I Am Not Silent
Madison Combs, Division 3, College freshman #ws17e-s1d3

Humanity has constructed this notion of what is and what isn't considered “normal”. Of course, the guidelines for the status quo deviate from each other given the region, but nonetheless, we’re still faced with a completely contrived sense of the word normal. One that is not unlike parts of a clock. Yes, the clock does work due to the uniform nature of the cogs, all predesignated sizes and colors, but as a human race, we do not have to buy into the idea that “sameness is the most successful”. The true way to power is through the celebration of diversity and solidarity.

As a young child, I was taught that all little girls were supposed to be passive and complacent. This is not a new concept by any means, women for centuries have been taught that they were the natural submissive counterpart to the dominant man. These long-held beliefs are not completely eradicated in modern society in the very least, despite how much we would like to ignore or dismiss them. These ideals would be pushed onto a young, impressionable me from all sorts of trusted adult figures, sometimes overtly when I would be taunted and pushed in the mud by a boy my age. “That's how you know he likes you.” or “Boys will be boys.” was the most common response I would receive after complaining. This left me subscribing to the ideal from a young age I was considered “lucky” to have any attention from a boy, positive or otherwise.

It didn't take me long to figure out that this wasn't how it was supposed to be; “like” should not be expressed in the violent ways perpetuated by the adults around us. If the adults excuse it; the young boy will think it is okay to continue the behavior and carry it on for the rest of his life. In that way, this outlook is both toxic to the young girls and the young boys of the world. It doesn't matter if we’re aware of it or not, even before birth, that moment that your gender is known, you're being prepped to fit the mold society has already crafted for you.

I was also taught to suppress my “female hysteria”, boys constantly blaming my well-placed anger as a byproduct of female hormones, dismissing my concerns or talking over me. These men probably aren't even aware of what they're doing themselves; just following the guidelines for a “masculine” personality perpetuated by society’s idea of the status quo.

It took my history teacher telling me that, “My language ruined my pretty face.” to finally stand up and stop being submissive not only in the eyes of men, but in the eyes of society. I will not get spoken over, I will not have my concerns dismissed just because of my gender and the things that come with it. I will demand equal pay for equal work. I will always advocate for equal opportunities across the board. However, do not mistake me in my generalizations concerning both men and women, I do not match the “man hating feminist” stereotype. In fact, the idea of masculinity is toxic in its own ways, forcing men to “prove” themselves to be accepted. I would also encourage men to break free from this mold, and find a means of non-traditional masculine expression.
When I started speaking out, things got interesting. Usually branded some choice name for not allowing any boy to interrupt me or talk over me, or to take credit for my work and ideas, questioning everything. It was empowering in a way; I would not be intimidated as I used to be. The intimidation is in so many little ways, ones that people barely notice until it's changed.

Also, do not mistake me in my argument—traditional masculine or feminine things aren't inherently bad. Take, for example, a woman who chooses to be a housewife, and compare her to a career woman with no family. Neither woman is wrong in their choices, it should just be an easier thing for women to make these choices and be free from the criticism that comes with it. The housewife should be free to raise her children and maintain her household without the pressure to have a career, and the career woman should be empowered and paid equally for her work. However, both women are going to be criticized for their choices. Masculine stereotypes are just as dangerous; a male ballet dancer and a male basketball player will be treated differently, no matter how you slice it.

My only wish if I ever had the opportunity to inspire millions would be to embolden an entire new generation on the notion that true diversity is power, that gender stereotypes are toxic, and that we should come together as a planet and celebrate our differences. I aspire to transfer to Morehead State University and continue my studies in Arts and Education to achieve this goal. Only now, I will continue to carry these concepts and subscribe to a different ideal than the perceived norm.
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