In sixth grade, I got my period the week before we started the swim unit in P.E.
I shyly walked into the locker room and slipped past the changing area into the bathroom. My shaking increased with each step I took and resulted in a clumsy trip over a towel that caused the tampon I was holding to fly out of my hand.
The girl whose towel I had succumbed to coldly scooted the tampon back in my direction and made her way towards the swimming pool.
This little anecdote seemingly sums up my experience as a middle schooler going through puberty — embarrassing, shameful and somewhat discomforting.
High school came, and although the talk of bra sizes and pad preferences became increasingly normalized, a new elephant lumbered into the room of female sexuality: relationships.
Other than some light hand-holding behind an outdoor basketball court, my romantic history in middle school is what most people would consider to be quite bleak. Despite this, as a tiny 14-year-old, I thought I had love all figured out. In my opinion, love was watching my first boyfriend teach me how to shoot a reverse layup.
In high school, however, I started realizing that real relationships entail an understanding of your femininity in relation to your significant other. It was not all Pinterest quotes and timid dates to the local grocery store after class let out. It was about the exploration of intimacy.
For women, sex is promiscuous and a clear admittance of loose morality. Sex is not something that can be loosely flung around in a locker room on a Tuesday after basketball practice.
When arriving at college, I heard my friends speak openly about the physical aspects of relationships for the very first time in my life. It was one of the most freeing yet foreign experiences I’ve ever had. But all of those conversations evaporated as soon as I would walk through a cloud of stale cologne and hear:
“You see the girl in the red, she’s ran through.”
“She’s asking for it, look at the dress she’s wearing.”
Whether it was periods in middle school, virginity in high school or casual hookups in college, there is no end to the untouchable nature of womanhood.
Throughout our most formative years, we believe that our growth is shameful and our desires inappropriate. As a result, we are often taught to disassociate from our bodies at a very young age, like we don’t belong to ourselves. Our personalities are locked into a Pandora’s Box of skin and bones that is open for the public to ooh and aah at.
In light of the recent overturning of Roe v. Wade, are we really surprised that the government has viewed femininity as a political weapon rather than a state of life?
We are fighting for a sense of autonomy we never actually had.
From the day we enter the world, our bodies are traded from our mothers to society. This is a very unwilling trade that often happens without the consent of the mother or child. While we may begin to walk freely outside of the womb, this freedom is merely a guise.
We are subject to late night cat calls, occasional wandering hands and weird uncles saying that we’ve filled out. And after all of this, we are taught to “smile, like a nice girl would” and “not get too emotional.” Like soldiers in the military, we are trained in the art of numbness. We are trained to accept our identity as ones for the taking.
So when the highest court in all of the land presumes that privacy rights interpreted through the due process clause of the 14th amendment do not apply to the female body, I am not surprised. Because, what part of the female experience has ever granted us the ability to preside over our own fate?
Before a tsunami strikes a quiet coastal village, unobservant owners may disregard a soft rumble beneath their feet and trick themselves into believing that the receding ocean waves represent a low tide. Yet, when a 100-foot wall of seawater begins to consume the shore, those same owners are the ones shaking their heads in disbelief.
The signs were there, but they were past the point of no return.
The signs have always existed, but no one in power cares to address the fundamental building blocks that set the stage for the inevitable reversal of Roe v. Wade. Like many other trailblazers who planted their roots before us, we must rewrite this passive narrative into an active one.
So here I am, having a frank conversation about my body. Not about the specific nooks and crannies built to be taken away from me for the male gaze’s enjoyment, but rather the reclaiming of my mind and matter as one. If we work to create a place where women are brought into the world as their own, there will be nothing left to take.