Adventure in All Grown Up Now Part III: Man, I Feel Like a Woman

On Doctor Who, a long time ago, Queen Thalira who said, “It would be different if I was a man.But I’m only a girl.” To which Sarah Jane Smith beautifully replied, “Now just a minute. There’s nothing ‘only’ about being a girl, Your Majesty.”

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This is it. The big question.

When did you first realize you changed from a girl to a woman? Like the moment you realized.

Maria: Wow, really sitting down to think about this, a moment comes to mind that I would have skipped over had I not really thought about this. The moment I first realized I changed from girl to woman was when I said “no”, for the first time, to a man who was physically and verbally abusive to me…the man that was supposed to be a father figure to me. I said no to going over to his house any more, to allowing his abuse any more in my life. It was the first time I stopped feeling like a girl and more like a woman.

Kristen G.: That is a super good question and I would say my very first day of college. I told my roommate where I was going and when I’d be back and she said “I don’t care – I’m not your mother – do your own thing” and I couldn’t believe I was on my own – – – and not to be cliche, but there is nothing like holding your baby in your arms and thinking “holy crap”

Emily Y.: Hm. I don’t know. I mean, I feel like I want to say when I started menstruating. That’s the most physiologically correct answer. But I started menstruating at 13. In some cultures, a 13 year old female may feel like an adult, but I think that’s more the exception than the rule in America. I honestly don’t think I felt like a woman until much later, potentially even recently. And what is a girl and what is a woman? Is there a distinct difference? I don’t really think so. It’s a gradual developmental change, right? I mean, in baby development in utero, there is never a moment between when you don’t have arms and then you do. You grow arm buds that slowly and gradually grow into fully functional arms. Maybe that’s a weird example, but I think the same concept applies here. I don’t think there was a moment for me. Sometimes I’m not even sure that I feel more like a woman than a girl. Adulthood is a loose construct for me. Although I am an adult, I’m still not sure what that means yet.
I did not answer your question…but I’m not really sure how to.
Also, if you aren’t thinking about “I’m not a girl, not yet a woman” by Britney Spears right now, I’m not sure what’s wrong with you.

Kristen K.: I think around age 7 I realized I should start taking care of my little brother and sister.

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Hayley: There are few moments. When I was 6, and my mom and dad explained that my sister wasn’t going to make it. That my baby sister wasn’t going to be a part of our lives. That’s the first time I remember really coming to terms with mortality, and actual disappointment.
When I was 22, and I not only didn’t get a say in what happened to my life and body. But the eventual step when I realized, I needed to start recognizing myself as a powerful entity, because not everyone else will.
And just the other day. This is the day that I realized I was an adult. There were these two boys on my block throwing a kickball at my porch cat Bill Purray. I drove by the house and parked in front of mine. Left my thawing groceries in the 90 degree car and marched down the street. Before I even reached them I said, in the most even tone, “Don’t throw the ball at the cat.” Not “Hey, don’t throw that ball at that cat.” No introduction. Just “stop.” And the older of the boy now red in the face, said, “We weren’t.” It came right out of my mouth, and I still can’t believe it. I said, “I saw you do it. Don’t lie to me.” They turned and instantly ran into their house as I snatched up Bill Purray without missing a beat and walked right back to my house and sat on the porch with her. Eventually, one of the boys came back on his porch and sat in a chair. Pouting. I turned my chair and faced his porch and glared. I still don’t feel bad. That’s a future serial killer.

