I. When I was 5, I thought recess was probably the best thing ever invented. Until the first autumn rainfall, when the sky opened up and unleashed it's sorrow unto the earth. The children were kept inside that day. As the storm thundered on around us, we ran to play on the other side of the classroom. The boys charged to the shelf with legos and blocks, while the girls lined up at the miniature kitchen. I followed them to the tiny toy oven, even though, secretly, I thought those lincoln logs looked really fun.
II. When I was 6, I thought my first grade teacher was the sweetest woman to ever have lived. Then, one day she lined us to to go outside, calling out, "Boys on one side, girls on the other" reminding of us of a divide between genders that we did not understand. Marking off differences on a checklist that none of us had read yet.
III. When I was 7, like most little girls I daydreamed of the perfect wedding. The part I played over and over in my head was my brother walking me down the aisle, "giving me away". Because even in the second grade, some part of me knew that I belonged to the men in my life.
IV. When I was 8, I learned that the praise I'd receive from the boys I called my brothers would always be conditional. No matter what award I received, how fast I ran, how tough I fought, how smart I was, I'd always be "pretty good for a girl". And that is never a compliment.
V. When I was 9, the YMCA told me I had to stop playing the sport I'd loved for 5 years because I was a girl. I took my first feminist stand by quitting, because I don't care what they say, softball and baseball are not the same thing.
VI. When I was 10, my brother informed me that the day I brought home a boyfriend was the day he bought a gun. Because that's how you protect your property.
VII. When I was 11, a boy ran up to me on the playground and told me I was cute. For a moment, I felt confident, a feeling that was foreign to me. Until the boy and his friend started laughing uncontrollably, as if they couldn't believe that I'd ever think that was true. I cried a lot that day because I hadn't yet realized that my self worth wasn't directly proportional to how many boys found me attractive.
VIII. When I was 12, my aunt gave me my first make up kit for my birthday. When my grandmother tried to force me to wear it, I refused, yelling, "It's my face!" She proceeded to tell me that I'd never get a boyfriend with that attitude. After all, who was I to want to be in control of my own body?
IX. When I was 13, I thought gym was a subject invented by sadistic hell fiends created just to torture teenage girls. It was the hottest day of the year, and I'd just ran a mile, so I opted not to change out of my tank top before continuing on to my next class. A teacher cornered me at my locker, advising me to put on a jacket before I became a distraction to the boys.
X. When I was 14, I confessed to my mother the wanderlust inside of me. Exclaiming about travelling to new places, having new experiences. That's when she looked me dead in the eye and told me to always take someone with me. Preferably, a man. I couldn't bring myself to be angry. We both knew what happened to women alone on the streets, and I felt bad for the way I made her eyes shine with worry each time I left the house without her.
XI. I am 15, and I walk with my fists clenched and my head down. I am always conscious of what clothes I wear and whether or not they could attract "the wrong kind of attention". I attempt to shield myself from the world, but I can feel my barriers cracking with each terrifying statistic, each late night news story, each girl that was never given justice. The world is a war zone, and every woman must put her armor on before walking outside. My life has been one battle after the next. I am a 15 year old war veteran, and have the scars to prove it. I've learned from my experiences and am left with just one question:
At what age does the war end?