There are three things I can recall being told most in my life.
One, act like a lady.
Two, think of what others will say.
And three, men will not like that.
These are false tenets of womanhood that too many young girls are raised to follow.
The girl in me grew into a woman accustomed to second guessing her actions, goals and wants. My very personality, the aspects of which are supposed to be uniquely me, became a space filled with another’s expectations. It was like I could see the things I thought but could not speak them. Like I was an entire bonfire reduced to flickering embers.
For a long time, I was okay with following along the pre-set path of a woman. I even was fine walking it in heels and a smile. Because the women around me were going along with it too. This is not to say I never did things that violated the false tenets. I just hid them. Kept them to myself so that my enjoyment of them was not blemished by judgment and nonsense.
Eventually my personality and opinions outgrew the shadowed space they occupied. They needed more. I needed more.
It did not happen slowly or all at once. My change from accepting what I am told to challenging it moved at my pace. Some days that speed was slower than others, but I realized that was okay. The progress I made along the way of my life was significant for me regardless of how much more I felt I needed.
I started speaking up when someone would say act like a lady. Sometimes I questioned aloud what it meant to be a lady. Other times I remarked that maybe I did not want to be one.
Of course, every time I did voice my opinions, I received a negative response. I would be told I am argumentative, acting like a man, or being rude. These insults became compliments because I knew I was forcing the speaker to confront their reasoning.
There was a pivotal point in my life where I grew full of force-fed logic that did not even make sense to the speaker. I know this because when I questioned them, I received the response: “because it is that way.” An explanation that did not satisfy my curiosity, and led me to stoke the flames of my personality until they rose high.
The moment was at seventeen, standing in the student union of the University of Florida during orientation week. I was staring at the fear in my mother’s eyes. A fear I knew came from worry over what others would say when they learned I was living away from home, alone. Something women in my culture rarely did, and women in my family never did. This fear led her to invoke the second false tenet and expect that to be the end of discussion.
I could see my future dismantling into pieces of dreams that could become reality if I only held them together.
The fire in me raged in response.
This is when I decided I could not continue to walk a path leading to a future I did not want. Age fatigued my patience for entertaining such ridiculousness and I dismissed the just because logic. I scratched the false tenets out and replaced them with my own.
One, act your truth with kindness.
Two, think about your impact on others and yourself.
And three, do not let your fire ever die down to embers.
Thirteen years later and I still live by these tenets. It is not easy to stoke your truth when so many voices are saying it is wrong. However, allowing my fire to rage has warmed me. Has lit a path before me that I am happy and proud to walk in heels, flats, or barefoot.
In my experience, when you do let your fire grow it inspires others to erase the false tenets from their minds too.
So, I invite you to watch me burn.