This is the sixth in this year’s series of stories devoted to Wheaton students who are “different” in some way. These stories are solely representative of the individuals who tell them. This week’s story is by “Ava.” The story is based on an interview with Dr. Cliff Williams of the Department of Philosophy, who recorded what Ava said, then transcribed and edited it.
Editorial note: Readers be advised this article uses words about women some will find offensive. Parents of young children should take note.
When I was six or seven, my dad and my grandpa were finishing the basement in our new house. My older brother was allowed to help, and I wanted to help, too. I said to my dad, “Can I help? I don’t have to do anything with the tools. I can just carry stuff for you.” He said, “You can help by going to your room and playing or going upstairs with Mom.” That was the first time I remember being frustrated because I was a girl. I thought, “If I were a boy, he would have let me help.”
There were a lot of boys in the neighborhood when I was little. In the summertime, they took their shirts off and played in a backyard pool. I got into trouble once because I was swimming with the neighbor kids without a shirt.
Over time, I became aware that I had to be different because I was a girl. I couldn’t help with construction projects, I couldn’t take my shirt off. My older brother was going to be more successful, and I was going to find someone like my brother and marry him. That was the plan. When my parents asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I said, “I want to be a doctor’s wife, and he can come home for a short time and then go right back to work.” That was what I thought I was going to do, because that was what I had picked up from my surroundings and from the way I was treated.
In high school, I was a cheerleader and a dancer, not because they were feminine, but because I was passionate about them. I found a leadership role and realized that I could be successful like my older brother.
I got tired, though, of the high school boys being so girl-crazy. After I went through puberty, I got a lot of attention from the boys that I wasn’t used to. Some of it made me uncomfortable, but part of me liked it, because I had picked up that being attractive was valuable for a female. I felt a lot of power in being attractive, even though most of my life I hadn’t been and didn’t feel that my identity came from it. At the same time, I wished that the boys could look at me and see me as a person rather than the girl who had suddenly gotten boobs. I wanted to go back to the time when we all played together without all the sexual tension.
Before I came to Wheaton, I had never thought about the theology of being a woman. I’d always been offended by people who tried to bring femininity into God’s character. But last year I read about feminist theology and felt empowered by it. It made me realize that I have a voice as a woman and that I am equally made in the image of God. I am just as much in God’s image as my older brother is. My future is equally as promising as his, and in God’s eyes we are equal. That was a big moment for me when I felt these things.
After that awakening, I got really excited about helping other people have the same awakening. I wanted all the women I knew to feel the love and acceptance I had felt when I realized that God didn’t make a mistake when he made me a woman. Just because I have ambition doesn’t mean that God glitched when he made me a girl.
I became more sensitive to things my guy friends said, such as how they didn’t want to marry a woman who made more money than they did. I was bothered when they made jokes that seemed to fit into the rape culture we live in. Once, one of my best guy friends was joking around with one of my roommates and called her a p—-y. I was offended by that. He said, “Oh, I was just joking. It doesn’t matter.” But it does matter, because jokes are reflective of the feelings that people really have. You can’t just joke in offensive ways and expect that it doesn’t affect how other people feel.
It also bothered me that some men in my life thought that I was overreacting about feeling unsafe in certain environments. I lived in a large city once and experienced fear when I walked alone in the streets. Twice, men grabbed me and I didn’t know what to do.
Overall, my experience at Wheaton is that male students really care about their sisters in Christ. But it unnerves me that they don’t correlate Christian feminism with care for their women friends. I think a lot of men on campus think that feminism attacks them and says that because women have been oppressed for so long, it’s now women’s turn to be powerful. I want men on campus to see that Christian feminism says that their female friends are equal to them and that they are also made in God’s image.
When I was younger, I went through a stage when I wanted to be a boy, because boys have so much more agency to do things. They can ask girls out, and they have more doors open to them. But now I like being female. I like it that God made me a girl.