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Opinion: I Am Scared Of Being A Girl

Posted September 7, 2012 by Ellen Coyne in Ramp Specials

There comes a time in every person’s life when they become uncomfortably conscious of the true essence of their soul.

My moment came as I clung to the wall in the hallway of my dingy student house, unsure if my wettish t-shirt was caused by the perpetual damp or the massive droplets of terror-induced sweat trickling down my back. The only thing capable of pausing my rabbit-like heart as it hammered my chest was a paralyzing shame. Nobody wants to think about dying, of course. But if I had to, I would have hoped to kick the bucket in some kind of cinematic blimp accident, or in space. Now, as cowardice took over every inch of my body, it seemed I was going to die of fright.

I was home, alone, and someone was trying to break into the house. The thumping I was hearing from the kitchen over my drum and bass heart made me sure of it. Now, let ye who hath never called upon Eircom Phone Watch be the first to cry ‘it’s probably just a noise.’ A mysterious noise in a dark house is usually, like Chris Brown albums and tequila, the physical manifestation of a kind of evil. And it turned out I was right. I edged closer to the kitchen just as something threw itself against the back door with an incredible bang. The last thing I caught sight of before I ran from the house and called the police was a retreating male-shaped grey hoody. It’s an awful shame my intruder left in such a hurry. Clearly, with such levels of mouse-like bravery in common, he and I could have had the makings of a beautiful friendship.

The first and only thing I thought of was what this person might do if they discovered a girl alone in the house.

I was scared. Mortifyingly scared. Stupidly, pathetically and spinelessly scared. Not about what would be taken, of course. I spit at Tesco Value Beans and the fool who thinks he can thwart a student like me with financial devastation.  Nor was I scared by motives. Burglars in my area are more common than alley cats, and if you stand still on my street for long enough you’ll eventually end up on eBay. I was scared of being me. Infuriatingly, the first and only thing I thought of was what this person might do if they discovered a girl alone in the house.

Thank God everyone’s not like me. In an age of Katie Taylors, you know that women can kick arse with the best of them. But this isn’t a physical issue. If I was stronger, or braver, it wouldn’t make a difference. I’m predisposed to being vulnerable.

I’m not a graduate from the Cosmo School of ‘independence’, where girls are fine by themselves as long as they are financially sound and surrounded by men. I’m secure enough in myself to be able to type with assertion that I am grand on my own, thanks. So far, everything has been going swimmingly. But now I’m at a point when I’ve finally shaken off my teenage years and in the harsh light of adulthood I’m noticing that my gender is playing a larger role in my life than I’m happy with.

The break-in pissed me off. It doesn’t matter what I do, I’ll always be part of the weaker gender. The ‘sexy’ gender, the group of people that are profiteered on and exploited the most. I have never been a victim of a sex crime, and I’m from a privileged social background which indicates that I am less likely to end up in an abusive relationship. It doesn’t look like I will ever be massively exploited because of my gender, but it still manages to hang over me, like my big vice. That’s what I’m scared of – that everything I ever am will have the ‘female’ prefix hanging before it.

Even writing this feels like an attack on my own argument – by highlighting the fact that I’m female. There are only two genders; why should society be ever-conscious of the fact that I am female?

The only time feminism is mainstream is when it’s sexy, accessible and kind of stupid.

It took until I was twenty when the penny dropped and I finally, finally became a feminist. It was a natural reaction when I began to think that I lived in a society that’s anti-female, where I have the feeling that I’m constantly compromised. I say all of this in the same week Naomi Wolf has been talking up as many column inches and TV screens as she possibly can with her inane looperisms. This is the only time feminism is mainstream: when it’s sexy, accessible and kind of stupid.

I’m afraid that while things remain this way, I won’t ever be just ‘a journalist’. I’m afraid that if I do well, it will be seen as some sort of triumph for women, instead of all it is – a personal achievement. I’m terrified of even raising these points; because feminist arguments are so viciously scrutinized for even a trace of self-sympathising or whinging, I’m petrified of speaking my mind about something that affects me every day. And, as I am keen to make it through my career without ever ‘Samantha Bricking it’, I type the following with trepidation: I’m scared that for the rest of my blasted existence, I’ll be expected to smile politely every time some buffoon expresses surprise upon meeting a girl who’s smart AND pretty! As though it would be so easy for me to survive on the latter alone, the mind boggles at why I don’t just retire my brain cells to a state of medical death and stare vacuously out of my beautifully mascara-ed eyes until I die or become so unattractive I can stand in a corner contently and have no one notice.

