I lost my virginity when I was 14 years old.
But before I could bask in the glory of fulfilling my sexual needs, or even process the act, the gossip about me spread around school as quickly as pink eye at a co-op orgy party. In a predominantly white, upper-middle class high school, it seems that nothing was more controversial than a freshman girl having consensual sex with her boyfriend whom she had been in a relationship with for six months.
By the time my filthy deed traveled outside of school and to my mom, she cried. Through sobs and tears, she lamented that my unripe cherry being popped was evidence that she had failed as a parent. She completely disregarded the fact that I was getting good grades and followed her rules and arbitrarily inferred from a natural, human act that she had messed up when raising me.
She said my upgrade from being finger blasted to having sex could only be attributed to daddy issues and that 14-year-old women are not supposed to have sex or want sex. And if they did, it’s clearly to fill a void.
I am clearly disturbed for being horny and having sex at such a young age.
Instead of recognizing that everyone matures sexually at a different age, or even praising me for saving water by replacing my ritual showerheading with sex, she labeled my actions as disgraceful.
I felt wronged for being called damaged and being valued based on my hymen, but was even more offended when she told me to never speak a word of this to anyone. She was ashamed of what I did, and bottom line is, she thought I should be too.
Throughout my life, people have tried to silence me from sharing my experiences because they think women talking about their private experiences is inappropriate. And some may even argue that just the idea of women having opinions is overrated.
Whenever my voice would rise, my family and peers would tell me to lower it instead of focusing on the content of my speech. Their primary response was to ridicule me for speaking out and criticize my volume, as if being passionate is a bad thing.
I constantly tried to get my opinions heard, but to no avail. In fact, me sharing my stories and opinions is sometimes even used against me.
My grandpa puts up a battle before paying for my tuition each semester because he knows that college will teach me to think critically. “She is already opinionated enough,” he would say, but he eventually succumbs when my grandma convinces him that I need to stay in college to find a successful husband.
College wasn’t better, either. A fraternity made me sign a nondisclosure agreement before I was allowed to go to their date party, I had to cut the cords with my summer love because he didn’t want me to publish one of my articles and I now have comment sections just as disgusting as the ones on Breitbart on both Reddit and my columns just full of men telling me to shut up.
Yet, every single instance I chose to speak out was still worth it.
Having agency over my voice and being able to speak up about not just my experiences, but shared female experiences, makes up for all the #NoHymenNoDiamond and #PoppedCherryDontMarry type of comments in my article.
Talking about oppression provides those who’ve experienced it a sense of relief because now they know they are not fighting these battles alone. With certain oppressive experiences publicized, women who have similar narratives no longer feel the need to tolerate these injustices.
And when someone shares their experience regarding oppression — a stigmatized topic — it lubricates the topic for future discussion, making change more probable. When no one feels safe voicing their concerns, no one is going to discuss those problems, let alone fix them.
Though my suffering looks dramatically different from those of women decades before me, from different countries and of different gender identities, the reality is that women are suffering everywhere. Some oppressions are far more unacceptable than others, but many of the oppressions women across the globe experience are the same.
I am admittedly a cisgender, heterosexual, white-passing woman, and my perspectives are limited. I cannot speak for everyone. Regardless, the more subtle oppression any woman faces shouldn’t be made less valid in comparison.
Before college, I used to think I had to put up with sexism and normalized my mistreatments. I often didn’t want to speak up because I thought that the nature of life is unfair, and that was the way it had to be. But that doesn’t have to be true.
Despite noteworthy accomplishments of feminists in the past, our fight is still not over. Women are still constantly being silenced and punished by misogynistic men for sharing their stories and opinions.
With more and more people speaking up about female oppression and double standards, however, even a society marinated in patriarchy is now recognizing that inequality exists, and more people are willing to stand up for their rights.
There is too much injustice for us to lose our voices and opinions, so we won’t.
Catherine Straus writes the Thursday blog on taking two sides. Contact her at [email protected].