As women, when we’re children we’re taught to enter the world with big hearts. Blooming hearts. Hearts bigger than our damn fists. We are taught to forgive – constantly – as opposed to what young boys are taught: Revenge, to get ‘even.’ Our empathy is constantly made appeals to, often demanded for. If we refuse to show kindness, we are reprimanded. We are not good women if we do not crush our bones to make more space for the world, if we do not spread our entire skin over rocks for others to tread on, if we do not kill ourselves in every meaning of the word in the process of making it cozy for everyone else. It is the heat generated by the burning of our bodies with which the world keeps warm. We are taught to sacrifice so much for so little. This is the general principle all over the world.
By the time we are young women, we are tired. Most of us are drained. Some of us enter a lock of silence because of that lethargy. Some of us lash out. When I think of that big, blooming heart we once had, it looks shriveled and worn out now. When I was teaching, I had a young student named Mariam. She was only 11 years old. Some boy pushed her around in class, called her names, broke her spirit for the day. We were sitting under a chestnut tree on a field trip and she asked me if a boy ever hurt me. I told her many did and I destroyed them one by one. I think that’s the first time she ever heard the word ‘destroyed.’ We rarely teach our girls to fight back for the right reasons.
Take up more space as a woman. Take up more time. Take your time. You are taught to hide, censor, move about without messing up decorum for a man’s comfort. Whether it’s said or not, you’re taught balance. Forget that. Displease. Disappoint. Destroy. Be loud, be righteous, be messy. Mess up and it’s fine – you are learning to unlearn. Do not see yourself like glass. Like you could get dirty and clean. You are flesh. You are not constant. You change. Society teaches women to maintain balance and that robs us of our volatility. Our mercurial hearts. Calm and chaos. Love only when needed; preserve otherwise.
Do not be a moth near the light; be the light itself. Do not let a man’s ocean-big ego swallow you up. Know what you want. Ask yourself first. Decide your own pace. Decide your own path. Be cruel when needed. Be gentle only when needed. Collapse and then re-construct. When someone says you are being obscene, say yes I am. When they say you are being wrong, say yes I am. When they say you are being selfish, say yes I am. Why shouldn’t I be? How do you expect a woman to stand on her two feet if you keep striking her at the ankles.
There are multiple lessons we must teach our young girls so that they render themselves their own pillars instead of keeping male approval as the focal point of their lives. It is so important to state your feelings of inconvenience as a woman. We are instructed to tailor ourselves and our discomfort – constantly told that we are ‘whining’ and ‘nagging’ and ‘complaining too much.’ That kind of silence is horribly violent, that kind of insistence upon uniformly nodding in agreement to your own despair, and smiling emptily so no man is ever uncomfortable around us. Male-entitlement dictates a woman’s silence. If we could see the mimetic model of the erasure of a woman’s voice, it would be an incredibly bloody sight.
On a breezy July night, my mother and I were sleeping under the open sky. Before dozing off, I told her that I think there is a special place in heaven where all wounded women bury their broken hearts and their hearts grow into trees that only give fruit to the good and poison to the bad. She smiled and said Ameen. Then she closed her eyes.
Initially written for The Nation anonymously.