I grew up reading every fantasy and adventure book I could get my hands on. Unfortunately for me, that meant all male protagonists. Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, Eragon, Hatchet, Geronimo Stilton, the works.
That’s not to say there wasn’t a plethora of great literature centering around female characters. It’s just that, at the time, I was conditioned to believe that their stories — mostly realistic fiction — were frivolous, unimportant, whiny, and mundane. I gravitated towards the fun, the action packed, the magical and mysterious.
All my favorite stories had adventures with male heroes. And because of that, when I first started writing — well, I wanted to write something I would want to read.
Through the books I’d consumed, I’d unintentionally drawn the conclusion that female-led stories were boring and uneventful. And their heroines were somehow more superficial and shallow.
So I only wrote male-led stories all the way through tenth grade. Until finally, more intimately informed and further exposed to the beautiful world of gender studies and third-wave feminism, I pulled back from my creative bubble and asked myself, “What the fuck?”
Okay, I did not actually curse. I wouldn’t even say the word “stupid” until eighth grade, and that was on a dare. But that is seriously messed up! I’m a girl who went to a hippie-dippie, ultra-accepting, open, and diverse elementary school, and an equally liberal middle/high school. I had created in-class discourse in support of same-sex marriage and feminism. But, alas, there I was, writing off 50 percent of the population, believing we were somehow less interesting and complex than the men in our lives.
My internalized misogyny was startling.
I was the person bragging about having more male friends than female friends. I spent all this time preaching equality, but there I was discounting all the incredible girls around me. How was that possible?
I was so upset with the world, but especially with myself. How did I not see this?
I pulled back. I reevaluated any and all perceptions and actions that might have been made under unintentional prejudice.
And then I remembered: my journal. My weird, funny, embarrassing, brutally honest journal.
It wasn’t a piece of literature by any stretch of the imagination, but it certainly was a record of my experience and perception of the world and people around me.
I loved my journal. I loved picking out the prettiest book at the Staples on Broadway between 80th and 81st. Their selection wasn’t vast, per se, but they’d normally have one that was just unique enough you’d wonder how it managed to find its way into that office supply chain’s stale-cardboard-and-peanuts-but-not-the-edible-kind-smelling grasp. And I adored the forced audience of my journal. It was my tell-all to the world, and to no one at all. No one could read it, yet there was always the potential that everyone might. It felt foolishly important. As I said, I loved my —
“What did you just call it? It’s not a diary. I don’t keep a diary. It’s a journal. I’m not a girl.”
Oh. There it was. That comment often uttered by my male peers. That creeping case of gender bias. Only girls kept diaries and they only kept them so they could talk about “stupid” things that nobody else cared about. And nobody would listen so they’d write their thoughts and feelings into the void.
The narrative we had created — my progressive, supportive classmates and I — was being used to discount and diminish the worth of female perspectives.
And the saddest part of it all was that we meant none of that. There was no malicious intent; we were simply perpetuating a story passed down from generation to generation, sibling to sibling, friend to friend. Your perspective is not worthy of the time, the paper, the pen you need to write it down. It’s not worthy of the attention of anyone but yourself.
That’s what they tell you. You’re not good enough. Or important enough. Or smart enough. Until you prove them wrong. Until you fight the fight and do the work on your own, and show them why they’re wrong and how they’re wrong. But at that point, it’s not about them being wrong; it’s about you and your voice and your power.
Even if no one hands you the opportunity, the microphone, the pen — never let anyone’s inner biases and struggles silence your voice. Your most valuable gift in life is the gift of being uniquely you. You are the only one with your perspective, don’t let others scare you from sharing it in whatever way, shape, or form you so desire.