Harmony: It took me a long time to answer this. It took so long because I am not proud of the story I’m about to share.
I grew up in a safe, loving environment with parents who are truly in love each other. This environment was ideal in so many ways, and even as a young teen, I knew how good I had it. So when the dating scene became a part of my life, I didn’t take it very seriously. There wasn’t anything out there that could even come close to comparing to what my parents had. Dudes were disposable.
Then one day, I realized my heart had changed. I was 20 years old and had been ‘seeing’ (because ‘dating’ was too committed) a guy for almost a year. We were not dating, but we spent a lot of time together; ate meals together, visited with his family together, went to concerts, watched movies, got stoned and shared a healthy physical relationship. But we weren’t dating.
My phone rang around 7.00am one morning when I wasn’t dating this guy, and a very sad female voice spoke quietly to me from the other end of the line. I didn’t recognize the voice, I just remember being so startled at how sad she was; she was sobbing. She had said something about someone, and an accident, and how sorry she was. I was trying to put all the syllables together and still identify the caller…
It was my friend.
My friend that was dating my non-boyfriend’s brother.
On no, something happened to my non-boyfriend’s brother.
But she was apologizing to me – why is she sorry?
The car? Last night. Too much to drink.
Kevin. Kevin is dead. The Kevin that was not mine, but he was.
My non-boyfriend died.
I felt the heat in my face. I felt nothing but rage. RAGE. I told her how dare she call me and dump this load of crap on me. I refused to believe my non-boyfriend friend guy had died. DIED? No. Come on, now. So I hung up on her. Actually, I accused her of lying first, then I hung up on her.
15 minutes later doorbell rang. It’s now 7.15 in the morning and I’m all, “Oh now this has gone too far.” I opened the door, already pissed off, but there she was. Her normally pretty face, pale and swollen. Her eyes, pitted and bloodshot. Makeup, long gone. She hadn’t slept all night. Her hands were shaking and she said one word to me that I will never, never forget: She pleaded, in a whisper, “Please.”
And then I lost me.
Whoever I thought I was.
Whoever I thought he was.
Whatever I thought he meant to me.
Whatever I convinced myself I needed.
It was lost.
It was the day I learned what life really is.
That it isn’t a farce. It isn’t fake or showy or shallow.
In one moment I realized all that I kept from myself in treating him like he didn’t matter.
I realized what I’d kept from him.
Life as I knew it, had effectively gone from 2D to 3D. I felt everything all at once: the laughter he brought to my life. The joy. His old soul; his immense intelligence. The way his hands played the piano; held his brandy glass. How he looked past my distance and into my essence. The way he still held me, long after he’d fallen asleep, as though I were a treasure he protected even in his off hours.
I saw myself through his eyes for the first time. I saw myself as a woman. A woman he loved. A woman he adored. A woman who had willingly kept myself from feeling all these things he felt or me. And then he died. I had run out of time. My lesson came too late.
In the months afterward, I didn’t know what else to do, but march on. After a long time I started dating again, but it was different than before. I dated to get to know them, but I also dated to learn more about myself. It all came full circle when I met my husband, Sam.
Sam’s gentle soul and desire to love me is what opened my heart even further. I wanted to love him and I wanted him to know I loved him. I opened my life to him and he treated it with respect and patience. I appreciated all things about him and in doing so I began to appreciate all things about me.
So, back to the question: when was my moment when I switched from a girl to a woman? Well, like any complicated algebraic equation, there was a roundabout way to coming up with the final answer:
Part one was losing all I didn’t know I had.
Part two was giving it all had and losing myself to it.

Ashley L.: I think I’m still waiting to feel like a woman. I often feel like I’m still a scared little girl trying to put on a brave, “fake it ’til you make it” face.

Courtney: The moment I realized I was a woman… I think I realized something was different when I noticed men were looking at me. I remember two specific times were I was just doing normal activities (shopping, eating), and a grown men were either staring at me, or physically came over to hit on me (which, I didn’t realize what that was then, only that it make me uncomfortable). I remember being probably around 12 years old and confused as to why these people are looking at ME and knowing that I felt not OK with it. And shortly later I noticed more of my body changing. But I don’t think I ever felt anything INSIDE that was different, but realized something was different because of my OUTER circumstances.

