Words by Steph, 26 VIC
This piece was the winner of the Youth Summit Creative Competition 2022.
The indignation of a six-year-old girl is truly something to be reckoned with. Sandwiched into the middle, back seat of the family car, my older brothers’ knees rammed into my thighs, is when I first discovered my innate drive for personal equality.
It was one of the last family holidays before my brothers became teenage enough to adequately convey their disdain for family trips. It was one of the last holidays where my greatest concern would be that the Easter Bunny would not know where Canberra was, if I could not fathom this far off destination. But it would be the first occasion, though certainly not the last, when I felt the sting of desperation, of a longing for a space firmly occupied by another.
As the family Gameboy was passed over my head, I voiced my displeasure at the cramped quarters. That’s putting it nicely. I’m pretty sure I whined at a pitch that had my parents desperately calculating the remaining kilometres of our journey. The response to my plea was an explanation from one of my brothers (I do not recall which) who explained that, as a girl, I did not need the same space they did.
I glared at the chasm of air between his knees, one of which was leaning casually against the car door and the other forcing my own legs to press tightly closed. I whined again. There was clearly so much room. Despite my protests, it was explained to me again, this time with irritating smugness, that apparently a particular set of genitalia was a prerequisite for legroom. Outraged, I turned to my mother, expecting an ally. On this occasion, exhaustion won, and all parties were promptly warned to ‘quit bickering.’ The car fell silent, though it is likely it wasn’t for long; the burble of outrage couldn’t be completely silenced.
Over the years, it has been a battle against that indignant six-year-old girl. Why is she so difficult? I’ve attempted reasoning with her; really, it’s much easier to sandwich oneself into a train seat corner, pretzelling our arms around our bag to avoid entering our fellow passenger’s space. They need that space, after all. It’s not too hard to ignore the mildly sexist remarks of those who definitely should know better, they’re just joking. Besides, what’s to be gained by being outspoken? Of having eye rolls and grunts fired in your direction, or worse, outright hostility.
I am a people pleaser, and I really wish sometimes she could be too.
I recently read Clementine Ford’s book, Fight Like A Girl. And I think she’s been speaking with that little six-year-old girl. The one who’ll pipe up every now and again to tell me, ‘It’s not fair!’. I think it’s finally time I started listening to both of them (Clementine, and the six-year-old girl). Because why shouldn’t I be entitled to take up space? Why should I murmur ‘sorry’ for expressing views that differ from someone else’s? Why should my gender, age, or anything else for that matter, mean that I am not deserving of space?
Yes, the six-year-old was primarily concerned with the physical space she desired to take up. She coveted the space her brothers seemed to thrive in, but she also wanted to be heard. In recent days, that’s the part I’m more concerned about. For years, I’ve systematically attempted to train her, and myself, to be silent. To stop whinging, to stop asking so many questions. I squashed her ideas, her passion, and comfort, because of who she was. Who I am (because spoiler alert: we’re the same person).
But I’m tired of doing that. I don’t want to fold in on myself, to hide and scrape, telling myself it’s okay when people look over your head to a guy, to someone older, when you’re right in front of them.
I was never much good at docility anyway, so maybe it’s time to stop trying. Maybe it’s time to take up space. Maybe it’s time to share my ideas, to not be afraid to question or seek justice for myself and those around me. And also, maybe it’s time to not get leg cramps on public transport. Just sayin’.