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The Paradox of Being a Girl at Tam

The Paradox of Being a Girl at Tam
Graphic by Lauren Felder

Content warning: This article contains mentions of sexual harassment and assault. 


A history of objectification

When I was younger, probably around the age of 13, I wondered why I didn’t get catcalled more. 

I was raised on the idea that catcalling, like most attention from men, was a necessary evil that beautiful women had to endure. Catcalling was a rite of passage — an insult, no doubt, but simultaneously, a validation. 

Though being yelled at on the street made me nauseous, it was somehow a perfunctory and sickening confirmation that on some level, no matter the fact that it was to a man driving by the front of the Safeway across from my high school, I was desirable. If I was catcalled, at least it meant I was attractive. 

So I must have wanted it, right?

This is the logic that trails being a woman: you are raised in a world where value is placed on the way you look and dress the second you come out of the womb, and yet it is your job to overcome the insidious societal pressures of misogyny while remaining just risqué enough that people will still find you desirable.

This is largely apparent at Tamalpais High School. 

“Especially [for] girls, there’s been a lot of pressure on presenting your appearance. There’s a pressure among girls to be presenting yourself as perfect, and beautiful,” Tam senior Charly Kerr said. 

As girls evolve into women, expectations of what they should look like change. 

When I was in third grade, my friend asked me if I liked the color pink. I made a face and said no, and in response, she pointed to my ears and asked me why I was wearing sparkling, pink earrings. That afternoon, I went home and buried them in the back of my jewelry box. I haven’t worn them since. 

 At the time, I thought it would make people like me more, to shun the stereotypes that were so commonly associated with girlhood. It was important to be feminine, but never to admit you like pink, because that would be too feminine. It was okay to be loud, as long as you weren’t too loud, because that would be annoying. 

I was eight. Already, the rest of the girls in my class and I were experiencing the impossible double standards women face within society. 

Barbie, the blockbuster hit released over the summer, addressed the paradox of being a woman through a speech performed by America Ferrera.

“You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line. It’s too hard!” Ferrera’s character stated. 

But the issue of misogyny isn’t just another trend in the world of pop culture. Tam senior Maeyana Vogt remarked that she, too, had been ashamed to admit she liked the color pink as a girl. At the time, this full acceptance of femininity had meant being shunned amongst our male compatriots, so we buried our likes to be liked. 

When you wanted to insult somebody on the playground, you would tell them they ran like a girl, hit like a girl, screamed like a girl. “Like a girl” was what you told someone when you wanted to hurt them. Now, social media apps like TikTok promote “girl dinner,” and “girl math,” referring to ridiculous and often unhealthy eating habits, and an inability to grasp the fundamentals of mathematics. Everywhere I look, “girl” is being used synonymously with “less than.” How can I ever be comfortable in my body knowing that I am a girl? 

So I changed myself, walking an ever-shrinking tightrope of dual personas—loud vs. quiet, feminine vs. masculine, just enough vs. too much—because I wanted to be validated as a girl, and at the time, that was what it took.

But more than anything, I wanted to be liked. 

I wanted to be liked because I was eight, and already, making myself desirable was all I knew how to do. 


Misogyny at Tam isn’t what you see—it’s what you don’t

The truth is that almost nobody walks up to a woman and says, “I hate you because you are a woman.”

 This is part of the reason why it’s taken me so long to write this article in the first place—misogyny at Tam is subtle and insidious. 

It’s group chats and locker room conversations, silent judgements and comparisons excused by the ideology that “boys will be boys.” It’s the scorn and outrage when a photo of a girl drinking or behaving sexually is spread around, and conversely, the praise when it is a boy. It’s the constant judgment of bodies and physical appearance, of outfits and speaking style. 

“I think [the saying that ‘boys will be boys’ is] stupid. My own mother has told me that same thing. When I was in elementary school, I was like, “oh, so-and-so was being mean to me today,” and she was just like “oh, he probably likes you,” Vogt said.

So why is it surprising that we now place value on being catcalled, when we grew up being told that such bullying was a form of high praise?  

Throughout history, women have been prevented from dressing how they want, working where they want, and voting for whom they want. Although we’ve made progress as a society, there are subtle differences between the treatment of boys and girls at Tam. 

“A guy can do whatever he wants and not care about what he’s wearing or what he looks like, or if he’s pulling out a full meal [to eat] in class,” Kerr said. “If a girl did that, or if a girl was wearing sweatpants everyday the way guys do, it would be so criticized.” 

