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By Samantha Pevear
I lie on my bed with my legs against the wall, feet arched towards the ceiling. I begin banging my heels into the wall, watching as small indentations begin to deepen the potholes that are remnants left behind from previous tantrums. I feel if I can just kick hard enough, I will be able to relieve myself of the constant anger that fills my core and constantly churns my stomach. I bang rhythmically against the wall until my mom comes in to yell at me to get my dirty feet off of her clean white walls.
I always complied with her requests to stop. I found alternative ways to release my anger, in ways that no one could police. With my seven-year old fists clenched, I swung with everything I had into the mattress of my floral printed twin sized bed. When finished with my ritualized brutality towards the inanimate objects around me, I would sit on the floor, finding a moment of solace as I successfully relinquished the anger that was building inside of me. I could always feel the anger wading its way back, but I allowed myself to sit in utter tranquility, at least for that moment.
As I got older, these rituals became far and few between. I believed it was because I had finally come out of the “phase” that everyone always said I was going through. I went along with it. I wanted to believe just as much as everyone around me that the anger within me had finally stopped flooding and there would be no more need to release the constant well inside me.
I became good at understanding others and the expectations they had for me, and for my behavior. I was still an awkward middle-school girl, but I was beginning to get the hang of acting like one of the girls, as opposed to mocking the two older brothers I had always vied to gain acceptance from. I had started playing basketball as a way to become part of their world and found ways to sneak into their outgrown bathing suit bottoms to play in the pool, until my dad would catch me and force me to head back into the house to put on the correct bathing suit. I was always frustrated with his refusal to let me wear what I believed would make me one of the guys and I could never seem to understand why he always seemed to blush at the site of my half naked body, especially when I was unable to see the difference between my brother’s flat chests and mine.
I stopped modeling myself after my brothers when I got to middle school and had girlfriends that I began to emulate. I was always looking to others to create my own identity. In fifth grade, my role model came in the form of my best friend, who was the first to have grown breasts and get her period in our grade. I remember thinking that once I developed a similar chest, I would finally become the woman I had been striving to be. I waited and waited, believing I was just a caterpillar about to blossom into a beautiful butterfly. I waited years, and once I finally blossomed something remotely like breasts, I was devastated that no magical transformation occurred. The moment I thought would allow everything to fall into place was nothing but a tragic letdown, and all I could manage to do was hide the chest that acted as a trophy to my failed femininity, sadly on display for everyone to see.
I never allowed myself to express my insecurities about my body, and this suppression seeped into other areas, such as my refusal to show any emotion in other avenues of my life. I kept this confusion to myself, believing that anyone I told would then be loaded with ammunition that could kill me at the drop of a hat. I watched the girls around me in frustration, as it seemed so easy for them to play the role I myself had been dying to play: the dainty, feminine, caring woman everyone seemed to expect me to be. I could never seem to emulate this behavior well enough to make myself believe it, making it more difficult to prove to those around me that I was as well.
I am sure I was not alone in the battle to gain some sort of understanding of who I was supposed to be during this period of time. The structures under which we live are not conducive to creating these connections, especially when everyone around you within a school setting is trying to assimilate before anyone has a chance to call them out on their failed performance of gender. During a time when all I was craving was someone to tell me they understood. To tell me that I was not alone. To tell me anything that could create a bond over this shared insecurity and confusion, but no connections were able to form.
I kept myself silent in the hopes of someone else speaking up; this forced me to swallow the screams that were dying to billow out of me. Feminism was not a concept I had ever been exposed to. Feminism was not there for me during this part of my life. The words of Audre Lorde were not yet ringing in my ear as a guide to recognizing that, “My silences had not protected me, and your silences will not protect you.” I did not scream and I did not lie against my bed, feet banging, in order to allow myself any sort of release. I sat and waited for something that was never going to come if I was unwilling to make the first move to create this connection built on communal frustrations.
