I’ve spent a lot of time trying to prove my worth throughout the years. I’ve pushed myself to hone my skills as an artist and a student, and I’m usually proud of the work I produce.
Despite that, I have this constant, nagging fear that I won’t be able to succeed in life. What other way should I feel? I’m a woman, after all.
I was the only girl growing up in my neighborhood. This meant that I spent the majority of my formative years around boys, thinking I was their equal — one of them.
I can remember the precise moment I realized that wasn’t the case
I had just learned to ride a bike. I rode it down to the intersection where all the neighborhood boys congregated. Immediately, they began pestering me, jesting and jeering that I couldn’t really ride a bike because I was a girl. I can remember how the word came out, sounding like a slur.
I asserted I could and showed them, riding around in circles. They shook their heads and laughed.
“If you can really ride that bike, prove it. Race us.”
I can still feel the adrenaline, the heat radiating from inside my chest. My cheeks were hot, my brow furrowed in determination.
“Fine, I will.”
And so we raced around in a circle. I pushed myself, my legs burning and shaking and cramping up. I won by a sizable stretch of meters, but apparently that wasn’t enough.
“You cheated,” they accused. “You didn’t actually win.”
I was dumbfounded — how could I have cheated when I kept with their pace, neck-and-neck, in plain sight? How could a 9-year-old cheat at riding a bike?
Looking back, the situation all makes sense. In their minds, girls just couldn’t do the things that boys could do.
Now I’m 22 years old, and I still encounter people who think this way. I regularly experience this same old sexism, just in different ways — it’s subtler and a lot more destructive.
Throughout my entire college career, I have yet to experience a class when a man hasn’t questioned my intelligence in some way. Recently, a male classmate in my Multimedia Storytelling class questioned my knowledge of Adobe Premier, a video-editing system with which I have experience.
When he realized I knew what I was doing, he had to concede, “Oh, you know what, I think maybe she’s right.” But why did he feel the need to challenge my knowledge in the first place?
Even the simple act of moving and existing in public spaces reminds me I’m not seen as an equal. Walking on the street, I have to step out of the way of men who are walking toward me. They surely won’t be the first to move, and there’s simply no way I could ever physically stand my ground. They’re usually twice my size. So I move.
I move, and I deflect, and I push myself forward. All women do. What other choice do we have?
These small, yet consistent incidents in the classroom and in public spaces undermine my value simply because of my gender. And they remind me of that bike race so many years ago.
As women, we are constantly underestimated, undervalued and overworked. Many of us are conditioned to accept this as the status quo, and that’s what concerns me most.
Being a woman is a lot like competing in a fixed race — no matter what you do, no matter what you accomplish, somehow you always lose.
Courtney Redmon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.