November 21, 2016 ~ Demetra Szatkowski
I am 12. My family is on vacation in South Carolina.
“I don’t think a woman should be president,” I say contentedly, walking alongside my parents.
They both disagree.
“No, women are too emotional,” I say. “And I can say that, because I am one.”
I am 14.
I have decided that I’m not a feminist. “Feminism is stupid,” I say to anyone who brings it up.
It’s not even a real thing. I get things out of this system too. I know how to work the system. If I can manipulate men to get what I want, then that means I win. Men are not smarter than me. I have already discovered that I can flirt to get out of things, and that if I wear a low-cut shirt and bend over, it is distracting. I like having these advantages.
I am 16. I have just started driving, and I have a NOBAMA sticker on my car.
I know nothing about politics, but I was raised with Republican grandparents and parents who followed suit. I know that my grandfather is smart and so he must be right. I know that Republicans are for the people who work, and Democrats make the way for lazy people who want the government to hand things to them.
I argue with the people in my class who make fun of me. “Obama shouldn’t get to be president just because he’s black,” I say. Black people aren’t a big deal to me. I don’t even see color.
I am 18.
I like being cat-called. I smile and wave back at the men who do it. I laugh at other women who say they don’t feel safe. I feel safe, because I know how to handle myself. Anyway, it’s just boys being boys. That’s just how men are. It just means I’m attractive. Other women should face reality and deal with life.
I am 19. I am teaching yoga. I think politics are stupid. I don’t see why everybody can’t see that we’re all one. I think that if we could all just live in the woods everything would be fine. Politics have nothing to do with who I am as a person.
I read an article about yoga and cultural appropriation. I decide it isn’t real, because I’m doing a good job and helping people by teaching.
I am 19. It is fall, and I have started school in Vermont. My roommate is from New Jersey. The election is happening in November, and this is the first time I’ll get to vote. I still think politics are stupid, but being able to vote is exciting, plus my teachers always said I should. I am going to vote Republican, because I know my family is smart.
But my roommate is also very smart, and her family has a lot of money. And yet she is a Democrat. And when I ask her questions, she has an answer for all of them. And when she explains different policies, I realize that my actual values align more with hers than with the Republicans. I feel a bit ripped off. We watch the debates. And I love Obama. And I vote for Obama.
And he wins, and it’s like a fun game, and I happily move along with my life.
I am 20. I read stories about girls who have been raped. I have friends who have been sexually assaulted. I remember boys grabbing my butt without asking in high school. I start to wonder if it’s all connected. I learn what “rape culture” is.
I am 20. I stop wearing makeup. I stop caring so much about what my appearance looks like. This process is extremely difficult for me, and takes me months of anxiety and tears to get used to. I am angry that it is so difficult. I am angry for the 12-year-old girl that felt she needed to start wearing makeup in the first place. I am angry for the 12-year-old girl who wrote lists about how she could make herself more attractive. I realize that people are still nice to me even when I don’t look “pretty.” I realize that it is society who has been telling me I need to look put-together, I need to wear bras, I need to shave all parts of myself.
I am really fucking angry when I realize how much the ideas of powerful men have controlled my life. I am really fucking angry when I realize how much my teenage thoughts were taken from me by society.
I am 21.
I am in San Francisco. I am walking alone, and I get cat-called the most I ever have in my life. At least once per block. It is unbearable, the comments are disgusting, and it is irritating. I am mad. Sometimes I tell them to stop. Most of the time I feel too unsafe to say anything back, so I have to ignore it.
I feel angry that I live in a world where I feel too unsafe to even be able to defend myself.
I am 22.
I own a yoga studio. It has been 10 months of owning a yoga studio.
I become disillusioned with the drama-filled community. I google, “I don’t want to teach yoga anymore.” Up pops an article about cultural appropriation.
This time, I understand it. This time, I research for hours and days upon end. I read everything. I am uncomfortable about everything. I do not like it. But I understand it. I recognize the truth in it.
Research leads to topics about social justice in general. Dreadlocks are appropriation too? I watch videos and read articles written by people who are not white.
I am upset. I don’t know what to do with this knowledge, because no one around me wants to hear it.
I am 22. While my internal world is crashing down, my outer world is opening up.
I read about the refugee crisis in Greece. I decide to go.
