By Emma Wong, TIWP Student

They have tried to cast us,
Cram us,
Stuff us
Into a mold we cannot fit,

Into one where girls can’t raise their voices,
One where girls must be polite and sunny and quietly accepting
As society pokes and prods
At the qualities they don’t like,
One where girls are ridiculed for wanting to be innovators, scientists, engineers,
Because who would want a shy, unassuming woman
To lead our future industries?
One where everyone says “boys will be boys”
While women suffer every day
At the ugly hands of that phrase and all of its consequences?

Women speedwalk home from every trip they make,
Every step we take measured by the distance to our homes,
Every alley we pass a sign of danger,
Every item we hold clutched tightly
As we recite the safety tips we were forced to memorize.

But why is it that women must learn these things
While men continue to live unaffected?
Why is it that the problem lies within women not being “careful enough,” “polite enough,” “thoughtful enough,”
And not within men, being taught that their own behavior is acceptable?

It’s in the little things men do that add up,
Like telling us that speaking loud isn’t ladylike,
While talking over us when we say something that doesn’t fit their image
of what a woman should be,
Like scrutinizing our bodies and basing our image solely on their opinion,
Like petty comments of “women aren’t funny” that populate a female comedian’s YouTube comment section.

They forget that women aren’t born this way.
They forget that women have taken their scrutiny and internalized it,
That girls can’t look in the mirror without measuring their self-worth
by how they look,
Thinner here, slimmer there, until we have no room left for our ribs and heart.

Beauty standards:
Too many people don’t realize they’re fake,
That the pale-skinned, paper-thin, Eurocentric girl you see on the screen
is only one out of the millions of definitions of beauty.

We are not meant to be self-conscious,
Yet girls have been taught to apologize whenever they speak up
To the point where “sorry” is the first word in their dictionary.

We are constantly backtracking on what we say,
Detectives of our own words
Searching for the tracks and traces of things deemed “inappropriate” for women,
Things like confidence, twisted into ego,
Things like independence, twisted into audacity,
Because only a lonely spinster would resort to making her own living, right?

They force us to apologize for things we shouldn’t have to.
They take the first chance to pluck opportunities away from us,
From brilliant Hedy Lamarr, who never got her due credit for her inventions that led to the GPS,
To grieving Sha’Carri Richardson, who was banned from the Olympics for a frivolous reason that would never affect her performance.

Yet throughout it all, they have never been able to hold us back.

From the burning of the women of Salem,
We scattered handfuls of the fallen ashes
And breathed life into the soil as new roots took shape.

Throughout all of their pushing,
We have shoved back with greater force,
A tug-of-war for which we have no reason to apologize.
We will climb out of the mold they have crammed us in,
Because we are not made to be one and the same.
We are varied,
All the things they don’t want us to be.

So what if we end up as spinsters?
We can live our own lives without the influence of men.
We are women.
We are not sorry.
We are unapologetic.

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