Before we even enter elementary school, we're told to ignore the boys who pull our hair and tease us:
"They like you, and that's just how boys show it."(Never mind the fact that they are in our personal space and bothering us.)
When we get older, however, we're taught to fear an unknown "them" whose only intentions are to harm us: we shouldn't walk the 500-foot path through the trees separating the house from the school; we're not supposed to look at men or boys for too long because they might think it's an invitation; we need to dress to a certain standard so as not to draw unwanted attention to ourselves. And on and on it goes.
So we learn. We watch. We see the lingering stares from the corners of our eyes and do our best to ignore them. We practice walking with our shoulders back and our heads up in order to feign confidence and strength.
"Walk with a purpose and you won't get attacked; as long as you don't look vulnerable, you're safe."(Never mind the fact that carrying our keys in between our fingers to defend ourselves probably won't make much of a difference.)
On one hand, we're learning how to protect ourselves and and to avoid being noticed. On the other, we're learning from our peers, from celebrities and the media, and sometimes our own parents that we need to be skinny, cute, and fashionable in order to get a boyfriend. We need to be skinny, cute, and fashionable in order to be popular. We need to be skinny, cute, and fashionable in order to be relevant.
It's an interesting dichotomy.
We watch. We see the boys staring at us; watch their heads turn. We hear he wolf whistles; the cat calls. We see the lewd gestures; the mimicking of sexual acts. This is our success. Skinny, cute, fashionable. This is us being relevant. Even if it makes us feel dirty inside.
"Boys will be boys."(But we don't respond. Because we're not stupid: we don't want to be attacked.)
As adults, we realize the bullshit of what we learned growing up. But it's too late. 20-something years later, and it's all we know: if we're not skinny, if we're not cute, if we're not fashionable...what are we?
It is so ingrained into our entire beings that it defines us.
A few days ago, I realized that this is my biggest fear: becoming irrelevant. Whether it's at work, at home, or within the community, the mere thought of not being needed or valued scares the ever-loving shit out of me. It makes me feel weak, undesirable, and unintelligent. It strikes at the core of who I am and fucks with my psyche. If I am irrelevant, why am I here?
I have more to say on this subject, but an overwhelming sense of sadness is preventing me from continuing right now.