Oh, Stephanie. Don’t be silly. You’ve always known what it means to be a woman, right? You were born one. You became one at fourteen when your new body forced upon you changes both expected and unwelcomed. You’ve always known, intangibly, what it means to be a woman.
I haven’t. Now, and only now do I know. Since August, and Korea, and a man and a soldier.
To be a woman is to be weak, weaker than a man. To be a woman is to lack the physical strength to defend yourself. In this strange, new post-event world I am seeing men all around me and judging them not by their faces but by the strength I suppose them to have in their arms. I think
Could you hold me down?
Could you break my neck?
Women know silence, because to name a wolf is more dangerous than to pretend you can’t see him.
And the girl that never supposed anything untoward would happen to her – streetwise, mouthy, indignant, achingly confident – has been shattered. Like a misogynist’s wet dream, a strident enforcer of pro-2015 ideals of femininity has been taken, bucking and bleeding to the bedroom and shut up with a smack across the chops.
Shush, piggy, shush.
You know you are a woman when you tell a man to stop and he does not.
You know you are a woman when you realise, lying in bed next to a man you are too afraid to leave, that all the other times before this you have been lucky, so fucking lucky, to walk out unscathed.
Other ways you know you are a woman:
You are thankful when casual sex ends with the walk of shame because the alternatives – assault, rape, a bodybag – are equally as possible. You realise that being a sexually determining, empowered woman is essentially playing Russian roulette and why, why does it still have to be this way now?
To be a woman is to hear that I was asking for it. Provoking it. To be a woman is the unspoken inference that my body muddied the waters that made consent crystal clear. As a woman I know to expect that the hand that pushed my head down hard enough to bruise the back of my neck was just because “he was really into it.”
To be a woman is to be afraid all the fucking time and when you’re not afraid you’re just pretending you’re not afraid because everybody knows your vulnerability except you – and you only REALISE your vulnerability in those few seconds between saying no and nothing about this stopping and then you think – lying there, being fucked or prodded or held down by a knee or an elbow – wow, I AM vulnerable. And I never knew how small and insignificant my voice was until it bounced back to me, like an echo in a tunnel, ignored.
That’s what it means to be a woman.