We teach our daughters shame from the moment they are old enough to walk. Cross your legs, that’s not ladylike, girls don’t act that way, stop embarrassing me. We teach them the burden of being a woman, the guilt you carry when your hips curve too much, when your skin is too soft, when your eyes hold too much of a light and your voice is louder than the softest timber. We teach them that the way they dress, the way they walk, the way they hold themselves are the things that could offend the kind of men who will violate them. We teach them to subdue themselves until they fit into a box.
We teach them that girls who do not fit in that box are the kind of girls that men like to hurt. We teach them to afraid of all men, because some men do not know how to control themselves around women or girls.
Girls who speak too loudly, who drink too much, who dress a certain way, who express their opinions too strongly, those are the kind of girls that the world likes to teach a lesson. And what’s worse is, we teach them that those are the kind of girls that deserve it. We use words like slut, and whore and tramp to tarnish their womanhood, to make them aware of what could happen to them if they are too wild, too free, too spirited. We teach them attention seeking is worse than being abused or raped. And how if you are a victim, the first thing you will be accused of is making it up, or worse, trying to blame an innocent man because you have ‘issues’.
We teach them that if they get raped they will bring shame, not just to themselves, but to their families because surely, she must have caused it somehow, because men don’t go around raping women for no reason after all. We teach them how to treat their body like a crime scene before a crime has even been committed.
We teach our daughters that no woman is truly a victim. Whether it comes to domestic abuse or sexual abuse, a woman must prove it is happening to her first. And even if she walks out with a face covered with bruises, she must have done something to provoke him first. Somehow, anyhow, we find a way to blame a woman for her own abuse, and we teach out daughters to do the same too.
And so little girls grow up, deeply conscious of how they act, how they behave, how some men are ticking time bombs and that is just how the world is, that is just it’s state.
We should be telling our daughters that they are allowed to be little girls for as long as they need to be. We should be teaching them to sit the way they want, to dress how they feel comfortable and happy. We should be telling them about all the wonderful things this world has to offer. Instead all we give them are warnings about their womanhood and how the world will only take advantage of their beauty.
I’d rather teach my daughter about how to embrace her wild than teach her how to be ashamed of her body, or how to feel guilty for being a woman. I’d rather teach her about all the wonderful things it means just to be human.
But most of all, I hope our daughters grow up in a world where they are allowed to be little girls for as long as they need to be.
For more writing like this, read Nikita Gill’s new book of poetry Your Soul Is A River here.