriend, or lover”, plus other varieties of that nature. But, I have realized that the dictionary definition of this word barely scratches the surface of what being a woman actually means.
When finishing her empowering story of bravery and transition, Dr. Joy Ladin prompted me and my peers with a question: “What was your experience of growing up as a girl?” To my surprise, the majority of responses to the question, including mine, were negative. We discussed in our conversation the topics that us, as teenage girls in the modern world, face, most of which were feelings of adversity and fear. A few examples included memories of my peers’ parents telling them to change because they were “showing too much”, them getting dress code violations for their bra straps and thighs showing, and their constant fear of slut shaming.
“What was your experience growing up as a girl?”
To my surprise, the majority of responses to the question, including mine, were negative.
Hearing these things, at first, made me feel comforted that I was not the only one who had gone through these things. But, after a while of discussion, I realized how negative this conversation was. I knew we all love being women, but the growing sense of negativity made me feel unsettled. From here, the conversation unintentionally turned into one about what it means to be a woman.
Joy started off this conversation with the topic of gender versus sexuality. She explained to us that these two things do not need to go hand in hand, nor do they have the same connotation to every individual. Once again, this was something I had never thought about before, so my mindset was transformed. I realized that all of those negative memories of growing up a girl made up who we had become. With further discussion, I was inspired that gender and sexuality are not as simple as I thought, and that two people with totally different experiences of being a women could still be defined as one.
We should not be defined by who we are categorized to be, but who we feel we are.
The beauty of the hardships of growing up in fear and shame is that we learn to overcome it and hopefully become who we feel we are inside. The story of Dr. Ladin, although completely unique to the stories of everyone participating in the conversation, led us to the conclusion that being a woman and growing up as a woman can be defined in an infinite amount of ways. We should not be defined by who we are categorized to be, but who we feel we are. •