“Worth" is a word that sets in the skin.
You graze a finger against the piercing, feel for roughness. You raise a magnifying glass, bring it to the light. Pick at the edges. Commit to small acts of surgery with pins and tweezers. But it is beyond reach, a dark thrumming ache.
One day, perhaps, you will reclaim it with blood and flesh, a flesh that is so much like a woman. Giving at first, susceptible to coarse impact, but with a deeper magic.
“Worth” is a word with no meaning. And yet it means everything.
I was taught as a child that I was worth as much as a man. I was taught that with brains and ambition and education I could be what I wanted, and that was a gift. So much of the prophecy proved true. I was taught that strength in the body was not wedded to brawn, that it could be realized through grace, that all power was resilience.
I was told as a young woman that I would be respected if I respected myself.
A man does not rise in the morning to face the mirror and wonder how much makeup is the right amount. How he will be judged by his skin, his lips, his form. A man is not persuaded to wear a skirt, an article of clothing that inhibits and renders him prone. No needle-nosed shoes to tiptoe in. No girdle for his chest. A man rises with a certain sort of freedom. A freedom that follows him.
Stay wary of being too helpful. They will think of you as an assistant, despite your title and experience. On the street, men will tell you to smile and you will grit your teeth. Beware a smile. Men interpret it to match their desires.
How would you see me if I were six feet tall, shoulders broad and back? Would you allow me what I’m worth?
I was told as a woman that I had made it. But then we live in a city of secrets. Our abilities are relative, yours and mine. Who’s to say which is more valuable? If we keep secrets, no one will know.
Tell me, then, what I should be and wear and say to earn the same independence? I need it more. A woman is left to buy her power. She is left with less control of her body. Determined by others to be worthy of praise or condemnation.
She is asked to move in an impossible dance, all things to all people but never too much of one.
Let’s not pretend we are equal. It’s an insult in the face of truth.
The worst part is that we still have to teach you about our flesh, because you are immune. Preaching evenhandedness.
I was told this part would be better.