I am scared. I am met with resistance and fear from people around me. But I have found a group of volunteers online who are actually there, who are able to calm my fears. I trust them, the people who are actually there.
When I tell my parents I’m leaving, my mom says, “Well, that’s noble.”
My dad says, “Watch out for the Muslim men, because they will want to hurt you.”
I turn 23 while I am in Greece, in a camp full of single Muslim men. A camp I had been terrified to go to because my entire life I have been taught by the world that Middle Eastern men want to rape blonde girls like me.
But bigger than my fear is my conviction that I do not want to live in a world where that is true. I feel that I would rather die than have to live in a world where I am always afraid. A world where I hope that stereotypes aren’t true, but am too scared to go find out and know for sure.
I think that the comments about Muslim men are based in racism, but part of me is afraid that I am wrong. I think, those beliefs had to come from somewhere, right? I am afraid that society is right and that I am wrong.
And I am not wrong. I am so fucking not wrong that I want to scream it from the rooftops and yell at every single person who had the nerve to say that I was. BECAUSE I WAS RIGHT ABOUT THE WORLD.
I meet the people that negative articles have been written about. I hear first-hand the stories of tragedy and war. I hear the other side of the story. I begin to understand, truly, how the media shapes our views.
The newspaper writes an article about me where I say that America is partially to blame and people from home attack me in the comments in ways I didn’t even know were possible. And I do not care, because they are not there. They do not see what I see.
And I come home and I am upset because how do you convey that experience to people?
I am 23 and I am laying on the couch at my best friend’s apartment while he tells me the history of the Middle East, that he majored in in college but I had never learned about before.
I start crying as I begin to understand the layers upon layers of the history of the world, and how different events have impacted each other, the mistakes people have made. I can relate the history to the stories of people I have met in real life.
All of a sudden politics feel extremely important.
I am 23.
It is before the primaries.
“I just don’t like Hillary Clinton,” I say. “We should have a woman president, but not her. I don’t trust her.”
Someone I respect a lot shares an article about how sexism has shaped our views about Hillary.
I read it and am not sure. The whole country says Hillary is a criminal. At least some of that must be based in fact, right?
I talk to people who confirm my views. Then I talk to other people, and they say, you’re wrong.
I am 23.
I have decided to travel, by myself. I am in Vietnam. I adore Vietnam. I buy a book on the history of Vietnam and start to read it while I am in the country and it is like magic, to be able to see things in front of me as I read about them.
I take a tour of areas of war by a war veteran.
I go to the Vietnam War museum and I have to stop over and over again to sit quietly with tears running down my face as I try to absorb everything my country did to that country. History I have never learned, not in this way.
I realize that politics not only are important - they are a matter of life and death.
I am 23. I start reading books from perspectives of people who are not like me. I read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which makes me inconsolable for hours. I read the autobiography of Malcolm X. I understand what he means, about knowledge being the most powerful thing. I read article after article after article on racism, on sexism. Articles written by people of color, and articles written by other white people who say “I have been there too, and this is what you need to work through.”
I am 23. I am with people from other countries. “We quite like Hillary,” they say. “Our leaders like dealing with her, she is really intelligent. We don’t get why people from your country hate her.”
I am 23. I watch as an unqualified man gets to run for president because he has a ton of money. I watch as he is excused from his racism. I watch as he gets to say anything he wants because people are tired of political correctness. I watch as he brags about sexual assault.
I watch as men excuse his actions away. I watch as women excuse them away, and I see my 14-year-old self explaining why I’m not a feminist. I feel incapable of describing how this is the same. How oppression can be so deeply rooted that we do not even know it’s there.
I am 23.
At least a quarter of my country thought this man would be a good president. Around half of the country didn’t think he was bad enough to get out and vote against him.
I am 23 and am told that I’ll grow out of being so upset about this one day. I am told that when I’m older, I’ll understand that this is just democracy. I am told that because I am 23, I’m not able to see that everything will really be okay.
I am 23. I am told to be more positive, that I should not be so angry, that I should really be getting over myself so that we can move forward as one.
I am told that I am too vocal. I am told that I am not being vocal enough.
Next week I turn 24.
I am not putting up with this any longer.
*inspiration for this comes from Lauren Hayes. her article is at https://thecodex.io/stoking-fires-and-poking-bears-292623d10610#.pv4k50h3j