Column: Demanding Respect


Grace Nguyen

"I still get the comments, but I talk back. I still get the stares, but I challenge them."

I was a rebellious wild child, Shae “Danger” Daugherty by the age of 13.

But my mother told me to act like a lady by ignoring the provoking cat calls and sheltering myself in a bubble where comments like that didn’t exist.

I didn’t understand why. I only wanted to be treated equally. When I asked questions like, “Why don’t the boys have to live by these rules?”, I was told to sit down and be quiet because that’s the way it is.

From before I can remember, I was told not to wear anything too short, too tight or too revealing. As a result, I grew up in fear of lingering eyes.

I was taking photos when I felt the stare. Blood rushed to my face and I hoped it didn’t show. I tried to keep my cool, and just continue snapping photos. Implicit comments crept into my ears as I struggled to keep my poker face. Out of the shadows came “Hey beautiful, I could picture us together.” I crossed the street, not so much to avoid the voice, but to find people. I finally realized what being a woman meant. After a quiet moment, another photographer caught up to me. I remember being so disappointed in myself because I didn’t speak up. Instead I did what I was taught. I always wanted everyone to treat me like another girl on the street until I realized how a girl on the street was treated.

I hated every second of it. I wanted to fight and argue so badly, but I kept listening to the advice I’d been hearing for years.

Then I finally stopped caring.

A voice in the back of my head told me, “Lift your chin. Sit up. Don’t let them speak like that.”

I’m sick of justifying my choices. I’m sick of people telling me not to wear that top, that I shouldn’t wear those shoes with that skirt, that “you’re in for a rude awakening if you leave the house looking like that, young lady.”

I should be able to wear what I want without scrutiny. What I wear is about me, not the person you perceive me to be.

I hate that people are so quick to believe all the misconceptions about feminism. Feminism isn’t a bunch of angry women demanding more than everyone else. Feminism is the advocacy for women’s rights on the basis of equality of the sexes. It’s the novel idea that women are people too.

I still get the comments, but I talk back. I still get the stares, but I challenge them.

Yes, I am a feminist. I’ve been a woman for a whopping 16 years now, and I’d be a fool not to be on my own side.