Allison: I don’t recall having an “ah ha” moment about changing from a girl to a woman. Is that a thing?! Maybe it is for some, but I have been wracking my brain trying to remember if I had one. It definitely wasn’t when I got my first period and it definitely wasn’t the first time I had sex! Neither were very pleasant experiences and did not make me feel very womanly. Perhaps it was more of a series of moments and events that made up my transition from a girl to a woman. I suppose for me, the broader experience of trying to get pregnant, getting pregnant, and having miscarriages are the most womanly experiences I have ever had. You ain’t a child anymore when you have gone through that. Sometimes I look at women who have children and I still see myself as a girl. Certainly that isn’t true, but our culture tells us that part of being a woman is being a mother. Well of course I know that being a mother is not what makes a woman and being a woman is not what makes a mother. But sometimes it stings, you know? If I truly think deeply about this, my journey to becoming a woman has the thought of motherhood in it, but it is not what defines me. To me, being a woman is living through the tough moments and milestones and the happy and joyful times, to come to an understanding what it means to be a female in our society, and then embracing and spreading that power. It is important to me to try embody the positive and empowering aspects of what it means to me to be a thoughtful woman and a feminist for the sake of the young men and women I come into contact with.

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Danee: I don’t think I’ve had that moment of realization yet. I mean, I know by all societal standards, I am a woman. However, there are many ways in which I still feel like a girl. When I’m with my mom, for instance, or my sister, it’s easy to slip into a more child-like version of myself. Old friends can have this same affect, and my partner, Brown, probably sees this side of me more than anyone. Of course, there are many other situations where I feel old as hell. When I’m teaching college students… yeah, those moments definitely make me feel like an old lady. Does that count?

Amber S.: I’m not sure I always feel like a woman versus a girl at this point in my life. It’s so easy to feel lost and weak. I’m not sure if I ever feel like a woman without someone else being involved.

Rebekah: The moment I realized I had become a woman was just a little over a year ago. I was in a production of “the Music Man” and a friend took a backstage photo of me in the “Grecian urn” costume. When I saw the photo, my instant thought was “I look like a woman.” (my mom had the same thought, and expressed it on Facebook.) It was a bittersweet thought. At 29, it seems I ought to have become a woman years ago, but I was sad that the spritely youthfulness of my face had diminished. It made sense. I’d done a lot of growing up that year, and it showed in my complexion and my eyes. It also felt true in my soul. I had faced what seemed unbearable, and I was okay. I was going to be okay.

Emily L.: Another cliche answer, but it would have to be when I first became a mother. Up until that point I was being taken care of and had no real need to truly think of anyone else, but when I became a mom I was completely responsible for someone else and not to mention what my body was able to do by carrying and delivering a child made me realize a whole new side of womanhood.

Alex: I’m not sure I can define the difference from child to adult. I feel there were different stages in my life that matured me into my own autonomous self but I am not sure this makes one an adult. I am over the age or reason and hold responsibility for my own actions in God’s eyes, but again, not sure this means adult. I am over the legal age and deemed an adult when it comes to our governments laws but again does the single second between 11:59:59 the day before my 18th birthday to 12:00:00 really change me that much? I guess the closest thing I have to an answer is telling my parents I was moving to Indiana for school despite the cost. And despite feeling like an adult at that moment, telling my parents 2 years later that I was leaving this same school with all kinds of debt and no degree because I wanted to live authentically. It made me realize how much of a child I still was in ways I wasn’t sure would ever change. I feel like any time I do something new for the first time, no matter how prepared or confident I am, I still feel a little childlike.

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Laura: Here’s the thing: I don’t like the word “woman.” It’s a soft, round word that has connotations of periods and menopause and chunky robes and fuzzy slippers and cold coffee. Now don’t get me wrong, I like chunky robes and fuzzy slippers as much as anybody, but to me the word has connotations of giving up. I don’t even know why those connotations exist. They have no basis- my mom is a go-getter who never gives up. I can’t think of a single woman who speaks into my life who is this tired picture I see in my head. But I still don’t like the word.
So I don’t see myself as a woman. Instead, a grown-up girl. A lady, maybe. A chick, even? All words with hard consonants and bright vowels. The moment I felt most like a woman is when I was pregnant- a literal “womb-man.” There was no getting around it. I was grown, about to give life, carrying a baby in my belly. And I hated being pregnant. I was slow and hot and tired all the time. I lost creative energy and wasn’t allowed to lift heavy things. I didn’t look like myself and people treated me differently. So I guess, in my own thoughts, I prefer to distance myself from my baby-making capabilities and don’t really think of myself as a “woman.”

