22 March 2013

Jo Hylton: Unlearn the Patriarchy

The Ms. Foundation for Women is celebrating Women’s History Month with a blog carnival featuring the voices and profiles of women across the country. This Month of Action is generously supported by our friends in Seattle.

By Jo Hylton

When I was 15, a boy at a party asked me (told me, actually) to come downstairs with him.

“I’m going to kiss you,” he said.

“No, you’re not,” I said.

“Yes, I am.”

“No, you’re not.”

“You piece of shit,” he said. “You piece of shit.”

He repeated it over and over and over.

“You. Piece. Of. Shit.”

That night, he taught me to hate myself – that because I had a vagina between my legs and growing breasts on my chest, I was worthless. He made me feel like he owned my body and that it existed purely for his pleasure. And that if I dared to exert my rightful power over my body, I was a piece of shit. That I was nothing.

If I had been older when this happened, I might not have internalized so much about myself. But I was a teenager, searching for my place in the world and trying to discover who I was. I didn't yet have the tools to deal with such an attack on my body and my (perceived lack of) power over it.

The boy was acting the way he had learned, through negative cultural influences. He had learned that my body was his because I was a girl. It existed for him and he had a right to seek pleasure from it. And I learned to hate my body because I had no power over it. The boy reinforced what I already felt – and what I continued to learn over and over again during my teenage years.

I haven’t run for office, founded an organization, planned a protest or given a lecture. But I have done something amazing. What I had learned about myself from this boy – and what’s become ingrained in many girls through our patriarchical society – I unlearned. I unlearned that I was worthless.

I learned that I am powerful. I learned that I am smart. I learned that I am brave.

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