I am scared of being a girl. I think other girls are scared, too. At least I hope so, as it best explains why we spend so much time attacking each other for our personal choices. I can never understand why individual women are singled out for their poor decisions, as though they were somehow letting down an entire gender. We are not a minority collective. We make up half the world. We’re only so weak, I think, because on some level we know we’re expected to be. It’s annoying, but maybe it’s nothing to be scared of.

About the Author

Ellen Coyne

  • http://www.lisamcinerney.com Lisa McInerney

    This is a really brilliant piece, so honest.

    It actually wrecks my head that a woman writing about things that affect her will automatically be labelled as writing about “women’s issues”, as if that’s some sort of speciality subject rather than about society as a whole. It’s like everything we do has to be gendered in some way – there’s little room for the individual because every woman is, whether she wants to be or not, some sort of representative for her entire gender.

    I reckon there’s no shame in admitting to being scared when there’s a disturbance in the house. It’s nothing to do with your own capability or strength, just as you’ve said. It’s all about how that intruder would think of you. A lone woman, for a lot of people, is an easy target. That’s just how we’ve been programmed to think: don’t walk alone at night, don’t get separated from your friends, don’t talk to strangers, don’t forget to lock the door… it goes on and on.

    Not that many men wouldn’t be scared if there was someone attempting to break into their house. They would. It’s the unknowable motive factor – who is this intruder, what does he want, how strong is he, how mad is he?

    • http://twitter.com/ellenmcoyne Ellen Coyne

      It’s bizarre! The more you think about it, the more depressing it seems. I don’t understand why we’re treated like this niche group. We are HALF OF THE WORLD. We’re a huge proportion of people, so some of us should be allowed to be stupid or silly or irresponsible without somehow representing all of us.

  • http://twitter.com/Fearganainim Fearganainim

    Speaking as a man who, despite years of social conditioning, is a committed feminist, and who is married to a wonderful woman, who every day, with her thoughts and actions, teaches me more about what it is like for women on the planet everywhere, and who has a wonderful daughter, and is constantly worried about what she will face in her coming years as a woman… I thought that this was a great emotional piece.

  • http://twitter.com/paulamcg Paula McGovern

    Great piece.. very honest and well written.. it is truly sickening that everything a woman does or says has to be gendered. The opinions and abilities of men are still seen as standard and women are marginalised under ‘women’s issues’ or those annoying ‘chick lit’ ‘chick flick’ casually mysogonistic titles… Your point about it being continually surprising to be smart and pretty is one that is well made also – It annoys me every time I give a political opinion or god fobid tell a dirty joke..
    Also I really don’t mean to nitpick your great article but as I work for a domestic violence organisation I do feel compelled to explain that your social background does not predicate whether you will end up in an abusive relationship or not. Unfortunately domestic abuse can and does happen in every socio-economic group, however the options available to women from privileged backgrounds are better.

  • http://twitter.com/nuckpang Stephen R.

    I do think women not feeling safe in their own homes, never mind on the streets, is still one of the biggest failings of the Western world, and it’s one that plenty of men so rarely think about, unfortunately. I know the first time I heard a group of female friends casually chatting about all the precautions they have to take when walking around at night or talking to a man for the first time I was really shocked. So many of them had never occurred to me as being necessary because they were just so far removed from my own experiences.

    Thanks for this piece!

  • Girls Rock Camp Ireland

    Such a subtle and great post! I really like that you thematise (is that a word?) the way women / girls are so hemmed in and become so scared! A bittersweet reminder of why feminism and feminist support is so needed!!!
    I’m petrified of speaking my mind about something that affects me every day.

    We are not a minority collective. We make up half the world. We’re only so weak, I think, because on some level we know we’re expected to be.

  • Anne

    Thank you so much for writing this. I’m a teenage girl and I’ve always had an irrational fear towards grown up men. And now in a social networking site I use frequently I am always bombarded with all these female oppression, sexual assaults and rape cases that made me scared of male strangers more than ever.

    I 100% relate to everything you said. I too am from a sound social background, I’m not stupid, I am most positively sure that I will not end up in a relationship that is anyway abusive or manipulative. Today I’ve just read another heinous attack done by a man to a woman and it drove me some sort of a depression. I had to read something to cheer me up. I found this and I am most thankful for it. There is something I could do after all. So thank you so so much. You have no idea how much this has helped me.

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