Step 1: The origin of all sins
Let it begin. Let it begin in the first pages of the creation myths of the Abrahamic religions, where Eve—a woman—takes a bite out of something sweet. This small, unwitting, first bite of the forbidden fruit is a sin, and I have to ask, if Adam did it too, why is it that Eve ends up with all the blame? Who decided that the woman is the more sinful one? I find it rather disheartening—but unsurprising—that the woman is the one who is perceived as the most sinful, and that she takes the credit for it. Even in the pages that detail the earliest origins of humanity, it is the woman who is faced with blame, derision and contempt. It’s in these pages that reveal how deeply ingrained the mistreatment of women is in this world.
And despite the centuries that have passed, the societal reforms that have taken place, and the continuing gradual acceptance of women as essential to humanity, this trend of mistreating women continues to flow seamlessly through time. The trend was there in the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, when new ideas began to flicker about female empowerment, and consequently, society feared them. The Puritan culture of 1692 was a society very much based on female subservience to men. The general belief was that women were more susceptible to coercion from the devil (1). It is at this time that the idea of women as dangerous, sinful, and unworthy beings flared to a flammable degree. The idea of the “dangerous bitch” and the “sinful witch” are representations clearly attempting to show women as iniquitous, and also to warn and frighten men, who, unfortunately, were incredibly susceptible to at the time (and still are).
The trend of mistreatment was heavily present in the 1950s, a terribly confining decade for women. At a time when men read from a script that demeaned, embarrassed and condemned women who desired an abortion in court, and tensions surrounding reproductive rights intensified, women who requested an abortion were told they could only receive one if they agreed to sterilization (2). And the mistreatment was even more dire for women of color or those coming from lower-income families, who were subjected to sterilization without their consent. Women of color and low-income women, in the 1950s, who “obtained therapeutic abortions… were sterilized more than twice as often as private patients” (3).
It’s heartbreaking to think about. To think about the impossible choice women faced between keeping a child they did not want, or facing a forever-impossibility of having a child at all. It’s heartbreaking to think about how motherhood was snatched away from women as if it were a thread we wear around our wrists, easily broken and easily misplaced.
Step 2: Weave it in the literature
The earliest masterpieces of literature, with their characters of renown names and underscores an inherent mistreatment of women. From Helen of Troy, with her self-hating musings that agonized over her power as a woman, to Penelope’s implacable faithfulness to a womanizer in Odysseus, to the story of Pandora’s box, where a woman’s intrinsic curiosity doomed the world, literature has revealed how misaligned the world’s thinking is about women. The oldest literature has placed restrictions on women we continue to fight today. We can’t be both a seductress and a royal. We can’t be both powerful and nonthreatening. We simply can’t be.
Step 3: The precious fetus
It genuinely baffles me that the world is so adamant about restricting abortion access. Frankly, I don’t understand the pro-life argument. How can religion—an idea at its core—cause someone to be so close-minded when it comes to full ownership of your own body? All that effort the pro-life movement expends on defending unborn children should instead be focused on something deserving of their concern: female infanticide. And no, female infanticide and opting for an abortion are not the same thing.
There is a true moral distinction between abortion and infanticide. Female infanticide is the result of societies devaluing women. In these cultures, “it has been revealed that preference of [a] son over [a] daughter is a major reason for female infanticide” (4). A deep-rooted bias exists against women that prefers boys over girls in societies such as these; female infanticide that occurs in these countries is often the result of pressure from families or husbands, and less the actual choice of the woman carrying the child. This is wrong, and actually deserving of outcries. It is a true injustice what women in these countries face through societal and familial pressure. And it is completely different from a woman actually choosing, on her own terms, to abort a baby.
What baffles me even more is when the world proactively attacks those women who do opt for abortion. I truly can’t wrap my head around the ferocity. I understand that individual women may have personal reasons for opting for, or not opting for, an abortion. Personally, if I found out if I was pregnant tomorrow, I don’t know if I would choose to have an abortion, or if I would choose not to. But that is me. My indecision, or my own personal beliefs, should never even come near another woman’s decision, much less enter government policy.
