Ten Women I Have Been Warned Against Becoming:
1. The Girl Who Takes Up Too Much Space, always, her shoulders too wide in stairwells, her hips too big in doorways, her voice too loud in classes. This woman does not understand the art of crumbling, of curling herself tight like the spiral of a fern, soft, delicate, unwilling to reach out the ivy of her fingers to grasp onto what should rightfully be hers. This is a beast, an elephant, a moving mountain and she is capable of flattening you, she is capable of ruining you, she is capable of making you feel as small and insignificant in her life as she is supposed to be. You are this woman’s footnote to history, you are her side note in song lyrics, you are constantly interrupted by her with a witty joke you wish you thought of. I asked what the problem was with being a steamroller instead of a sunflower and I was laughed down.
2. The Beautiful One, the long hair or the slim waist or the pretty eyes or the lips like bowstrings. This woman looks good in everything because she’s confident in whatever you put her in. She’ll cut her hair short on you no matter how you like it, she’ll wear high heels and step on your opinions, she’ll look hot as hell no matter what size she is. See, the reason you can’t trust her is because women like this don’t need your permission, they’ll do as they please and get away with it. They’ll say no to you, over and over. Teach your daughters that beautiful means dangerous, teach them to distrust women who love themselves. Equate beautiful with vapid, equate pretty with stupid, take their power from them. Say they’re vain for their makeup, refuse to see them without it. These women are snakes, they are serpents. I said maybe the problem lies with you being unable to control yourself and was told to get off my pedestal.
3. A Bitch. Women are supposed to be ladies in the street but will tear skin under sheets. I’m told: Never raise your voice. Speak gently. Submit. Hold your opinion against your lips and when you admit to it, make sure it comes out as a butterfly wing suggestion. Don’t disagree. Don’t undermine someone else’s authority, regardless of whether or not they deserve your respect. Someone touches you, just move away from them. Don’t hit. Don’t talk back. Be like the ruins of Rome, only beautiful if you can’t hear your quiet death.
4. The Needy One. I have heard how others spit when they talk about how she gave you everything and you shoved it back down her throat until she choked on it, until she came back crawling and asked you what she did, until her palms and knees were scraped for want of just a little affection - never be this woman, I’m told, because she’s a joke and the joke is that she dared to have more emotion than you did. The truth is, I’m told, the one who cares less in a partnership is the one who wins. I didn’t know this was a competition.
5. The Cock Tease, certified stripper, how dare that girl look like that and not want me to sleep with her. Lust is always personified as a lady in red with a dress slit up her thigh. Lust is sinful because it’s power, it’s not asking for attention - it’s demanding it. I’m told she is the worst kind of woman, that looking good is supposed to be some kind of shame on her kin. I’m told not to leave the house in such a short skirt, not with a shirt so low, not with a lace back, not with high heels, not dressed like that. My lipstick can’t be too red, my hair can’t be too mussed, I can’t just “turn someone on like that and then leave them wanting.” I mentioned that instant gratification actually ruins our psyche and was told that being led on was “exhausting.” I said that there was a difference between purposefully tricking someone into liking you and just being attractive or friendly. I was told there’s also a difference between coffee and tea but both result in caffeine. I said, “I’ve been turned on in class by the girls I talk to but I didn’t expect anything from them,” and they said, “It’s different, you’re not a man,” but couldn’t explain where that difference was.
6. A Slut, obviously ruined by another person’s touch. It doesn’t matter how many people she’s actually been with, it’s all about the rumors she carries with her. Easy. Harlot. You’ll still try to get with her, you’ll still take her into your bed and kiss her and say things you don’t mean - but you’ll defame her name when you talk to your buddies. My father used to say “A slut is fine for the night, but the virgin is who you take home and marry.” Maybe he didn’t know he was teaching his daughter to hate her sexuality. Maybe he didn’t know that every time she’d be kissed, her whole system would shake until she felt ready to combust, shame and self-hatred shivering against her spine. Maybe he didn’t know she’d disconnect emotions and sex because he always told her, “Boys are different, they won’t care about you.” Nobody said to her that it was okay to experiment. See, the funny thing is, I’m a dancer so I know exactly where my center of gravity is. I know how hard I’ll fall in each direction. Yet out of fear of getting hurt, I won’t let a single person inside of my bed.
