I wrote this piece after being inspired by a poster at Biola seeking poetry about gender.

I Always Knew I Was a Girl but What is a Girl Anyway?: Reflections on Growing Up Female
By Alicia Miller

I was told

In words
In looks

that it meant:

Sugar and spice – but mostly just sugar.
Everything nice – but really meaning always nice.
The greater the curves the more of a woman.
Being a helper, meeting needs.
Needing of protection and to be saved; vulnerable and innocent.
Having to wear makeup to be taken seriously.
Controlling men through manipulation of words and beauty.

I’m a daddy’s girl, always have been. I feel a special connection with the man that held my hair out of my 8 year-old face in the middle of the night while I puked, the man who found me upstairs after I scribbled “no one cares about me” on a paper plate and anonymously left it on the kitchen table, the man who apologized to me when I confronted him about telling a white lie to one of my younger brothers. But when that same younger brother got a little older, why did my Dad choose to teach him how to run the lawn mower and not me? How the boat engine works, and not me? What all the gadgets on his tool bench were for, and not ME? I never said I didn’t want to learn, and my brother didn’t ask to be taught. All I wanted was to be close to my Dad, to share in his knowledge and speak his language. To my heart, this was favoring of the first-born son…rejection of the second-born daughter. Was being a girl not enough?

I remember a lot of late nights spent with my Dad. Usually over math or chemistry homework but sometimes arguing over makeup. Makeup. To make up. To create. I wanted to create myself, who I thought I was or could be. Step into the fullness of myself. Little did I know that makeup would eventually feel like a coffin that I was nailed inside of. That’s what coffins are supposed to do, right? House a decaying corpse in some resemblance of sanitized mystery? Eventually I was allowed to wear makeup, and eventually I came to a more healthy relationship with the elements that validated me to others but restricted me from the freedom of being only myself, just myself, unaided.

My freshman year of college I dyed my hair permanently for the first time, without telling my parents – relishing the freedom that 350 miles and a $12 box of hair dye can give. I always wanted my hair to be red, like my Mom’s. The next year or two I experimented with different shades, never satisfied. A guy friend told me that maybe my original hair color was intentional, created just that shade with those tones and highlights because that was reflective of who I am. I paused. I haven’t dyed my hair since.

“You’re so… nice.” I was called that a lot growing up, especially in high school. Intended as a compliment, it put me on a pedestal as well as degraded me. You see, a grand irony is that the Church taught me as a woman to look out for myself foremost by making sure everyone else is okay first. We create ourselves in the context of others. Our image is to care. We care by catering to others’ needs; being flexible and moldable in order to fit into any gap someone has. While building our image of the ever-present, ever-caring, ever-nice woman, we end up tearing down our shape, our personhood, our being.

We are taught to cater;
walking on eggshells to get to your table, approaching on your terms,
we bow over a serving plate of Grammy’s famous recipe for deviled eggs.
Watch us dish up our oppression and serve it to our privileged guests;
we both partake and suffer together in this cycle, this system.

Women have a reputation for being devilishly manipulative. My theory is that women gained this reputation because we were never taken seriously until roughly a hundred years ago. We resorted to other tactics to influence our husbands, fulfill our needs, and make our voices heard. Men, making most of the decisions in all spheres of life and thinking they knew what was best for us, saw no need for us to have a place at the negotiation table. But women are not the only oppressed ones, the only victims. Men are oppressed too, victims too. Because of their privilege they lose out on fullness, wholeness, completeness. They miss the chance to see the world through a broader, more rich lens. They pass up Shalom.

We need each other. That’s the bottom line. I find myself through others. Not in conforming to their needs, but in seeing my God and my humanity reflected back to me.

Women and men,
let’s stop pretending we have our differences figured out.
Because digging a chasm of differentiation between us only makes the side we stand on
And there is more diversity, and more beauty, than for what we allow.