We’re both staring at the floor of our shared bedroom. The smooth, shiny wooden surface, occasionally interrupted by a castaway sweater or a lonesome Stan Smith. The silence is palpitating — it’s bouncing off our picture-covered walls and propelling us into a quiet meditation. This is a moment. And we both know it.
I’m sitting on my bright pink bed in my dorm. Across from me, my best friend is lying on her own soft, white sheets. We’ve been here a million times before — each in her own side of the room, comfortably tucked away, a familiar cocoon of intimacy. It is one of those moments when our tongues seem to unravel and our thoughts rove freely through the room. There is nothing unusual about this scene — except everything about it is unusual.
The two of us have always had deep conversations. We explore sensitive topics, challenge each other and, through our conversations, we each come to crystallize our own beliefs and intuitions. What starts as a casual conversation about boys, friends and internships quickly transforms into an exploration of our core values, our deeply concealed insecurities, our most controversial ideas.
But this conversation marks a turning point. We are discussing the #MeToo movement, the recent developments with sexual harassment on campus and our own stakes in this conversation as women, but also as individuals.
Being an international student, I often find myself out of place in many of the conversations that rattle my campus community to life. The setting in which I was brought up has taught me to adopt a much more stoic attitude to the vicissitudes of life, to shrug off the things that people deem as offensive and to accept that some things are just how they are.
Much — most — of this still holds. I find strength in being able to laugh some things off, even if they are serious, and in being able to listen and try to understand, even when what I’m hearing makes me absolutely indignant.
On that cold January night, however, something in my view of myself clicked.
I saw the broader narrative that encompasses many of the current female empowerment movements. I heard my mother’s voice telling me that “feminism is over.” I saw the look of surprise on my high school teacher’s face when I was the only one who had the answer to the problem scribbled on the board. I felt the universality of the feeling of powerlessness that comes when you utter a “no” that goes unheard.
Among our ramblings, one question stuck out. It was the question that shook me into being and made me realize something I had been missing the words for until that moment. “Who writes the script?”
Yes, I have agency. Yes, I get to become a scientist and play soccer if I want to. Yes, I luckily live in an age when many of the doors are already open, most of the battles are already fought and almost all the questions are already on the table.
But there’s something terrifying about realizing that, even today, there are things that, as a woman, you cannot do. You can work at the same prestigious firm as your male counterpart — but you can’t earn as much. You can run for president of the United States — but you can’t win. You can get cast to play the leading role — but you won’t get to write the script.
For some of us who want to think of ourselves as tough nuts to crack, we refuse to cast ourselves as the victims. No, we are not the weaker sex, we vehemently proclaim. Yes, we can do all that men do.
Only we can’t. We might not be the puppets anymore, powerless and lifeless figurines that are forced to dance to another’s tune. However, we are not the puppeteers either. We are starting to find our own rhythm, but somebody else is still playing the music.
For now, this might mean we’re dancing out of tune. But, perhaps, this awkwardness is what we need to signify that the songs we’ve been playing until now are out of date. Maybe this is the way to stand up, grab a pen and find the voice to write our own script.
Sophia Catsambi | firstname.lastname@example.org