Harshly Mistreated for Being Female

I am grateful to all of the women and men who attended the Women’s and Men’s Workshop [see previous two articles] and to Diane and Tim for the groundbreaking thinking and counseling they did there. It becomes more and more obvious to me how much we need each other. All of us at the workshop, committed to ending sexism and male domination together, made it possible for me to face the effects of sexism and male domination more deeply than ever before.

I was born into a white, Italian, Catholic, working-class family in the Bronx, New York, USA. There were three of us in the womb and, randomly, I was the strongest. I attempted to save my brother’s life, and he made it [survived]. I then attempted to save my sister’s life, and she did not make it. I felt devastated and defeated before I even left the womb.

My brother was born first and fought hard to be born. He emerged bruised, with a deformed head that needed to be reshaped by the doctor, and looking fragile. I was born second—strong, healthy, flourishing, and unblemished.

From the moment I was born, my dad could not stand it that I, the female, was stronger and healthier than my brother. His blame, criticism, and anger were unbearable.

My mom, a white, Italian, Catholic, raised-poor female, with her own feelings about bodies from internalized sexism, never could stand up to the hatred that came at me. Her terror about my brother’s apparent fragility left her continually preoccupied with him and treating him more like a girl than a boy. She was so terrified about his survival and ability to grow up into a big, strong, capable Italian man that she worried endlessly about him, coddled him, and didn’t allow him to play sports or be at all physical. With all her attention taken up with terror about my brother’s survival, she treated me much more like a boy than a girl. She left me completely alone—gave me no emotional support and close to zero physical contact. Neither my mom nor my dad could acknowledge my existence as a female.

As we grew up, both my brother and I were treated as if there was something terribly wrong with our bodies. We heard constantly, in many different ways, that something must have happened in the womb, that our genes must have gotten mixed up, that I’d gotten the “boy genes” and my brother had gotten the “girl genes.” That was the beginning of my not feeling female, of my feeling more like a boy than a girl.

I made my own “decisions” based on the constant hatred and attacks that came at me for who I was as a female. Shortly after being born, I went far away from people in my mind, as far away as I could possibly go. I discharge on the feeling “Why would I want to live in a world like this?” (I felt a kinship with Hillary Clinton, as I understood being constantly, viciously attacked just for being female.)

After a while I could tell [see] that I would not be able to survive if I remained that far away and alone. I decided to make my way back toward people with one thought in mind: How could I be with people and avoid the hatred, blame, criticism, and anger? I decided that if I could figure out what people needed—and not show my mind, my heart, or my distress—I would not get attacked. That was the beginning of serving people: Figure out what makes them happy, do that, and do not take up any space. Act like you do not exist.

If you are not the preferred male sex, if you are female, what do you have to do to get attention, to not be left alone, to know and feel that you and your mind, heart, thoughts, and voice matter? What do you have to do to be close to people in the face of all the degrading, minimizing, disregarding, belittling, and demeaning? When I was two years old, my dad and uncle sexually abused me. I was so desperate for closeness that it was very confusing and left me vulnerable to sexual exploitation as a teenager and a young adult.

As all these hurts piled on top of each other, I felt like my safety depended on continuing to hide—on not showing myself at all, on acting like I didn’t exist. Playing basketball and wearing big, bulky boys’ clothing helped me to accomplish this.

Being targeted with Gay oppression didn’t bother me much. Since I continued to feel more like a boy than a girl, it fit into what I felt about myself. When I was playing basketball, or doing any physical sport or activity in which I got to use my body, I felt powerful, which was a big contradiction to the oppression. Unfortunately, because of sexism and male domination, those were the times I also felt like a boy. I still feel that way, but less and less as I discharge.

Diane continually distinguishes between being female and adopting the feminine identity. I have thought that I would feel female when I dressed in more feminine clothes—it’s been part of the package of distresses that comes with the feminine identity. But for me to jump to that end of the pattern and buy into [believe] those distresses is not re-emergent. I will feel more female as I discharge. How I dress is fine.

This is the set-up for being subservient: being made to feel extremely unwanted except around our bodies and sex. As females we are vulnerable to feeling like we have to serve men sexually and in many other ways. Diane said that we’ve been set up to serve and that men have been set up to feel entitled to be served. But in fact we do not have to serve men sexually, and men are not entitled to sex!

I realized this week that I have stayed single and without children because every time I’ve had another option, it’s felt like a trap. There has only looked to be two choices for me: be with people, serve them, and hide who I am; or be alone and have myself. At this point I am discharging to figure out how to have people, exist, and show myself in totality—my big mind, my huge heart, and the effects of how I was hurt—and to think about other people as well. I hope I can figure this out.


(Present Time 190, January 2018)

Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00