This piece was originally performed for Greetings, From Queer Mountain Episode 37: Woman.
I originally had a different piece prepared. I am going through a breakup and I had a breakthrough in therapy yesterday that got me thinking. I have this tendency to twist myself into a pretzel in relationships to make the other person happy. To ignore my own needs and figure out how to manage my own emotions and avoid conflict. I think part of that stems from growing up in an emotionally abusive household. But I think part stems from growing up a girl in an emotionally abusive household in a society where women and girls do the bulk of the emotional labor in relationships.
I started thinking, “What is this category ‘woman,’ anyway?” It’s not stable. There is no one defining trait you could pin down to explain it. It’s more a constellation of ideas, identities, and common experiences. The only thing “women” have in common, really, is being treated by others as such. So what’s that like? The following is a list of statements about this category of “woman” that have been placed on me and that I’ve internalized at one point or another because I live in the world in this body.
In no particular order:
You’re too fat for anyone to love you.
Don’t cause trouble or make waves.
You are defined by your relationships to and with men.
You’re too emotional.
You’re too needy.
You are more worthwhile if you have children.
If you’re going to be an artist, marry someone rich.
You have to choose between a career and a family.
If you choose career, you’re a heartless bitch.
If you choose family, you’re not a feminist.
If you’re a feminist, you hate men.
Your worth is based on how much sex you do or don’t have.
If you don’t put out, you’re a tease and a prude.
If you do have sex, you’re a worthless slut.
If you are attacked or raped, you did something to deserve it.
Because Eve sinned, every bad thing that happens to you was predestined.
Your body is disgusting and shameful.
You have to change your body to please others.
Your body is for others. Not for you.
You’re not pretty enough or thin enough to be an actress.
You can’t know you’re gay if you never had a boyfriend. You just haven’t met the right man.
You talk too loud.
You talk too much.
You should wear clothes more flattering to your figure.
If you’re single, something must be wrong with you.
If someone leaves you, something must be wrong with you.
No matter what you do, something is wrong with you.
If you let someone buy you something, you owe them.
If you pay your own way, you’re rude.
If you can’t or don’t fully support yourself, you’re taking advantage of someone.
If you do support yourself, you’re too independent.
You can be too independent.
Your worth is based on how many people love you.
Act more like a man if you want to be taken seriously.
Act like less of a bitch if you want to get ahead.
If you enjoy taking care of others you’re brainwashed by society.
If you put yourself first, you’re selfish.
You get upset about things that don’t matter.
You’re incapable of leadership.
There are some jobs you’re not strong enough to do.
There are some jobs you’re not smart enough to do.
Liking feminine things is bad, but refusing to conform to gender norms is worse.
Don’t be such a pussy.
You just find things to be upset about.
You’re too opinionated. No one cares what you think.
What you care about is not important.
I could go on. And on. This list is literally just what I thought up off the top of my head yesterday afternoon. If all of us tried to think of every negative statement we’ve ever heard, thought, said, or read about women we’d be here all night. And it’s not okay. I’ve heard that it takes 3, 5, or up to 7 positive statements to cancel out one negative one. All of us could spend the rest of the night coming up with positive statements about women and it wouldn’t even begin to make a dent in the psychic damage everyone who walks around in a body perceived as female experiences.
That said, you don’t have to believe any of these statements. You are beautiful. You are intelligent. You are strong. You have value. And so do I. Being a woman means you will hear everything I said and worse, over and over again. But none of that defines you. There is no single defining trait of being a woman. You can be whatever you want. It won’t be easy and people will try to stop you. But you can fight back. Being a woman is being an adult which means defining yourself for yourself.
I’m solo poly which means a poly person who is single or does not have what our society considers a primary partner. I’ve also heard it defined as someone who is their own primary partner. And I think part of the impetus for rewriting my piece is the desire to commit, in front of witnesses, to living by that second definition from now on. In a world that tries to tell me I am defined by how much somebody loves me, I say, I am somebody. And I do. I have worked too hard to learn to love myself in spite of a barrage of messages telling me all the ways I am unlovable to ever settle for anyone who loves me a millimeter less than that ever again. And so have you. I am my own primary partner, my own life partner, and I will veto anyone from being in my life who doesn’t respect and support my commitment to myself.
I can’t erase all those messages or stop them from being repeated. But you are worthy. You are whole. You have value., You are powerful. You are loved. And so am I. Now act like you deserve it and don’t ever let anyone make you feel small again.