“It took me quite a long time to develop my voice and now that I have it, I’m not going to be silent.” – Madeleine Albright
A lot of people regard feminism as a free the-tits-hate-all-men movement. I can proudly call myself a feminist and I am not naked nor do I believe hate is the answer. We have enough hate in this world, as it is. I have found feminism to be a topic visited mentally and in conversation very often the last few months. In the beginning, I was spiritually exhausted by it. It was like a constant buzz of a bee in the back of my mind. I was relentlessly walking around with an inflated chest, meeting the eyes of all men and daring them to try something. I was combative, I felt like I had to prove something. It was draining and it didn’t make me feel better at all.
In the last two years of my life, I have welcomed a niece and two nephews into the world. Maybe you can relate. Once there are babies in the mix you suddenly want to shield them from the hard lessons. You want to teach them from a young age so that they don’t have to struggle, to learn the lesson on their own. Then I left. I became a solo-woman traveler and those experiences began to craft a voice within me. So I started to attempt to articulate what I thought was important about being a woman and in general, a good human.
Please note that I write from the perspective of a woman because that’s my truth, but prejudice, emotional abuse and sexual assault happens to every one every day regardless of their sexual identity. This is the first installment of this article and these are my own personal beliefs. I thought long and hard about if I wanted to share them, but I don’t see why I should silence myself. Everyone has a different experience, a different story. This is just mine. The second installment will be geared more toward my ideologies of a good existence in general.
- It is not wrong to demand respect for yourself and it is not ethnocentric to demand respect for yourself in a different culture.
I went to the Czech Republic in February of 2018. On my first day, I was introduced to the culture that was so unlike my own. The issue is that I suffered from ethnocentrism even though I thought I was above it. I told myself I couldn’t be upset just because this culture was different than my own. I stand by that. However, ethnocentrism means nothing when it comes to feminism and my body. Emphasis on the MY. It is wrong to tell people how to live their lives in other cultures, but it is not wrong to stick to your own beliefs when you’re traveling.
From a very young age I was taught that my body is an object. This “lesson” continued on my entire life. My first love used emotional manipulation to force me into sexual acts, telling me I didn’t love him if I didn’t do something. Then we moved onto the cat calls on the street, the groping of my body in public by a stranger, the derogatory terms and the hidden insinuation that I can’t do something because I’m a woman. There is some sense of “normal” emotional abuse in relationships and all kinds of people fall victim to it, regardless of how they identify sexually.
I see it in every abusive relationship that I was in and that I witness every day. The veil that falls over our eyes and somehow diminishes all logic and tells us that it’s okay for someone to threaten our sexual allure if we dress a certain way or eat a certain diet, it’s okay for someone to yell at us and call us worthless, it’s okay for us to do all of the work without so much as a thank you because it’s our “duty,” it’s okay to be manipulated into sex because that’s how you show you love someone. I. call. bullshit.
Unveiling the fog was like opening my eyes and being reborn. I’m not here to rant or spread hate. I’m here because I’ve felt personally violated more than ever in these new cities. In Prague, I had friends tell me that a few of their male students refused to be taught by women. I had female friends say that their male students stated to them that women shouldn’t have the same rights as men. I had a man follow me to the bathroom and push me back into the bathroom as I opened the door to return to my table. I had a man approach me as I was talking to the girl he was trying to bring home and tell me that women don’t whisper “here,” in which the German girl fired back, “well we’re not women from here, so f*** off.” Yes girl! The worst part is that it seemed so normal that I feared being on the subway at night, something happening and no one on the train helping me.
Then I came to Berlin and it’s like I am a porterhouse steak every time I get on the subway. I have had men purposefully stand with their penis in my face on the bus and rub against me. I have had a man grab my ass as he walked by me on the street, to which I may have acted rashly and screamed an obscenity at his back. Probably not the best way to handle the situation. I’ve watched in disgust as a girl ate an ice cream on the u-bahn, a seemingly innocent act, and was stared at the entire time by men three times her age.
The point of this is that I am going to boil over if I don’t express this. My body is mine. I shouldn’t have to say it. And if you’re reading this and these experiences I am sharing from just two months of my life seem bad, or seem crazy, or hard to believe, then realize that I am one woman in a city of 3.5 million people. You can turn your head, you can say it’s dramatic, you can say that these things don’t actually happen to women, but you’re wrong. I know that not all men are guilty of these acts, but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Can we all just be mindful for one second? Can we be aware of how our words may be taken? Can we try to respect each other as humans? Can we just love each other? It isn’t so hard, what I’m asking for.
I had to learn that my body is mine. It is not an object. It is not public domain. It is not to be pillaged and touched by anyone who wants to. I understand that I may be in cities with different cultures and I will do my best to respect said customs. However, there are certain things that I will not accept. Berlin is such an international city, there needs to be all-around respect for different people and that means that I must be respected as well. I am not vulnerable. I will not allow you to disregard me as a human anymore. The fact that this is a lesson I had to learn is sad. Moreover, while this article is focused on women, this is something that everyone can experience. So, lesson 1: your body is yours, demand respect.
- We were all created beautifully, crafted to perfection, we are the artworks of this universe. Stop listening to those who tell us we are anything less.
One of the biggest challenges of my life was and always will be to love myself, because media has chosen a personally unobtainable version of beauty and told me that if I don’t look like it, I’m not beautiful. I’ve had to intentionally alter the way I think about myself, from “I can’t pull this off, I look horrible, I’m fat, I’m ugly,” to “my body is a temple,” “I am as God wanted me to be,” “I don’t need to change for anyone, as long as I am happy with my appearance.”
