I love to write. I write letters. I keep journals. I write creatively and narratively. I write poems and fantasies. And yet, when it comes time to write about my own experience of misogyny, I am at a loss. The task seems too big. Words and phrases dash across my mind: purity culture, rape, sex, self- hatred, shame, fear. I know what misogyny is.
Perhaps it is not a lack of experience but a fear that my experience is not significant enough. Violence against women across the world is real and painful to think about. As I read through “Hating Girls,” I cringed at the reminders of such violence. Testimonies of rape survivors, lists of femicide victims, stories of trauma and misogyny. What is my story in the face of all this violence? Do I have something worth saying at all?
Or maybe it is something else. Maybe misogyny is so much a part of my life that I don’t even recognize it enough to talk about it. Maybe hatred of women is in the air that I breath, maybe I actually depend on it to survive. I have learned the ways in which I am meant to hate myself. I have adopted the very worldview that was meant to destroy me. I have learned to keep myself small, to not speak too loudly, and to live within the boundaries laid out for women by the patriarchal world around me. I have absorbed purity culture so that I shame myself before anyone else does. So, how can I write about something that is so ingrained in me?
I could attempt to share snippets of my own stories of misogyny. I could write about my first year of seminary when I was raped by a male classmate and spiraled into a season of fear and shame. I could write about working in a restaurant and being harassed by male employees. I could write about the impact of beauty standards for women and about my eating disorder in college. I could write about being shamed in high school for “sexual impurity” and the ways that shame impacted my relationship with the divine and with people around me.
Or maybe instead, because all of those things are painful to write about, I could share stories of redemption. I could share about my own journey of mystical healing of the wounds that misogyny left on me. I could reflect on the female friendships that carried me through the seasons of pain and fear. I could write about that first year of seminary when I lived alone in a small apartment and spent hours learning to talk to my own heart, listening for the first time ever to the wisdom that I had inside of me, learning to listen to my body, asking it for forgiveness for all of the times I betrayed it.
I could also share about the poetry nights that my best friend and I have hosted to create spaces for women to creatively share their own voices. I could write about the sacredness of a room full of women sharing testimonies of self-hatred, the oppression of purity culture, misogyny and also of self-discovery, sexual freedom, and resistance.
Perhaps it is that very divine and creative space that inspired me to write the following as a personal reflection what it means to be a girl.
Being a girl meant being strong. My mom was independent, not needing the help of a man to pay her bills, raise her daughters, nor use a hammer and nails. I dreamed of being a mother with a daughter. A man was never in that picture.
Being a girl also meant being pure. I learned in church in seemingly indirect ways that my sexual purity was the most important thing about me, and certainly the most important thing to God. My girlfriends and I would debate in high school “how far was too far,” Purity rings and speeches haunted me, filling me with simultaneous pride and shame.
Eventually being a girl meant being starved. Exhausting myself over an obsession with body hatred. I grew physically weaker and mentally strained as I tried for years to create a skinnier version of my body that was never meant to exist. It is funny that “Hating Girls” immediately recalls memories of times in which I so successfully hated myself. The world around me taught me so well how to be consumed with self-hatred. I was a great student.
Then, being a girl meant being violated. Perhaps as a result of my own lack of self-worth, or my lack of proper sex-education, or merely of his improper sex-education… my “purity” that I had strived so hard to maintain, was taken from me. Or so I thought. Immediately my sense of safety in my own body was shattered. Possible narratives flashed through my mind. Was that rape? Did I want that? Did I say “no”? I did not want that. I did say no. For months I was trapped in my own mind, spiraling thoughts of fear and shame. My body did not trust me to protect it. My brain colored any interaction with men in a layer of suspicion and mistrust. Being a girl meant I wasn’t safe.
Finally, being a girl meant figuring out how to take care of me. How does a girl survive in a world where men harass her and she laughs it off so as not to cause any issues? How does a girl survive in a world that tells her it must have been her fault?
Now, being a girl means standing up for my body, setting my boundaries and setting them hard. Being a woman means putting myself in space with other women and talking about sex and bodies and womanhood over poetry and wine. Being a woman means standing in solidarity with trans-women, black and brown women, queer women, Latina women. It means hearing their stories and sharing mine.
The collection of essays in Hating Girls inspires me to do just that: hear the stories of women and girls around me, pay attention to them, and give these stories sacred time and space. But also, to know and share my own story of what it means to be a woman. In the sharing of these stories something sacred happens, a community of women join in solidarity and the weight of misogyny seems slightly easier to bear.
About Abigail Lutz
Abigail Lutz is a Masters of Divinity student at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. She grew up on Long Island and received her BA in religion from Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Abigail has experience in a variety of ministry settings and a passion for joining with individuals and communities as they build theologies and rituals to bring them closer to relationships with others and with the divine.