I have been taught accommodation.
When my mom tells me to stop apologizing for everything, I apologize for that too.
I am constantly conscious of the space I occupy, and I am scared to assume that I deserve it.
I am always trying to create more space for others, even if it means giving up space for myself.
I have been taught to keep everything in, to present only a perfect surface. I have been taught to filter, to expect and accept help from men, even if I do not need it. I have been taught compliance.
For better or for worse, whether I remember learning it or not, I have been taught how to be a woman.
To be a woman is to be a contradiction. We must not be afraid to say no and at the same time not be afraid to say yes, look effortlessly beautiful yet keep a billion-dollar beauty industry afloat, not worry too much about what we are eating but always be in the process of dieting.
We must climb up the social ladder in heels and do the same work for less compensation. We must love ourselves but not be vain, and never so much that we become comfortable with existing outside the socially acceptable limits of attractiveness. We must be unafraid to use our voices yet only speak in turn. Always accommodating, never offending. Perfect. Ladylike.
To be a woman is a circular obsession that none of us asked for, but that we all have to live with. We are given a set of rules telling us how to behave, and we learn over time to adhere to them. We learn to fit ourselves inside the mold with both our appearances and our actions. We are socialized to believe that by acting or looking a certain way, we can glide through life with ease and make all our dreams come true.
We become what they want us to be because it is easier, but in the process we forget that identity is not one size fits all. We are women, individually and imperfectly. We can’t – and we shouldn’t – all fit into the same mold. Why do we try to force ourselves to fit? Why do we comply, accommodate, or filter? Why do we follow rules that were written for us? What would happen if we created our own definitions?
I don’t want to follow the rules any more. I know the rules. The rules are their rules. What about my rules? Why am I not given the opportunity to decide who I want to be? Why am I not allowed to define myself?
I have been taught to keep everything in, to present only a perfect surface.
But I would much rather emit, to not worry about how others will react to my emotions.
I have been taught to filter.
But I would much rather be myself truthfully so that others may feel comfortable being themselves too.
I have been taught to expect and accept help from men, even if I do not need it.
But I would much rather be my own knight in shining armor than a damsel in distress.
I have been taught compliance.
But I would much rather be the best version of myself, not a failure on someone else’s scale.
I have been taught how to be a woman.
But I would much rather be myself.
I am a woman on my own terms and only on my own terms. I am a woman by my own definition and only by my own definition. At the end of the day, my opinion is the only one that truly matters.
I am a rule breaker. I am a dream maker. I am a risk taker. I am a woman.
Leana Reich is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying Cultural and Linguistic Anthropology. She loves to explore cities, particularly by way of coffee shops and museums, and doesn’t properly understand how lucky she is to have lived at the beach her entire life. She does understand how lucky she is to have such an amazing mom as a role model and appreciates her every day.