“And I said to my body. Softly. “i want to be your friend.’ It took a long breath. And replied, “I have been waiting my whole life for this.” – Rupi Kaur
Again, while I am writing from the perspective of a woman (hi, yes, I’m a woman,) this is also relevant to all human beings. It isn’t like male models don’t exist. So, to my baby niece and nephews, to everyone I come across, and to myself, I will continuously shower us all with admiration and love. You are beautiful just the way you are. Eliminate this horrible self-doubt, nurture the souls of those around you, sing praise to others and to yourself.
- You are a visitor in the temple that is my body, respect it. It does not exist solely for your entertainment.
I used to put so much emphasis on sex in relationships.
I tried to remain mysterious to my partner. I tried to remain sexy. I wanted to be desired so badly. When I discovered self-love and discovered things about my past, I suddenly had no desire to jump into bed. There was no longer an emphasis on sex. It completely changed it’s meaning to me. Rather than do it in a desperate attempt to keep my partner satisfied with me and to prove to myself that I was desired, I was fulfilled enough on my own to know that if a partner is not happy, they can leave. I am happy on my own without having to be desired by others. Suddenly, I realize that this body is a temple and to visit it is a great gift. If you regard it as anything less, you are not worthy.
From a young age, I was taught that my body is only for sex and that I have to do things, hide things, and look a certain way to make it more pleasing to it’s visitors. I never questioned why women have to shave. I never questioned why we don’t talk about our periods. I never questioned why some people thought the nature of our body was “gross.” Why do periods make some women feel so embarrassed and ashamed and ugly to their partner? Why do some people have the right to say they “hate it” when we bleed, as if the nature of our bodies that they so leisurely use at their own free will is too real to regard with respect? Let me say this straight: my body does not exist for anyone but for me. My body is a body. We all exist because of our ability to “bleed” and to carry children. My uterus and all the other “shameful” and “gross” things about it are one of nature’s most glorious creations. If my ownership of my own body, that it exists outside the realm of recreational use, cannot be respected… then you are not welcome.
“Apparently it is ungraceful of me to mention my period in public cause the actual biology of my body is too real. it is okay to sell what’s between a woman’s legs more than it is okay to mention it’s inner workings. the recreational use of this body is seen as beautiful while the nature is seen as ugly.” – Rupi Kaur
4. All women are your sisters, even if they think differently.
Some women don’t think the same way as me, and that’s fine. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but what I will say is that we are only entitled to our opinions because of the brave women who fought so bravely to allow us to have opinions.
“I stand on the sacrifices of a million women before me thinking what can I do to make this mountain taller so the women after me can see farther.” – Rupi Kaur
I learned that women are not my competition. I no longer look at a woman’s body and wish it was my own. I no longer hope for the failure of another woman so that I may shine brighter. Every success is our success. We are in this together, for only women understand what it means to be a woman.
“We all move forward when we recognize how resilient and striking the women around us are.” – Rupi Kaur
We should be in a constant state of encouragement, not just to woman but to all people. Existing is hard enough without people rooting for your failure. Your dreams are valid. Your success is valid. Your feelings are valid. If you seem unsure about sharing something, I will encourage you. If you want to do something that’s hard, I will encourage you. If you feel unsure in your own skin, I will encourage you. Lift each other up. When you’ve taken the time to notice someone, to encourage them on a mission, you will find you have some type of root in their success. When they are happy, or they do well, you share in that happiness with them.
“My heart aches for sisters more than anything. It aches for women helping women. Like flowers ache for spring.” – Rupi Kaur
When I came to Berlin, I joined an incredible group known as Girl Gone International (GGI.) The community is full of amazing women of all ages who help each other through stressful times, through emotional times, who organize meet-ups and help you find the right doctor. All of the like-minded women that I have met are from GGI. I have had the chance to connect with sisters from all over the world: Columbia, Argentina, the United Kingdom, North America, and more. Nothing is more special than a community of women helping other women.
5. Sexuality is natural, and everyone has a right to it.
My own lack of self-assurance was what led to me choosing unhealthy partnerships. I was always with someone who was constantly focused on other women rather than me. We are told that men are sexual predators, that it’s normal for them to have sex a lot, that it’s normal for them to please themselves. Men never have to hide their sexual prowess, they are never called “sluts” when they take what they want. Sexuality is a normal part of life. I had to learn that even though I am a woman, it doesn’t mean I can’t be open about my sexuality. I’m tired of hearing of girls who are shamed for having slept with more people than their partner. I am tired of hearing of girls who hide that they please themselves. This is your body. This is your need. This is your desire. It is no one else’s. Place some more emphasis on that shit. Own it.
You are a responsible adult. If you make the intentional decision to sleep with someone and you don’t regret it, then you have nothing to explain to anyone. If you want to please yourself, you have nothing to explain. Sexual desire is for everyone. We are all human. We all have wants and needs. Just because I am a woman doesn’t mean that I don’t have the right to satisfaction.
So, these are my 5 commandments of being a woman. These are lessons that I had to learn the hard way. These are lessons that we shouldn’t have to be learning still. They will surely morph and change as I grow. Just because these are my personal beliefs does not make them universal. This perspective is my own, crafted from 23 years of life. Again, I am not so narrow-minded to think that all men are guilty of acts against women. These are solely my experiences with some men (not all men) and this is me owning up to my sexual identification with pride. I’m a woman. I’m part of a sisterhood. This is part of my story.
There is also more to be said, but for the sake of not writing a novel I will leave it at this for now. As I travel, I am exposed to different cultures and different kinds of women. I was inspired to write what my encounters have brought out in me. I hope you will find value in my words, in the lessons I have learned, and how traveling solo as a woman has been as a journey for me.