One year ago today, I realized I was smart.
The discovery bubbled to the surface, slowly, after 22 years of being filed away in a sea of manila folders. It was always there, tucked amidst the resumes and pamphlets and memos that read:
You must not dream big, for you must shrink yourself.
You must not reach, for you have further to fall.
You must not speak, for you are no more worthy of words than your counterparts.
I never conformed to academia. After diving into athletics my first year of high school, I knew my ticket into higher education didn’t require an impressive GPA.
As any 15-year-old would, I slacked off.
But unlike many snotty-faced teenagers, come college, I didn’t grow out of it. My focus was still centered on the volleyball court. Outside of the gym, it wasn’t important to hit high marks.
While others were studying, I was squeezing in an extra workout.
I did just enough to get by; to support the illusion I was here for school first, athletics second. My coaches applauded my B-average marks. I accepted mediocrity in the classroom, wearing it as a varsity letter on my Letterman.
And, the scariest part: the women around me, by and large, settled for the same.
Unknowingly, I’d adopted a dangerous, twofold narrative: that my worth was tied to my physicality & that athleticism and intelligence were mutually exclusive.
As athletes, this concept is more common than not. We adhere to the expectations of being “dumbed-down” – that is, lazy in the classroom yet driven on the court. We’re a dichotomy of momentum and inertia. And we breathe it in as oxygen.
As women, these are the same narratives manufactured, bred and perpetuated by society.
But they’re insidiously different.
These concepts are embedded into the media we consume, the rhetoric we spew and the ideology we pass down from one generation to the next. *Shudders*
We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful, but not too successful. Otherwise, you would threaten the man.
-Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
We’re confined by judgment and the fear of judgment. We convince ourselves we’re unworthy, we’re too much, we’re not enough.
We garner these untruths on the playground. Society vindicates them with the objectification and hyper-sexualization (but God forbid a woman to be outrightly sexual!) of the female body.
This breeds “not-enough-ness.” We compensate with perfectionism. We starve ourselves. We overwork ourselves. We run ourselves dry, chasing a nonexistent ideal.
Because gradually, stealthily; limitations are imprinted into our perception of ourselves.
As a woman, growing up is consciously unlearning all of these unconscious limitations.
It’s identifying the false narratives in the mirror and rewriting them.
It’s dissolving the bonds of societal expectations.
It’s letting go of the bullshit and replacing it with dope shit.
And it’s the sweetest form of freedom: feminism.