“You have to sleep here, little girls are the first to get kidnapped and sold into prostitution,” my mother used to tell me as she squeezed me in between the wall and her on trains.
My mind gurgles on the inside with directives from all of you; none of whom have known the glory of this body. You can’t wear that–it’s too short. Cover up your arms! Don’t shave your legs. Shave your legs. Don’t ever touch a boy on your period. Hide your pads and tampons. Sit with your legs closed or crossed. Wear a bra. Wear a push-up; make them big. Your breasts are too small. Your legs are fat. You’re too short, no one will marry you. Cover up your pimple scars. Color your grays or you won’t get the job you want. Wear a bikini; don’t ever wear a bathing suit. Be skinny. Be skinny. Be skinny. Make sure your abs are flat always. The flatter the better, even weeks, days after birth. You have to have a baby. Don’t wear booty shorts; go home your shorts are too short. Don’t talk about anything connected to your body. If you miscarry, do it in private. No one can handle the reality of the type of miracles your body is capable of so you must hide. Hide. HIDE. Look straight as you walk past construction workers who will stare you down making you feel naked in the street, ignore them. Speak softly. Breathe softly. Be soft. Walk away from the man who pinches your ass in a crowd cause it’s probably your fault anyway for wearing those shorts. Marry on time, produce kids, give up dreams to raise children, be selfless, stay in your place in this world. Take care of the men in your life, put them first, shit plate their food first and ensure they eat before you place a morsel in your mouth. Don’t curse. Never curse. It’s not ladylike. Play hard to get, or the boy won’t enjoy the chase. If dancing in a club, be ready for any random man to push against you and think he’s dancing with you with your permission. If you have rolls–your love handles–cover-up! Don’t ever let others see your body in a two piece if it’s not thin, flat, skinny.
Then… inside my perfectly square classroom with the door closed, windows open, I open my mouth and it spills out. See it! You can be anything you want to be when you grow up. “Calling someone a girl is not an insult.” Girls and boys. It’s Women’s History Month! Nail polish doesn’t define your gender. The books you read don’t define your gender either. Be yourself. You are lucky to have curves. Your curls are the envy of this teacher. No straight hair is not prettier; yours is brilliant! You are lucky to have those powerful muscles as an athlete! No, you can speak first, before the boys. Be kind. Let’s celebrate our differences. You are important. Your voice is important. I hear you and I want the whole world to hear you!
Outside on the streets, I am silent. I breathe in the masses of people around me and turn to check on my partner who is smiling, filming our first attempt at this. We are newbs, virgins, thick hymen still tight and intact. My heart balloons the further we go, chanting, giggling like little girls. The clouds may have descended, but on the asphalt the people couldn’t be clearer. A mother from behind explains to her five year old daughter about the quote I hold. “That’s Malala, read the words,” she says and tells her the story of Malala. It’s hard not to want to stop and take it in. I never knew I’d be here, not in this country, not in this century, not as a grown up, but I am. I am here. And damn it feels good.