A woman is an autonomous being, and bodily autonomy is a basic human right. A fetus, which is biologically dependent on the mother for sustenance, has yet to acquire bodily autonomy as it cannot self-govern due to this dependence. Therefore, a fetus isn’t yet its own being. But this argument about when life begins only distracts from an important fact: abortions are a human right. Illegal and unsafe abortions should never be the last resort for a woman. Criminalizing abortion by restricting access will not reduce the amount of abortions that will occur. It is incredibly important for women to have full access to abortions in a manner that does not take away or dissuade them from their right to an abortion. Taking away abortion infringes upon a woman’s right to her body. But giving them the choice of abortion allows them control over their own bodies.
Step 4: “Hey, baby! Give us a smile!”
No, I won’t smile. But I’ll tell you there’s a special place in hell for those who cat-call. Even today, women have to fight tirelessly to break out of that mold that the world tries to force us into. We are supposed to be giving, sweet, and step back in deference, smiling all the way. Well, I refuse to be a sweet dream. I refuse to let men talk over me. I refuse to step back into the shadows. Is my gender to forever dictate how kind, caring, and giving I am? Am I not to have an ounce of selfishness? I refuse to be selfless; I will always come first, certainly before a man.
Women are grouped into categories relentlessly. We cannot stretch into being more than one thing. I can be the smartest person in the room one afternoon, dignified and regal. But the moment I dance a little too provocatively on the floor, is the moment I’m automatically categorized as a “slut.”
Women have faced censure for refusing to be rehabilitation machines for men. When Mac Miller died of an unfortunate overdose, Ariana Grande was accused of his death. I find it extraordinary that people focused on Ariana Grande, instead of seeing the tragedy of Miller’s overdose. The world found it callous that Ariana Grande left a relationship with a struggling man, and found love with another (5). Let me be clear: it was not Ariana Grande’s job to ensure that Mac Miller triumphed over his battle with substance abuse—that battle was his own to fight. It is not a woman’s job to stay with a man at the risk of her sanity. And it is certainly not the world’s job to shame women who refuse to stay in toxic relationships.
We’ve been told to shy away from being powerful, confident, and arrogant. Sure, it’s sexy to see those things on a man. But on a woman, it’s unbecoming. Tell me why. Tell me why the world decided that self-assurance is something a woman ought not to have. Why is it so wrong for women to be career-obsessed? To prioritize it over having a family? To earn more than a man? Financial security is necessary, regardless of your gender, and if a man makes less than woman, why do some see it as wrong? Kindly take a look in the mirror and actually ponder the stupidity of that thought, please.
We’ve been taught to take up as little space as possible, personality-wise—to leave the space open for men. After all, an intense, nuanced and complicated personality is the sign of a “difficult” woman. I’ve realized that people can’t handle an intense personality like mine, and have reconciled that—romantically—I am regarded as too much to handle. I am too bold. Too arrogant. Too demanding. Too much. But I’ve realized this is because women have always been taught to present a milder, watered-down version of themselves. I am not too much. I am simply enough in a world that has told women to chip off pieces of their whole.
Women are both indestructible and decadent creatures, who are capable of so many things. There is something inherently wrong in a world that tries to mold women into one perfect shape. Women are human, and humans are beautifully diverse in character. To those women who are kind and forgiving: you are the bravest of us, because you make the choice every day to open your hearts to a world that has never been kind. Remember, you don’t always have to be a sweet dream; you can be a glorious nightmare, too.
To those women who are bold: remember, to be feared is to be respected. When you are the object of jealousy, take a minute to revel in it; you must possess something extraordinary for it to be coveted so dearly.
To all women, remember, you can be both sexy and regal. You can be both dignified and provocative. You can be both soft and fierce.
Don’t ever, ever let doubt hold you back. Never, ever forgive in a world that hasn’t apologized for the way it has treated its women. Dare boldly and without abandon. Breath in rebellion against those trying to suffocate you into a mold. Shake the damn stars, darling. You are a queen sitting on a throne that has seen kings fall and empires crumble to dust.