The Origins of the Vanishing Woman

We live in a world of vanishing women.

Tracing shadows on our bedrooms walls with one hand and holding, in the other, the history books we hid under our school jumpers,

We are wondering, why?

Why is it that the only women worth reading about are pretty

or witches

or dead.

This is what I mean when I talk about stolen voices.

 

From our very first words, we were told to be quiet. Loud, but not that loud – fast, but not that fast – a healthy mediocrity. A mediocrity of knees that stayed together and mouths that stayed shut.

Ladylike.

The proper little miss, who knows how to keep quiet, and keep still, who takes up no more space than she absolutely needs to.

 

The skirts that ensured we would not come too fast down the slides or go too high on the monkey bars, kept us in uniform lines of crossed knees and held hands.

A lifetime of observation,

of sitting on the sidelines,

of waiting your turn.

 

I wonder, still

Where did you expect us to go?

What room did you leave for us other than inwards?

Folding in on ourselves to conserve the space we never knew we had a claim to.

You trained us so well.

 

So well that at fourteen we were all so eager to hike up our own kilts and stuff tissue paper down our own bras, smile those painted smiles from behind painted faces;

We did not know we were circus animals.

We were so quick to giggle through pouted lips and check cell phones behind biology textbooks, did not realise that ladylike, now,

Meant sitting in the back row.

 

And then at sixteen, we kept smiling

As you stuffed us full of fluoxetine and birth control, and cheap vodka

So we would forget where your hands ended and our bodies began, and then ask us

Why?

 

Why didn’t you say something

Do something

Anything?

 

Because we are biting our own tongues now, don’t you see?

 

Because my voice sounds like his voice, a parrot of the opinions you shoved down our throats and I keep catching myself asking, Can you say that again please?

Slower?

What was that?

Sorry? Sorry. I’m sorry.

I bookend my sentences with apologies for mistakes I have not let myself make

And we are jumping at our own shadows.

 

And watching old women pick at dressing-less salads

Drinking ice water, applying anti aging cream at seventeen –

Why are you so surprised when our entire lives have been an act of self preservation?

Grew up too quickly and then clung on too long

Maybe I am just screaming see me.

See me before I am old and wrinkled so I can mistake your desire for interest, and we do not have to realise

How scared we all are of being lonely.

 

You ask me why I talk so much.

I am making up for those years I forgot how to;

I am becoming one of those witches.

 

Good.

 

I hope I scare you.

God knows you deserve it.

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