I concentrated more on what people wanted me to be than allowing myself to decide what I wanted to become. I found assurance from my parents, as I handed them my report cards and watched their faces gleam with pride as I made the honor roll yet again. I praised myself and relished from my friends adoring stares, as I managed to put together an outfit that they would later beg me to borrow. I found satisfaction in attaining a boyfriend, as that meant that a guy had bought my perfected performance of femininity that I had not found in my sad development of breasts. I was finally the good girl everyone wanted me to be and what I had always wanted to become.
I found approval from all areas of my life except for the one that was most important: my own. I avoided my own thoughts and attempted to convince myself that I was all of the things that everyone around me seemed to believe I already was. I forced myself to believe I had the confidence and easy sense of humor everyone assumed was so much a part of me. I had created a way to mask what I knew was underneath—confusion and the fear of not being accepted or understood.
I took this mask with me to college my freshman year in an attempt to maintain the facade I had successfully created during my high school years. It allowed me the ability to ignore everything I had been trying to avoid and I was not willing to let go of it just yet. Stepping into my first class freshman year, Introduction to Gender and Women’s Studies, I was prepared with my notebook and favorite pen, ready to take in all of the information the professor was willing to divulge. I looked to her for the answers that would be on our final exam, but I quickly realized the structure of this class was unlike any other I had ever experienced.
She expected us to interpret readings and willingly share personal experiences to a room full of people we barely knew. Her methods mirrored the ideology of bell hooks and Paulo Freire as she took the classroom beyond the realm of the “banking method” where she would feed us the answers and we would regurgitate verbatim her ideas upon the test. She expected us to treat the classroom as an interactive place wherein we would discuss ideas critically and grapple with them together, openly acknowledging that different points of views exist and are encouraged. This class brought back the knots in my stomach and uneasiness I had always felt, but was never forced to address. As my name was called to share my input, my shaking voice gave rise to the uneasiness that I was usually able to conceal by refusing to raise my hand. I was more comfortable analyzing others’ texts simplistically than analyzing them through my own personal experiences. This course challenged me and forced me to address questions about myself in relation to a broader context, which I never would have done without that course.
Gender and Women’s Studies has been an oasis in the desert of my misunderstandings, where I am able to question everything I never understood and was never encouraged to understand. I am able to question my own privilege in a world that disenfranchises so many groups of people. I am able to see how the sex you are born with automatically transfers a whole set of characteristics that you are expected to naturally append to your very being. I am learning through a process of unlearning. I have finally unlearned that your breast size is by no means a measure of your womanhood. I have unlearned that I am not the only one struggling to find my own voice. I am now able to understand that finding yourself is not a process you should have to go alone, because we as human beings do not live within a vacuum void of other people.
I have finally found people within this field that were craving to find a community they can identify with, just as much as I was. I have found others that need the assurance that they are not alone, and I have been there for them. I have found others that have insecurities and are confused, and I have been there for them. We have been there for each other. I have found people to lie beside, head towards the sky feet banging against the wall, no longer in the solace of my own room but in the most public of spaces from classrooms, to trains, to the entirety of the society we live in. Our hands clasped together accompanied with our kicking creates not just dents in the walls that we have been pushing against our whole lives, but holes that have the capacity to knock down the walls of anguish pent up inside all of us.
Everyone has some sort of anger within them, and some are just better at holding back. I once prided myself on the ability to contain my anger and maintain a level head. I never realized that at some points, I was not helping anyone in containing my frustration. This control only hurt me, and those around me, who followed this same code of silence. I do not want to hold back. I want to allow myself the solace I once had as I let everything go. I want to open myself up to others and not fear the ammunition I am placing in their hands. I want to build connections with others in a communal understanding that they will not use my words against me, and I want them to come to this awakening with me, as they place their words in my hands as ammunition.
In laying down our weapons in unison, we are freeing our hands to embrace one another, freeing ourselves from the burdensome weight of our ammunition and freeing each other in the process. It is only once we divulge our true feelings that we will build a community fostered by honesty, and that is the most powerful and effective change of all.
Samantha Pevear is a Junior at Connecticut College where she double majors in Gender and Women’s Studies and Sociology. She is committed to setting goals for myself. Her short-term is to graduate college with honors. Her long-term goal is to use her majors to obtain a career where she can help people and create transformative change…all while not living in her parents’ basement and being able to support herself financially.