woman /ˈwo͝omən/, n.

When I was quite young — probably around middle school — I was that girl who didn’t really want to hang out with other girls because I thought they had too much drama in their lives. Guys, at least the ones I hung out with, seemed calmer (at the time).

Though this narrative definitely shifted in high school, I still tended toward my male friends over my female friends. I’d grown up with a brother and several male cousins; there were guys in my year at school with whom I got along quite well. A numbers of factors influenced my friend choice at the time. 

It was really in college when my mindset shifted, and now, my stance has definitely settled in a neighborhood that’s very different from the one inhabited several years back. This isn’t to say that I no longer enjoy the company of men — I do still very much enjoy spending time with my male friends and even consider some of them to be the closest friends I’ve had in my life.

Now, however, I reserve a large and ever-growing space in my heart for the women in my life.

I only very recently read the book Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and since then, I have become [belatedly] engrossed in her work and the platforms upon which she speaks. One of the largest ones is feminism.

Four years ago, she held a TED talk called “We should all be feminists,” and in it she raised very thoughtful, well-enunciated points about what she understands a feminist to be. (Such a worthwhile watch/listen. If you’re a quicker reader, here is the written transcript.) In one of the threads of her talk, she said the following:

“[Girls] grow up to be women who silence themselves. They grow up to be women who cannot see what they truly think, and they grow up — and this is the worst thing we did to girls — they grow up to be women who have turned pretense into an art form.”

To avoid the ironic call out of “not all women,” I will avoid saying “all women” here. But the point still stands — all the women I know have gone through this silencing. This experience has either been explicitly told to me or it was embedded implicitly within a narrative, a conversation we had through which this experience became evident to me.

The women I know and admire in my life have had to overcome in many ways, shapes, and forms. Being aware of this knowledge has a two-fold effect.

On one hand, it encourages me to work harder, to be better, to aspire to the level of these women. On the other hand, it makes me feel more fiercely protective of them because many of these experiences and setbacks were wholly and vastly unjust.

Nevertheless, they persisted.

And I am inspired.

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Photo Courtesy of Ashley Kim

I am grateful for the women in my life for showing me, simply by sharing themselves with me, what it means to be not a woman and a human being.

Even my peers, my friends, and those who might be younger than me — I admire you. Much as my mom, teachers, and mentors have; all of you have inspired me through your struggles and successes to be better.

You instill fear, but also nurture. You share your failures, but remain encouraging.You issue warnings, but also inspire. You speak of weakness, but bleed strength. You play into gender stereotypes by choice, and you know that it does not define or limit you.

I am grateful, humbled, and honored to be your company; and every day, I hope to make you proud.

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