Updated: Oct 30, 2018
I was raised as a strong southern woman in a strong southern family. We went to church every Sunday & Wednesday, ate homemade supper at the table every evening after Daddy got home, and always said the blessing. We shelled peas, raised a garden, and marched to the beat of our own drum (even with frilly panties and ruffled socks on). I was never taught to succumb to a man. In fact, I was the only girl on my T-ball team, and I kicked all the boy's butts at the sport. I was raised to respect my elders (yes, sir, no, ma'am), and bring pride to my family.
There is something that is not explicitly taught to you as a woman in the south, but you learn it nonetheless. No one talks about it. I'm not sure if it is supposed to be genetic, or the kind of thing passed down generationally from countless strong women who wanted to keep their daddies and husbands happy; who did not want to cause a scene or make a fuss, because nobody likes it when a girl cries. Women are “too sensitive" after all, right?
In the same way that children are meant to be seen and not heard, women are meant to serve as an accessory. They are to be lovely and bright. They are to be strong, but not too strong. Women are to bare children, but stay slim with perky breasts. They are to mask their faces in pounds of poisonous makeup and scrub every pore in their body, willing with all of their might to smell like a rose, though their fragile hormones keep bursting through. If you don't think that women have been dealt an unfair hand, consider this: Lysol was originally a feminine hygiene product. That stuff that you wear gloves to clean mildew, germs, and salmonella off of your kitchen floor? Women were told to put that in their most private, vulnerable area to rid themselves of their natural body odors and secretions. Have you ever heard of a product doing anything similar for men? Absolutely not.
I am not the kind of woman who wages war on the past. After all, we can only move forward. Growing up, I remember being terrified of men. Not just a little. I was even afraid of my uncles. For lack of a better term, I was a "pretty baby." People would stop me constantly and fawn over me. They told my parents how beautiful I was. Not how smart, or talented, or kind- How beautiful. Women and men. It was constant, and it was creepy. It wasn't until I was helping teach low-income children how to swim that I had my first, scary run-in.
There was a boy in the program who was mentally disabled. He was much bigger than me. My parents started several programs for at-risk youth and I was raised in that altruistic environment. I was not better than anyone by any means. My brother and sister and I were just part of the camp like anyone else, except that we helped out. I was teaching kids how to swim when I was 7 years old, and I was good at blowing bubbles and flitting around, shouting encouragement to all ages. This boy was always watching me, but that wasn't weird. People- especially men- always watched me. On this particular day, he was trying to get me to go to the bathroom with him. He was so much taller than I was, and I was afraid. He grabbed my arm and started pulling me towards the bathroom. I kept trying to give him reasons why I could not go, making excuses instead of just telling him to leave me alone. I wanted to be nice... Not cause a scene. I don't remember if my parents saw it or if I broke free, but it was not a good situation. My father had to pull the young man to the side and make it abundantly clear that this was not okay. I don't honestly remember a lot beyond that. I just remember being scared, and feeling that I was not safe, and knowing I was not as strong as I needed to be.
In college, I experienced what 1 out of 5 of the female population has experienced. Rape...? No. Rape is for women who are held at gun-point, beaten, left for dead... No, no, no. Not only would I not say that I was raped, I would also never support anyone who said that they had been. I looked down on women. Women were liars, full of deceit. Look at Adam and Eve, bitches! SHE deceived that poor man. Women always cried rape (and I could not at this time grasp that it's because most of us had actually been raped). R-A-P-E. That is a dirty word used by feminists. I mean, come on! "You were too drunk to remember!" “That's your own fault!" or "She dresses like a slut. I'm sure she wanted it." I. said. these. things. About friends. About myself. It was our fault. "You can't blame men!" "They have hormones." "They're just being guys!" And I believed that.
It wasn't until I moved to New York and came out on the other side of a very unhealthy relationship that I began to see myself, and myself alone, as someone who had experienced the shame, the guilt, the self-hatred of being a victim of a sexual crime. Now, at this point, I did not speak a word of it to anyone. Women are always "trying to get attention" and I wasn't raised that way, especially when the attention would only bring negativity to my reputation. I quietly moved forward.
In 2014, I opened my restaurant in a small, southern town where the school system had yet to be desegregated. There is no Planned Parenthood here. The number of high-school pregnancies is absurd. They teach abstinence-only in our public schools, and my mother was shunned from the "Pregnancy Center" because she actually had the gall to acknowledge birth control and abortion as options. (Witch!)
So why... why, why, why did it ever surprise me the first time a man put his hand right on my 26 year old ass... in MY restaurant? Why was I surprised when a man put his hands on me in front of his friends and asked, "Who pays for this place, honey?" and when I responded, "Me,” he leaned in and said, "No, who REALLY pays for it?" After all, women are not made for starting businesses- We’re made for starting families! My tiny little lady-brain is only good for a couple of things, and managing my own business could not possibly be one of them. I responded, "Me." And they laughed in my face.