Dana: It’s funny, really; it has been a sneak-attack in three parts. The first, when I was bold enough to speak my mind with my mother about views she did not share. I realized that I was my own person. I had my own thoughts and feelings that were no longer dictated by her. I felt freedom…and fear. I felt my growing up that day. (Thankfully, my mother has done well with that transition. As well as expected anyway) The second, when I was speaking at a conference, promoting the empowerment of women and purity. It was something I would have never seen myself doing, but I felt an ease and comfort and passion that has only grown since then. And third, I was bold enough to wear HOT red lipstick and sassy heels for a formal banquet once. And I carried on with myself as normal, but people (specifically men), stopped to say how beautiful I looked. But not in that “she’s so sweet and cute and 10” kind of voice, but “WOW. You’re you in all your youness” voice. You know the one.

Ashlee: Do people really have moments? I don’t even know if I would consider myself a “woman.” I don’t feel old enough for that. I still drink on weeknights. I suppose during my sophomore year of college I started doing things more independently. I learned about cleaning my own bathroom and buying groceries to make meals. I took ownership of my education. I think that’s what I started developing my own thoughts and feelings towards important issues. That made me feel more like an adult woman.

Jessica: I think the girl to a woman moment for me was likely when I finally understood that I could not be first. In my marriage, in my teaching job, in my life, I needed to put others before myself. When I was able to let that bit of selfishness go I was able to mature and see a greater picture of the world that didn’t center around me and my problems.

Amber F.: Hmm, I don’t know. My gut says when I got married, but I’d say it was more recently- after getting divorced, I had to learn all sorts of things about being an adult. I think I feel like an adult for the first time in my life right now.

Brett: I feel like I’m still waiting for that moment. I think it will come, but it may not be until I’m 75, and I’m cool with that.

Allie: I honestly cannot pinpoint a moment like that. If I have to narrow it down at all, I’ll say that I only started thinking of myself and referring to myself as a woman when I learned that calling adult females “girls” is condescending. This realization came about three or four years ago, but I still struggle to think of myself as a woman the way I think of other women as women. It’s often easier to see other women for who they are instead of what they do or accomplish, and I am learning to extend myself the same grace rather than focusing on the ways I fall short of my own or other people’s expectations.

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“I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We’ve been taught that silence would save us, but it won’t.” Audre Lorde

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Adventure in Hey, girl, hey!

A few weeks ago I was leaving the office, and I said, “Have a good night,” to the security guards as I left. For the first time ever the high-voiced security guard said something to me. That something was “Night, dear.” It was uncomfortable. It made me uncomfortable. “Night, dear,” is what your grammy should say to you when you’re going off to bed as a 12-year-old. Too old to be put to bed, too young to stay up after her. “Night, dear.” Or what the elderly husband says to his elderly wife as she goes to bed before him. “Night, dear.”

My daddy has pet names for me, and he’s really the only male I accept them from. A man coming into the office as I was leaving on lunch called me “honey” once. I didn’t care for that either. He was at least 70, so I tried not to think about it. Babe. That one makes me want to vomit. It’s about the person who says it. The type of person I would tolerate calling me “babe” is never the sort that says it. “Babe” feels like a power trip, and a reminder that I am inferior. It always seems to be said with a tone of control.

“Sweety” is okay from old ladies. Something about it makes sense. “Sweety” and “honey” are both expected at a diner. If Flo isn’t calling me “toots,” I demand something endearing like “honey” or “sweety.”

All of these things are far more acceptable coming from other women. It’s a level playing field. There’s nothing demeaning about it, except for the women I know who use those words when they can’t remember a woman’s name.