But the biggest indicator of misogyny’s presence on campus isn’t what we see. It’s what we don’t see, what we don’t have.

About half the students at Tam are girls, and yet, access to period products was completely overlooked on campus until Ada Holmes-Hidalgo co-founded the Tam High Menstrual Equity Club in her sophomore year of high school. 

 “Both my friend and I noticed that there were no menstrual products in the bathrooms when we arrived at Tam, and so we felt that this was just a blatant inequality that we both wanted to fix,” Holmes-Hidalgo said. 

Holmes-Hidalgo faced backlash in her goal to increase access to menstrual products and educate others on the topic of menstruation.

“I play for the school volleyball team, and one of the older girls—I overheard her laughing about the period club, and how she just was like, ‘I can’t believe this is a club,’ and hearing that from another woman, especially someone who I looked up to … I was just like, wow. People really just don’t get it,” Holmes-Hidalgo said. 

The Menstrual Equity Club now focuses on spreading information about issues related to menstruation, as well as stocking the bathrooms at Tam with accessible period products, which California law now requires. 

It shouldn’t have taken this long to uphold care for a bodily function that half of the population at Tam experiences. 


Double Standards and breaking the cycle of misogyny at Tam

But this is just the surface of misogyny at Tam. Part of the reason why it’s been so successfully propagated is because the foundations of misogyny are so strong, both culturally and socially. This is something that is so ingrained in life — for both women and men — that it can be easy to contribute to misogynistic thought patterns and ideas without even realizing. 

“There’s a tendency to define misogyny as this deep hatred in the heart, harbored by men toward girls and women. I define misogyny as social systems or environments where women face hostility and hatred because they’re women in a man’s world — a historical patriarchy,” Cornell philosophy professor Kate Manne said in an interview with Vox

Misogyny is ingrained in the wider community, even in vocabulary — you don’t call a man all the scornful words that have been invented for women behaving similarly. You call him a player. You don’t frown upon a man getting drunk at a party, but when a woman does it, it’s trashy. 

“If a guy’s like, ‘oh my God, I’m failing all my classes,’ it’s like, oh he’s so cool, he [doesn’t care], and if a girl’s like, ‘oh, I’m failing all my classes,’ [it’s like] what’s going on, is her mental health okay?” Vogt said. 

This article isn’t an attack on men, or on women, or even on Tam. It’s a critique on the systems that have been put into place by a long history of misogyny. As girls, we suffer from systemic disadvantages, whether it’s being overlooked when it comes to bodily functions, or wishing we were hot enough to get catcalled. 

We are reminded of this fundamental difference in the way we are treated through constant, unending judgment of us and those around us. 

I took a five-minute break from writing this article to scroll through social media. There, I encountered a short clip of a woman documenting her running journey, clad in a blue sports bra. 

“She [definitely] did it for the attention,” the top comment states. 

“As a man, it’s different being catcalled. We love it!” enthuses the comment below.

I closed Instagram. 

It’s easy for the man commenting about catcalling to appreciate it. It’s easy because he will never be a woman or experience the assault and constant harassment that women often experience.

To be a woman is to be historically burdened by a long and violent history of inequality. To be a woman is to be scorned for something a man would be praised for. To be a woman is to be deemed inherently promiscuous because you inhabit a body, or repulsive and unlovable because you inhabit a different sort of body. To be a woman is to walk with a rock in your hand around your own block because you are being followed, and are scared you may not make it home. 

To be a woman is to read about rapes and sexual assaults and to be told you’re being dramatic when one in six women are sexually assaulted within their lifetime, according to the National Institute of Justice & Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

To be a woman is to hold off on talking about these issues for nearly two years because you are afraid you made it all up. 

But I didn’t make it up. 

And neither did the women I interviewed, or the women reading this.

The truth is that misogyny at Tam is real. It is undeniable — in the words people use, the lack of menstrual products, the prevailing sense of scrutiny that underlines the female experience. 

But the other truth is that strength lies in recognition. 

Putting a name to the experience of misogyny at Tam is the first step towards abolishing it. Solving the issue of sexism at Tam means coming together as a community to acknowledge that there is a problem, that there has been a history of oversight, and that, going forward, we will not perpetuate these systems.

Today, I took the pink earrings out of the back of my jewelry box and wore them to school.

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