Words are the most powerful weapon at our disposal. Not only do they carry the power of their traditional definition, they also have the power of the connotations they yield. Words that were created to be a description or a fact have developed undertones that change them from simple words to ones that can destroy and insult. We are born with words that describe us, simple things like our physical appearance, and we are forever burdened with the stereotypes and suggestions that they bring.
In my life, I have found one word used to describe me to bring on more criticism and setbacks than any other. That word is my gender. That word is girl. Growing up I remember hearing phrases like “you throw like a girl” and “you run like a girl” thrown around among my peers at recess. From a young age, I could not understand why doing something the way a girl does is a bad thing. I played softball and I had a good arm, I loved to play tag and I was pretty fast, yet the way I did these things was being used as an insult. I came to realize that being a girl means you are defined as weak and fragile, no matter the talents and strengths you possess.
The setbacks of being a girl only intensified with age. I began to notice that being a girl in this world has a lot more ramifications then just being thought of as weak. Every adult I met commented about how skinny I was as a child, grabbing me, calling me boney, and asking my mom if she fed me. I can’t count how many people told me “you look like you have an eating disorder, do you even eat?” I was 11. I loved to eat, and I never even thought about the way my body looked until kids and adults alike began to tell me how I needed to change and I became extremely self conscious. I had a brother who was thin and small growing up, no one ever said things like this to him. This is when I learned that being a girl also meant that anyone was allowed to judge you for the way you look. The criticisms of my body only grew as I got older. In middle school, I learned that people cared more about how “flat” I was than my sense of humor, my intelligence, or my character because being a girl means your looks come before any other quality you possess. Boys didn’t have to be deemed attractive for people to think they were funny or smart. Being a girl means that instead of thinking “she’s so smart” people will think “good thing she’s smart because she is so ugly.”
Being a girl also means that you are supposed to be extremely nice. If you stand up for yourself or say something that people disagree with, you will get the dreaded label of being a “bitch.” There is no male synonym for that word. Boys who say things much more hurtful aren’t even thought of as unkind. They may even be praised for their humor or their “bravery.” As someone who was never the nicest girl in class and someone who is firm in what they believe in, I can’t count how many times I’ve been called that awful word, both to my face and behind my back. Being a girl means that you are expected to always be friendly and you aren’t supposed to stand up for yourself or others.
Being a girl also means that people believe they are entitled to your body. I have yet to meet a woman who has not experienced sexual harassment. I have yet to meet a man that has. I even found that one of the same boys that called me “disgustingly skinny and flat” still felt obligated to grab and touch me. I was 13. Being a girl means people will grab you where you don’t want to be grabbed, people will say nasty things that you do not want to hear, and most of all people will make you believe that these disgusting actions are not a big deal or in the worst cases, they will try to convince you that “you should be flattered.”
Being a girl also means you’ll have to work twice as hard and be twice as smart as him to get that job. You’ll be looked down upon if your greatest aspirations don’t include being a housewife or having children. Not only do you have to be good at your job, you also have to worry about what you wear to be taken seriously because being a girl means your fashion sense is more important than the ideas you have. Being a girl means their your one, ultimate dream should be becoming a wife and a mother.
The word girl carries immense burdens. It means that you will have to deal with many things that people born the opposite gender as you will not. The world wants us to believe that girl means weak. That girls means ditsy. That girl means moody. That girl has to mean mother. That girl has to mean wife. That girl means breakable. This is not the reality. Instead of being ashamed of this title we will wear it with pride because we know that girl means strength. That girl means powerful. That girl means ambitious. That girl means independent. That girl means resilient.
In writing this essay, I was inspired by the sexism that I have experienced throughout my lifetime. Leong’s essay very much inspired me. The way she was able to take negative stereotypes and reclaim them into something empowering is truly amazing. I was especially impacted by her last paragraph in which she states the original goal and meaning of the word chink then transitions into what she has turned it into to: “The word chink may have been created to harm, ridicule, and humiliate, but for us it may have done the exact opposite” (par. 11). I emulated this technique in the final paragraph of my essay because I believe it creates an extremely powerful effect. The entire essay I spoke about what people try to make you believe being a girl means, and I wait until the very end to reveal what it actually means to those who have experienced the kinds of sexism and torment that I spoke about throughout the rest of the piece. Unfortunately, there were many more examples that I could have included in my essay, but like Leong, I decided to keep the essay short and to the point and include only the most impactful stories. I also kept most of the experiences specific to me, like Leong did, in order to keep a personal element because I believed that it would allow the realities that my essay illustrates to seem more real. People have heard of sexism and most people roll their eyes when a conversation about is started, so I thought that only including real things that have happened to me would show readers how true these problems actually are. Leong’s essay differs from mine in the sense that girl was not a word that was created to insult like chink was. I thought about using the word ‘bitch’ instead of girl because I thought that might have been more similar to chink, but I decided against it. The word girl has made more of an impact throughout my life, but I still included a small part about the word bitch because I think it is very important.