What does it mean to grow up?
To go from being a girl to being a woman.
What is “womanhood” even?
During these past few years, there has been so much talk about girl power, feminism and what it means to be a woman of our time. Conversations that are incredibly important, of course. But at the same time, I can’t help but wonder how I’m supposed to define myself as something other than my gender when there is a constant conversation going on reminding me that I am female.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love being a woman and consider females to be a force of nature. But sometimes I feel like we are losing so much time focusing the conversation on gender instead of the fact that we’re all just human. On the other hand, growing up as a girl comes with complexities and adversaries that boys simply don’t go through – and these are issues that need to be discussed. But even though I wish the conversation wouldn’t center so much around our gender identity, in this essay I will discuss the experience of growing up as a young girl in a society that is steeped in female objectification.
When you transition from being a child to being a woman you will inevitably encounter a really confusing contradiction. When you’re in your early teens, nobody really takes you seriously. But then you get your period and suddenly you are confronted with something that feels so adult. In a way, you’re thrown into adulthood while you are still a child yourself.
Suddenly, you’re being catcalled on your way home from school. Suddenly, grown men start looking at you in a way that makes you really uncomfortable. Suddenly, you will start to hide your tampons when you go to the bathroom because we’ve been taught that it’s shameful. And suddenly, you’re met with a different kind of attention that you just don’t know how to deal with.
You realize that being a woman comes with an incredible amount of power. Leading men on can be fun to a certain point, but when things get too real you’re left feeling uncomfortable and out of place. For situations like these, I just want to say: leave. You have the power to leave. You are allowed to lead people on, flirt, tease and wear whatever you want and you are allowed to leave whenever you feel like it. You don’t owe anybody anything.
You might feel conflicted because your parents and teachers treat you like a child while men twice your age treat you like desirable goods. You will start to understand that being a woman in our society comes with being treated like a sexual object.
It might feel like you have a rope tied around your waist that’s being pulled at from both ends, like a tug of war. You cuddle with your dad, making you feel like a child. But you’re allowed into clubs because the bouncer thinks you’re fuckable.
What I think every girl should learn, that nobody ever teaches us, is that there is a difference between being viewed as a sexual object, and having a sexuality.
We are taught to be ashamed of all natural aspects of sex and biology: periods, masturbation, pubic hair. And instead, we are being bombarded with billboards, music videos, movies, commercials, social media posts and porn, where the woman’s sole purpose is to be a sexy thing. A decoration that others can feast their eyes on.
When you become a teenager and you evolve as a sexual being, more often than not, it begins with you being sexualized. But you have every right to take your sexuality back and define it for yourself.
It is difficult separating being sexualized from being sexual. If you feel uncomfortable for being recognised as the sexual being you’ve been longing for people to recognise you as, does that make you a hypocrite?
For us to take our sexuality back into our own hands requires an incredible amount of awareness and energy. It’s so easy to forget that we all have a sexual energy, we carry it with us wherever we go, and we use it to create life.
Society might prepare children for puberty and adulthood. They might teach us about the birds and the bees in the most biologically informative sense. But the fact is, reproduction is only a small fraction of sex as a whole. In today’s society, we are being served sex from all angles, at every time of the day. We might learn how to protect ourselves from unwanted pregnancies and STDs, but who will teach us how to handle sexual objectification?
Because we can’t expect young girls to maneuver their way through a world steeped in female objectification on their own and come out the other end feeling at peace with their own desires, bodies and physical needs.
So dear girls, women, those who identify as female…
This essay is something I would have liked to read at 13. I mean I am still very confused but maybe if we all start talking about these things more, maybe one day, I won’t be. So I’m reaching out a hand to other women and girls, to say: you are deserving of pleasure. You are allowed to explore and express your own sexuality, be it in conjunction with or in opposition to the desires of men.
In this tug of war between being a child and a woman, an object and a being, please just never forget, that if your body is the battlefield, you make the rules.