7. The Soulmate. Never love romance more than you love being cynical. Never show weakness, never like pink, never think maybe you might find someone nice and settle down with them. Someone will find you, I was told, And if you’re lucky, he’ll put up with you when you start getting old. Never be the woman who believes in happily ever after, never be dumb enough to think maybe someone could love you after all of your mistakes. It has nothing to do with whether or not a family is important to you and you’re in a good place where a relationship would make your life better - you’re not a princess. You don’t get married, you settle.
8. The Girl With Strength, who can outrun everyone and who is stronger than her boyfriend. “See the thing about boys,” says my daddy, “Is that you have to let them win.” I sat at home and read stories about Artemis and wanted to become the huntress, too. I wanted to howl at the moon, I wanted to slay the beasts that bested me, I wanted to rule my kingdom with bloody fists. But girls are never athletes, never supposed to be “built,” regardless of the fact civilizations were constructed on our spines and we made homes in war by the steel of our ribs. Never be strong. We are supposed to wilt.
9. The Lady CEO: because if you choose work over family, are you really a girl? How dare you fight your way to the top through every pair of eyes that bore through your blouse, through every meeting where you were hushed by the sound of someone else talking, through every time someone called you “sweetie,” how dare you yearn for something. Is your husband the stay-at-home one? I can’t imagine how that is going. He’s not a real man, after all. I don’t give it long before the divorce. How dare you decide you’re happy being single. Don’t you know you’re supposed to bear children. Where is your honor? Where is your wisdom? Who cares if you are the leader, the best suited for your position, the quickest-thinking, the one who makes the hardest clients come back again. Don’t you see? Across history, women have been terrible at success. They always lose their man in the end. (When I said, “I would rather be a famous author than a mediocre mother,” I was told, “No, don’t worry, you’ll be a fine mommy.”)
10. THE GIRL I AM: FIRECRACKER AND DON’T YOU FUCKING FORGET IT I’LL RIP YOU TO SHREDS AND I WON’T FUCKING REGRET IT I’M NOT YOUR PRETTY GIRL I’M NOT YOUR ANYTHING I’M PERFECT, MOTHERFUCKER, AND I’M NOT GOING TO GIVE UP WHAT I’M DOING. I DON’T WANT TO BE “LADYLIKE” THAT LITERALLY MEANS NOTHING I’M NOT GOING TO STOP STANDING UP AND DEMANDING WHAT’S COMING TO ME. I’M GONNA BE SOMEBODY. I’M GONNA MAKE THEM REMEMBER ME. I REFUSE TO BE OVERSHADOWED IN HISTORY. I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU WERE TRYING TO CREATE BUT YOU MADE ME A DRAGON YOU PUT ME IN THE FIRE AND WHEN I STOPPED BURNING I LEARNED HOW TO GLOW DON’T THINK YOU CAN STOP ME YOU CAN’T TAME A TORNADO."
After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.
Well—one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,
Sho bit se-wee?
The minute she heard any words she knew—however poorly used—
She stopped crying.
She thought our flight had been canceled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
Following day. I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,
Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
Would ride next to her—Southwest.
She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.
Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
Found out of course they had ten shared friends.
Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering
She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered
Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—out of her bag—
And was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
The lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same
Powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.
And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers—
Non-alcoholic—and the two little girls for our flight, one African
American, one Mexican American—ran around serving us all apple juice
And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.
And I noticed my new best friend—by now we were holding hands—
Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,
With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always
Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.
Not a single person in this gate—once the crying of confusion stopped
—has seemed apprehensive about any other person.
They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.
Not everything is lost."