I consider myself an extremely opinionated, strong, southern woman, so why- No, HOW did I let this happen? How have I continued to let this happen? Why does this well of southern, demure hospitality bubble within me, so that my initial response is to apologize for myself? To laugh with them at how absolutely hysterical it is that an internationally-traveled, self-made woman could possibly run a successful business without a man. Shame on me.
And when the presidential elections rolled around, I felt the same way as so many of us. To be clear, I am a registered Independent and I try to vote for whatever candidate best suits my opinion of this country's needs as well as my own. It didn't matter that Trump wanted to take away my health insurance or my rights to my body... because SHE was wearing a stupid pant-suit. SHE did not look good enough. SHE wasn't pretty. What would happen to our country if SHE was on her period? Or worse: Menopausal?! Women, since the garden of Eden, could not be trusted. It wasn't until I heard another female small-business owner tell one of her customers that she would never vote for "Kill-ary" that I felt any kind of remorse. Did I really hate this woman? Or was it just that I subconsciously hated myself, and all women? I looked back and tried to remember a time when I didn't blame myself. I couldn't find one. If my husband had flaws, they were my fault. If my staff had flaws, that fell on me too. If my bread was flat, if my ass was fat, if I was drugged and raped, "I should have been more observant!" No one to blame but myself. Why was I holding myself and my peers to such obscene standards?
The #metoo movement was inspiring, but I'm not going to lie to you and pretend like I didn't read every single story with a bias. "So he grabbed your boobs, so what?!" And, "If you drank too much, that's your fault, not his." I remembered a night, I was maybe 18 years old. I only had two drinks, but I was black-out drunk and extremely sick. The guy dropped me off at my apartment and my a friend had to come pick me up the next day and take me to get my car. I insinuated that I thought that maybe I had been drugged. He assured me that drinking too much had the same effect as being drugged. Maybe I was just dehydrated and I had too much to drink. It wasn't his fault, it was mine. And I'm not blaming my friend, but I think that perhaps, we have all turned a blind eye to the blatant sexism and self-hatred that we, as women possess. I was the FIRST person to say, "She's lying" when a woman cried rape. I almost never believed that a woman was telling the truth when she came forward, and I know that I am not alone because the majority of women voted for Trump. I'm not speaking on him politically at all, but I don't wan't any old men having more control over my body than I do. Doesn't that seem logical?
We, as the stronger gender, need to stop pretending like we aren't. Men can't get soap in their urethras without crying. We gestate a baby over 9 months and push something the size of a watermelon out of our bodies without any painkillers.
Tell me again why women are the weaker sex? Who can't handle the stresses of everyday life? I started a non-profit for at-risk youth, and I will honestly tell you that I feel such great pride when one of the boys calls a girl a bad name and she tears into him. I do. Obviously, every kid has a different story, but my focus is undoubtedly on raising strong women, and men strong enough to be equal to those women.
Why do we allow ourselves to be treated as second-class citizens? Men are expected to orgasm during sex every time, and women are expected to make that happen. Yet women are also supposed to pretend like men have the same impact on them without any of the effort. Men are considered "players" when they are sexually active, yet women are “whores.” If your male CEO is yelling at you, he has strong opinions, has brass balls, knows how to get things done, but if that CEO is a woman, she's an ice queen, a bitch, on her period. I know first-hand what it's like. I own a restaurant in a town where most establishments are run, or at least financed, by men. I have strong opinions. I am well known as a cold-hearted bitch, but I am also the only person in town who has ever done anything for veterans, teachers, or at-risk youth. God forbid I use my little lady-brain to man-splain why someone isn't doing their job correctly. For some reason, I am the bad guy here, yet the city has a (male) REGISTERED SEX OFFENDER on their board of alderman! No one questions that at all! Thank God their meetings are 100 feet away from the elementary school.
When you see a business that is owned by a woman, support it. When you hear a woman who is spouting hatred against another woman, talk to her, and more importantly, listen. What is she really saying? I would love to pretend that our rights, our minds, and our paychecks are equal, but they are not, and they won’t be until we see OURSELVES as equals.
I am in this fight with you. I struggle every single day with this. At the end of the day, it isn't about me, or you. It is about the girls around us. Girls who don't deserve to be treated the way that we have been (which is still significantly better than ones before us). Today, let us stand together, so that my niece never has to hashtag "Me too." So that we may one day live in a world where a woman's intelligence is more important than her looks, her education is more expensive than her breast augmentation, and the only person who controls her body is her. Essentially, a day where women are... dare I say... equal?
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