But the one that gets me. The one I cannot abide is “girl.” “Hey girl.” “It’s cool, girl.” I’m 25 years old and my boobs are too big for anyone to ever mistake me for a girl. I feel like a tool saying, “I’m a woman,” but that’s what I am. Not that I’m asking to be called “woman,” because I’m not keen on that either. But any man calling me girl instantly feels condescending. I don’t care who you are. For Girls Inc. we try to avoid calling our 11-year-old girls “Guys” to get their attention, but I try to avoid addressing them as “girls” too. In training “ladies” was suggested. It gives these young girls, who are so often treated like they are less significant, the sense that to us they are important. That they’re ladies in a world where they’re just girls.

There are men in my life who say it with sarcasm and irony, and I mostly find that amusing and will tell them that’s the only way I ever want to hear it. “Hey girrrrrl.” But there are people who started with the irony and are now using it in their regular language with no concern for how they’ve lost the irony and are now just being condescending. I know it happens. I have things I used to say ironically that I said so often they just became a part of my regular speech. “Get it.” “Run tell that.” “I know that’s right.” They all started as a joke. Now they’re just things I say.

Adventure in Shutting My Damn Mouth

Time is the enemy of comfort.

In recent months, proximally speaking, I have become a very solitary woman. Some days I don’t remotely hate it. I’ve always enjoyed my space, time in my head and imagination. But you can ask my mom and she’ll tell you that I used to talked to anyone and everyone. At the grocery, in line at Cedar Point, didn’t matter. For me now that is the audible, but unspoken, plea for kindred. The constant pursuit of Anne Shirley’s so-called bosom friend, a kindred spirit.

On the whole I’m closer than I’ve ever been, but something has this tendency to get in the way. Outside of the constantly changing lives of 20-somethings. It’s my damn mouth.

If there is one thing I’m not good at doing, it is controlling my refusal of bullshit. I won’t have it. Well, no. That’s not entirely true. I won’t accept it in the lives of others. I won’t let it affect people I love. I take it from people a lot. Often. Regularly. But every so often I snap. I let my passive-aggression spew from my mouth and fingers into the lives of people I care about.

As soon as I do, something awful sets in. Guilt, the shittiest of dance partners. I stew. I apologize and apologize, even in cases where maybe I shouldn’t. To a degree I think the amount of times I apologize a day is not an expression of my wrong-doing, but an apology for my existence. For which I apologize to myself, God and my parents. I’m here for a reason, for which there is no cause to apologize.

Comfort is the enemy of change.

Now as time pulls us apart or draws people together change swells and comfort becomes subtly more and more uncomfortable. Things that were exactly the strength you needed in brokenness are an overwhelming awkwardness. A fumbling attempt to remain the same when nothing is as it was.

Where once beauty came from the truth of brokenness something grumbly rests. Something stirs my confidence, and I retreat back into the person I grew so far from. But that’s my pride. That’s my fear of being someone I’m not proud of. Someone’s whose focus is a little more than lacking. At 24 I wonder when I’ll truly change. And as my life spins around me, as my friends grow closer together in new ways, as I grow further from home comfort shifts. Solitude becomes not something I thrive on nor something I fear. It becomes normalcy, which scares me the most.

Adventure in the People in Your Neighborhood

Part of my job involves me meeting lots of new people. Many of them the lovely receptionists. Today I met a wonderful woman who gave me her life story starting at the age of 17 willingly. She graduated high school at 17 in 1956. All of the girls in her class except her got married right out of school. She got a job at 20. And as she worked there five years her boss said she’d never get married. So he signed her up for two classes at the university; bookkeeping and comp. At 26 she joined the young democrats. She was going to go to the JFK victory dance, but didn’t want to go without a date. So one of her married friends found her a date. He was the treasurer of the young democrats though so he couldn’t pick her up and could only dance once in a while. So they agreed to just the slow dances. And when the first slow song came on he walked across the room to her and she said, “Shirley. That’s him. That’s the one.” They were married 15 years, before he passed away.

We both cried as she told me.

“You’ll know. Don’t rush to get married. When you meet him you’ll just know. Just like that. And a girl like you he’ll be a good one.”

Some days I love it.