By NICOL SHOUP HERRERA
November 29, 2017
“The line between how society views gender and how we define our own gender is often blurred. It can be difficult to reconcile how we view ourselves versus how society views us.”
Over sexualization, specifically, sexism and misogyny are so embedded both in our society and internalized into our own thoughts, the concept of being a woman is laced with pressure to act and dress a certain way.
Clothing and jewelry, for example, are labeled as either male or female, when really the way our gender presentation relates to our gender identity is unique to each of us.
People who identify as women, and who society labels as women, far too frequently deal with the over sexualization of their bodies, sexual harassment, and rape.
People’s femininity is called into question if they do not dress how a woman ‘should’ dress, and lend their bodies in a way that fuels the patriarchal belief that men have a certain claim to women’s bodies.
In are you a woman? I explore what my identity as a woman means to me. Reconciling the oppression I have both endured and observed, as well as the people in my life who have inspired me to find empowerment in my gender identity.
One. are you a woman?
today my skirt skims my knees
my long earrings bite into my neck when I lay down,
Tomorrow my brother’s large collared shirt will drape my skin
and white sneakers will bite my ankles
But are you a woman?
at the bar, large hands move me over
gripping my waist, lingering at the small of my back
as bodies move past
my eyes meet eyes that meet my chest
an anthill beneath my skin, I put on my jacket
my friend can’t remember the time she was raped
she doesn’t use the word, but shows me texts
she doesn’t remember sending; I’ve memorized them:
the word, the texts; they lodge in the back of my throat,
when I say this my mouth locks in a nervous smile
to keep me from throwing up
when I was young, my grandfather put his tongue in my mouth,
said I reminded him of the grandmother
my mother named her only daughter after
the color of his deep black eyes that consumed my vision
is tattooed to the inside of my eyelids
my skin and what it wears don’t make me a woman
the people who touch me don’t make me a woman
you treat what you call women like dolls, dogs, dirt
and you ask me to take the same name?
my grandmother raised eight kids without the help
of a misogynist husband,
sent all eight kids to university in hand-me-down sweaters,
and had three kids in the family named after her
if the Herrera siblings had a religion, she would be their god
despite their ghosts and their untouched anger
they collectively remember her with reverence
at home I set four places on the table,
my mother asks my father, would you like to stay for dinner?
he is the reason for the cracks in the walls
he is the one who set fire to our hearth
until it burnt to ash, still she asks him
would you like to stay for dinner?
my mother found love at fifty after love stabbed her in the back
my mother hurts me like no one else,
her words made me count calories, ribs, pounds
she is the iceberg to the sinking ship of my self-esteem
but she has learned which words cut and bruise
my fragile, sick skin
she accepts not everyone is encased in hard-earned steel
she is still learning how to be my mother
I am still learning how to be her daughter
I am in love with my friends
they will be the reason for the eventual laugh lines
that will form around my eyes.
when I show them the scars in my brain
they offer to open up their own skulls in solidarity
we teach each other to think, to liberate,
to love who we want
to fight when our rights are taken
to grow up and to be young
to be a woman
to not be a woman at all
call me my grandmother’s name
call me my mother’s daughter
call me my friends’ sister
call me a woman