The Weight of Being a Woman

As I sit here six months pregnant, I ponder about my life and what my existence has become.

So many women have told me how beautiful the gift of life is, and “just wait until you look at your baby for the first time,” how magical it will be. It’s not like I don’t believe them, I do. I love my unborn child, and I would gladly snap the neck of anyone who would try and hurt her. I just also feel this heavy weight that I am certain only mother’s feel. I am not even a mother yet, that’s the real bizarre part of how I am feeling.

I don’t know what my child will even look like so how can I be her mother?

What brings me, even more, grief is the question ever looming, “what kind of example will I be for her?” I am the only person who can teach her what it means to “be a woman.” I’m not talking about gender roles because she can be whoever she wants to be, and if she identifies herself as someone else, that is fine with me too.

I am more or less talking about how the world we live in, as much as we may delude ourselves into thinking, is not “woman” friendly. Right now I am living in a country that thought it was not that big of a deal to elect someone who uses the phrase “grab them by the pussy.”

How do I explain that to my daughter? That she was born during a time where men speak like that and masses flock to justify it. That’s not even the half of my worries, that’s more just a glaringly horrible reality.

In smaller instances, she will be called “honey,“sweetie,” and “sugar,” by people who do not even know her and be told to “smile” because as a woman that’s somehow become her job, to smile at men.

I sit behind a desk, and daily am asked why I am not smiling. Just because someone walks into a door, they have the right to be smiled at regardless of how rude they may be. The real sad part is I am almost always smiling unless I’m working and trying to do my job. Typically it is because I am too distracted to smile before I hand someone the key to the bathroom that they are demanding.

Also, my daughter will be expected to be thin, beautiful, sexy, and unrealistically present herself to the world while inwardly deprecating herself for eating a cupcake or not being capable of eliciting the affections of men in order to maintain self-worth. When she watches her favorite shows, she will see beauty standards that are not realistic.

Tight and toned bodies will be paraded across movie screens whispering to her that this is what she should aspire to, the creation that is only possible through a machine of retouching. She will see beauty and clothing ads, one after the other, that define what is supposed to be beautiful or obtainable by plastic surgery. If my daughter doesn’t like her body, she can pay to have it cut, injected, or sucked.

I can tell her every day that she is beautiful no matter what but how loud can I be when other voices are louder?

Even further, the world will tell her that “boys hit her because they like her and want her attention.” She will have it explained to her that their behavior is normal and she should welcome it because they found her favorable. If you can’t get them, then again, that’s what plastic surgery is for. Nobody but her family can tell her it’s her happiness that matters, not what others are asking her to be.

How many times do people hear “it is what is on the inside that counts” to only roll their eyes?

Again, how can I be an example?

When I was a teenager, you bet I rolled my eyes while I tugged on my cheeks and pushed up my breasts wishing to be someone I’m not. Even now, while I am creating human life, I catch myself looking down, forgetting I’m pregnant, and my automatic response being that I need to change my diet because I am turning into someone I shouldn’t be. I am even calculating my plan for the post-baby body I’m expected to have, not thinking about just getting back to normal and focusing on being healthy. I am doing it because society tells me I need to, that I’m gross, stretched out, and have too many miles on my body from a baby. Those are just what I can come up with on a whim while other women, current, and future mothers, could make a laundry list of more.

I have not experienced everything it means to be a woman and mostly because I was scared and that’s what protected me. I strayed away from the glances of men, just wanting to fade into the wallpaper. If I had begged for the attention, who knows what would have happened and who knows how I would define myself. Now, I just define myself as someone who can’t be desirable. In my mind, it’s just not possible.

Who wants a short, brown haired, big-mouth like me? I tell myself my husband just likes me for my personality!

Now the question keeps circling, this person I am, how can I be a good mom and help raise a happy daughter?

More than anything, I just want her to be happy but at the same time, how am I supposed to teach her that when I can’t even be happy?

While I have been pregnant, mainly because I look like I’m fifteen and not a married twenty-five-year-old, I have strangers who scoot away from me at fast food restaurants or stare at my stomach not realizing how obvious their discomfort in my presence is. My being pregnant is not convenient for others, so I am avoided. It is my impression that they believe instead of strutting my grotesque shape into the light of day I should just be at home, serving nine months in a prison that I created myself.

I am genuinely afraid that when the time comes to breastfeed in public will people be hateful because my “tits are out?” Will I be approached and told it is “disgusting” and I can find a “better place to do that?”

I remember my mom telling me stories of her childhood, some were funny coming of age stories, and others were just scary. Times where men had groomed her for impending sexual assault attempts that she was able to avoid.

First, when she was a little girl spending the night at a friend’s house, and a dark, masculine figure had woken her up by putting their hand up her pajama dress. She had scared them off by faking a coughing spell. Another time when a teacher approached her after a school play, stroking her hair, telling her how beautiful she was, keeping little distance between them, making my mom feel very uncomfortable. Then there were other small occurrences that had happened. A man that lived on her street had exposed himself to her, causing her to run home, crying to her mother.

My grandmother even told stories about times she had been subject to behavior that made her uncomfortable, and scared. Stories of men that had pushed themselves on her.

I even have my own stories of being young and inappropriately touched or exposed to situations that were not age appropriate or solicited.

It’s like most women can look back on their life, no matter their upbringing, and see negative situations that could have turned worse or did turn dangerous.

These are the facts of being a woman that cause me to spiral into unending questions.

How do I protect my daughter?
How do I show her that she has worth?
How do I enable her to do great things?

Frankly, it feels impossible. My mother did well in raising me, but I can list off many struggles I’ve had because I am a female and they were impossible for her to protect me from. I had verbally abusive boyfriends, jobs I was looked over because I was female, and times where I felt like I was nothing. It all stemmed from how society had lead me to perceive myself or lies I had been telling myself to be, and here I sit, on the cusp of having another generation of women in my line, scared to death of what could happen to her.

This precious baby that lives inside me, this wonderful gift of life everyone talks about, I am scared to let her out.

I want to keep her inside my body and protect her because the world we live in is already cruel and even crueler when you aren’t a white male. I will even cut them some slack and say just being human in general is not always easy. No matter the situation you are born into, you will have a struggle of some kind and unfortunately, some are just pre-dispositioned to struggle more.

Normally, I can appease my uneasiness because I can rationalize it and say, “it will all be okay.”

In this case, I can’t. I can’t say my daughter won’t hurt or ache under the weight of generations of pain. I live in a small town, and it will even take longer for values that will aid my daughter will reach her. I don’t even know if in her lifetime it will reach.

The chances of her being pigeon-holed and missing opportunities afforded to the other sex is more likely than not.

I am only one person, and the weight of that makes me sit here and cry. I can only do my best, and I can’t say that will be enough. I have the strong desire to help every little girl, but for now, I can only help one. Though the weight is probably more than I can carry, I will do it for her and hope she can do more than I could.

Photo Credit: YLegrand Flickr via Compfight cc


Hannah Forkel-Matte

Hannah Forkel-Matte is a writer and legal assistant in
Evansville, Indiana. She graduated in 2014, with her Bachelor’s Degree
in English from the University of Southern Indiana. She mainly writes
to share her experiences through non-fiction work, but also dabbles in
fiction when a solid idea strikes.

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