I'm My Own Woman

 

March 7th, 2018

 

I’ve always apologized for being a woman. It started when I was four and I realized there was a difference between boys and girls. I was sitting in the backyard, baking in the summer sun, surrounded by my father, brothers, male cousins, and uncles. They all removed their shirts to get some relief from the heat. I followed their lead. My mother (who’d been looking out from the kitchen window—of course), came running out the house to scold me for doing so. She informed me that one day my chest would look like hers and I couldn’t expose myself like boys could. I felt shamed and humiliated. I put my shirt back on and apologized to my mother for doing something that was clearly (in her eyes) inappropriate. This was the first moment I felt it necessary to apologize for being female.

I should mention that my parents are immigrants from Eastern Europe, from a country where women are still treated as second class citizens. Growing up they tried to make me conform to the 1950’s idea of what a woman should be. I should be quiet, obedient, and pretty at all times. I wasn’t even allowed to go to the drugstore without putting on a cute outfit and mascara. The goals my mother set me were: get married to a suitable man and have lots of children (ideally ten), just like her. My father, who was upset I wasn’t a boy, reinforced these ideas.

The only women my parents knew fell into this 1950’s stereotype. Until me, obviously.

I didn’t fit the mold. I have a loud mouth, I speak my mind, I’m stubborn, and I dress like a boy most of the time. Needless to say, I apologized to my parents a lot. “Girls don’t do that”, was a recurring phrase throughout my childhood. Every time it was uttered by my mother, I’d stop what I was doing, my cheeks would turn red, and I’d apologize. Again. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t be the girl my parents wanted me to be. For a long time, I felt like something was wrong with me. I didn’t have any role models who didn’t conform to my parents’ views on women. So obviously, I was always made to feel like my actions were wrong.

This strained my relationship with my parents. My mother constantly made me feel ashamed. My father barely spoke to me. I was the black sheep of the family.

I’m now 26 years old, very independent, still outspoken, and unapologetically myself. Despite the differences I had with my parents growing up, they’ve learned to accept me for who I am. It was a slow transition to get to this point, but they now have a new understanding of what a woman should be. They embrace how strong and independent I am. My dad even tears up a bit when he talks about how proud he is of me. My mom’s new recurring phrase is “how did you become such a strong woman?” I still don’t fit the mold of what my parents wanted me to be. I’m single (sorry mom), and I don’t have any human children. However, I did make my mother a grandmother to a beautiful pitbull named Luna.

The biggest lesson I took from this? Once you stop apologizing for yourself and your opinions, you begin to embrace and love yourself. You are the person who teaches others how to treat you. If you accept yourself, other will accept you too.

Tiffany Skrela